By Laura Butler
Legislators in Minnesota are attempting to pass a bill through their state government which would give the state of Minnesota access to newborn DNA. This legislation would allow this DNA to be used in “genetic research, experimentation, manipulation, and profiling”, according to World Net Daily. The bill has already been approved by the House and has been forwarded to the state Senate. If the Senate accepts the bill and the minor amendments suggested by the House, it could be sent directly to the Minnesota governor for his signature.
However, Minnesota is not the only state gathering and performing tests on citizens’ DNA. Many patients across the United States actually surrender rights to the privacy of their DNA whether they realize it or not, said Dr. Patrick Calie, professor of biological sciences. In actuality, even when giving blood samples for health insurance companies or undergoing diagnostic testing at hospitals, most patients sign a waiver that allows the DNA in their white blood cells to be gathered and tested in the lab.
If someone is not consciously consenting to the release of their DNA, Calie said bioethicists would determine this to be quite unethical and basically theft. Calie also said that he believes most scientists would be aghast at the proposition of such a breech of privacy and most physicians would be against the passage of the bill as it would require them to break their Hippocratic Oaths.
“The testing itself, in theory, is not a bad thing,” Calie said. “However, when a patient is presented with confusing or misleading information, that lack of proper communication creates a problem.”
Calie said that in general, the average citizen is not well informed about his or her own DNA and all the genetic information it holds.
“We’re trying to provide high school and college students with at least a general understanding of the role DNA plays in their lives and encourage students to be interested in their genetic blueprints,” Calie said. “We believe that if we can make this information applicable to students, they can use their knowledge to ask questions of their physicians and know exactly what they are consenting to.”
Calie said that while he views the proposed bill as very dangerous, genetic testing in and of itself does have benefits when patients give their consent to the research.
“Genetic testing allows us to look at genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, develop better diagnostic tests and pursue more preventative measures for those who are found to have a predisposition to develop many forms of cancer,” Calie said.
However, Calie said he fears that seeking benefits from the genetic research and experimentation will not be the goal for all. “There are current efforts being made to locate DNA markers for certain disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression; however, “there is a danger that these results may be used to discriminate against these individuals whether in the workplace or among health insurance companies,” Calie said.
The state of Minnesota wants to take the newborn DNA for research and experimentation, but this would put doctors at risk of breaking Hippocratic Oath, Calie said.
“It’s one thing to conduct genetic testing in preventative research, but it’s another to use it to discriminate against those with certain genetic dispositions,” Calie said. “We need to use the gift of science wisely and appropriately.”
Not all lawmakers are interested in the pursuit of newborn DNA. An act to this effect passed through the U.S. Senate on April 24 with a unanimous vote of 95-0. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act will protect against discrimination based on DNA sequences, according to the Coalition for Genetic Fairness.
“Just as everyone knows it’s wrong to look through a woman’s purse without permission, it’s also ethically wrong to look through someone’s DNA,” Calie said. “Citizens are guaranteed the right to privacy in the Constitution and we need to protect that right.