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December 20, 2013 | Posted By Benita Zahn, MS

Like everyone else, I don't want dangerous criminals roaming the streets. So on the face of things the recent US Supreme Court ruling allowing states could take DNA samples from persons accused of serious crimes without need of a warrant, sounds like a good thing. 

But, like everything in life, the devil's in the details. 

If it's okay to get that swap from a suspect's mouth for DNA when the crime is 'serious' what about when it's less serious? Who will be the judge of what constitutes a 'serious' crime? That has not been determined. 

What if the police get 'the wrong guy' .. not the guilty one. What happens to that DNA evidence and all the information contained within? 

DNA information provides a wealth of data about our lives and the potential for health troubles down the road. That's why we have GINA, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, signed by President Bush in 2008. It's designed to protect Americans against discrimination based on their genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment. It also generally prohibits employers from acquiring or disclosing genetic information. 

Sounds simple, but what does 'generally prohibit' mean? It's tough enough for most people to fully understand the rules of HIPPA (American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). So how to wrap our hands around the nitty gritty of our genetic information? And who will be responsible for overseeing that information taken from criminal suspects, to insure it isn't used against that person once they're exonerated?

While the expansion of DNA testing for suspected criminals sounds good on the face of things it should serve as a warning to all of us.

If you choose to be tested to satisfy your curiosity, not because the government says you must be tested or because your physician recommends testing with an eye toward a specific genetic anomaly, understand that the answers you get can have repercussions beyond your personal life. Your genetic makeup is a window into the genes of your children, your parents, your siblings and other relatives. It can also be a call to change your life. Will you be prepared for that? And again, if the information does find it's way to your employer, your health insurer, be informed about the protection afforded you by the law. 

For more information, check out this and this.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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