Today is National DNA Day, which commemorates the anniversaries of the discovery of the double helix in 1953 and the completion of the National Genome Project in 2003. It is a day to celebrate and learn more about the marvels and technological advances in DNA.
Years of research have unlocked some of the incredible secrets of DNA. Genetic testing can now determine if a person is a carrier of a genetic marker that may indicate potential for future diseases and help determine the type of medical treatment necessary. Scientists believe that individuals may one day have personally designed medical treatment plans based on their genetic information that will help combat and treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Though these advancements are exciting and important, even the scientists involved in the Human Genome Project have recognized the ethical concerns associated with obtaining such highly personal and revealing information. They established the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) Program to address issues such as interpreting genetic information, genetic discrimination, and genetic privacy. For example, understanding that genetic testing may be used more frequently in health care, ELSI advocated for genetic privacy and freedom from genetic discrimination by health insurers and employers based on DNA information. Their work led to the passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.
Ethical concerns, however, reach far beyond the realms of health care and employment, and are magnified when DNA is collected by the state without a warrant. For this reason, we oppose Senate Bill 243, a bill mandating DNA testing upon arrest. SB 243 aims to take DNA samples from arrestees, prior to conviction and without a warrant, to connect them with crimes that may be completely unrelated to their arrest. This proposal violates the principle of being innocent until proven guilty and the constitutional right of due process.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding the constitutionality of a law similar to SB 243 in Maryland v. King. In the meantime, Nevada lawmakers may soon subject the state to overburdened and understaffed testing facilities banking its citizens’ valuable DNA information as if it were simply a fingerprint.
DNA analysis reveals a "treasure-trove" of information about an individual's medical and personal history and therefore is not simply a method of identification, like a fingerprint. As the 9th Circuit stated in Norman-Bloodsaw v. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, “One can think of few subject areas more personal and more likely to implicate privacy interests than that of one’s health or genetic make-up.”
Please join the fight against SB 243. Take a moment to contact your Assemblyperson through the legislature’s online bill opinion poll and urge them to oppose collecting DNA information from arrestees.
by Amanda Morgan, a Legal Intern with the ACLU of Nevada