Do we want or need a National DNA database?

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There is no doubt that DNA comparison of forensic samples from crime scenes against suspects has solved crimes and many ‘Cold case’ criminal investigations have been reopened to take advantage of scientific advancements.

We know it works. Rapists, murders and other serious criminals have been convicted on DNA comparison evidence. And that is the problem; DNA can only be matched if an existing sample from the suspect exists or in some cases a close relative. A series rapist leaving DNA at numerous crime scenes can be linked to each crime scene by their unique DNA, but unless a sample has been taken from the suspect at some stage there is nothing to match the samples against.

But imagine if a national data base of everybody’s DNA was held and what it would mean to crime detection. The forensic samples from any victim of a sexual assault or samples from any crime scene could be compared against the national data base and a positive match found. This is what the police do now with fingerprints. Scene of crimes officer dusts a scene for fingerprints and if they find any then they are compared against the fingerprints of all criminals who have ever had their fingerprints taken. Thousands upon thousands of fingerprints are checked by computer and eliminated. Do you think that any of those criminals whose fingerprints are held on file care if their fingerprints are regularly checked against crime scenes? Of course not, it makes no difference to them; they didn’t commit that crime, so why should they worry. The only person who is concerned and worried about their fingerprints being compared with a crime scene is the criminal who left their fingerprints behind.

Isn’t this the same for DNA?

If a suspect leaves DNA at a crime scene do we really care if our DNA along with millions of others is compared against it? Why should we, we don’t have anything to hide, so what difference does it make? If everybody’s DNA profile is held on file then a ‘Positive Match’ will be made and the offender apprehended. OK leaving DNA doesn’t equate to guilt and the question of consent is often an issue in sexual offence cases, but if a DNA match identifies an individual then the issue of consent can be explored through questioning, medical examination and investigation.

I understand the fears of those who believe that the Government knows too much about individuals already and that knowledge is being used as a tool for social engineering. It’s a hard argument to counter because different governments have through various programs used variations of the carrot and the stick to influence people’s attitudes to social issues. It wasn’t that long along that smoking was the norm. Whereas today smoking in the company of non-smokers is considered taboo.

There is a truly excellent sci-fi thriller called ‘Gattaca’ staring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law which explores the potential for DNA discrimination and abuse of genetic engineering, so I understand the concerns.

But provided controls and safeguards are implemented doesn’t it make sense to have a national DNA data base.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.


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