Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ethics of DNA

Kevin Kelly recently posted an article, Open Source DNA that has had me thinking all day. The topic is how private should our DNA be? What will be the social consequences as the cost of sequencing drops? (see the chart)

Kelly says:
Because DNA is seen as conveying not only paternity, and sexual activity, but also the blueprints to each person's persona, the idea of someone else "capturing" it feels wrong. We currently perceive our DNA to be a personal code that contains our past, present and future. If we could just unlock it, we'd know our destiny. And at the same time, we'd better understand our current identity. I avidly encourage everyone to get their DNA sequenced, but I think the benefits are not what we currently believe they are, and I think the idea that these codes encapsulate us is close to superstition. For some folks, the fear of having your DNA stolen is akin to the fear by many tribal people of having their soul stolen by photography. I would argue that getting your DNA sequenced is very much like getting your photo taken. The camera takes your picture and not your soul. And your picture is well… your "picture" is not really yours.
This is just a small sample. Take a look and then share it with your students. It should be a good discussion starter. Ask them a few of these questions.
  • Should DNA be treated like fingerprints?
  • Under what circumstances should someone be able to sequence your DNA? Suspected of a crime? Paternity curiosity? Suspicison of infidelity?
  • Should insurance companies be able to deny you coverage because of your DNA?
  • You throw away a piece of gum and someone picks it up and sequences your DNA and then posts it on the internet. Should that be illegal? Legal? Why?

[image captured from The technium: "Open source DNA":]

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