Medical Data Exploitation

Administration, Census Bureau, and Department of Veterans’ Affairs all maintain extensive collections of genetic data. Since May 1998, sex offenders have been required to surrender DNA samples to federal databases, and today every state maintains its own DNA database that contains the DNA profiles of felons—and of others, including people merely suspected of crimes or even of innocent people rounded up in DNA sweeps. The samples of 450,000 convicts are stored with identifiers, such as the person’s name, description, criminal record, Social Security number, and image. The government has also sponsored the creation of national databases, such as the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which stores DNA samples, most without identifying information. CODIS went online in 1998 with samples from 8,000 convicted child molesters, and by 2001, it contained the profiles of 1.5 million felons. In 2002, the U.S. Attorney General ordered the FBI to expand CODIS to 50 million profiles, and by 2004, CODIS stored 2.6 million samples containing the DNA of people convicted of almost any crime. In October 2005, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a law, which was pending when this book went to print, to force anyone who is merely detained by federal authorities to provide DNA, and in August 2006 the database contained more than 3.5 million samples. The FBI predicts that CODIS will accommodate 50 million samples “in the near future.”

Besides harboring the markers for four thousand disease risks, DNA also contains information about the health and identity of one’s forebears and descendants. With a sample of your DNA, a person can predict certain disease and disorder probabilities for you and for your children. George Annas, a law professor and bioethicist at Boston University, has referred to one’s DNA profile as a “future coded diary,” and with the completion of the Human Genome Project, the code has essentially been broken. Therefore, taking the fingerprints of an arrestee and taking a sample of his DNA are not comparable acts; the latter is far more intrusive and revealing—but far less likely to yield a uniquely definitive identification.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

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