The Case for a National DNA Database

In this post I will present three arguments in favour of a national registration of everyone’s DNA.  Additionally we will try to refute some counter-arguments.

The first argument for a national DNA database is the identification of dead bodies. One problem after a (natural) disaster is identifying the victims. If anyone’s DNA is registered, than the identification of bodies would just be a matter of collecting tissue samples. Not only after a natural disaster there are unidentified bodies, but also in ordinary times the bodies of murder victims are found. Sometimes the identification of these bodies is easy, but often there are clues about the victims identity. This is particular the case when only body parts are found, or the body has already been severely decayed.

The second argument in favour of such a database, is solving crimes. Criminals, not only rapists and murders, but also burglars, leave often traces of body behind at the crime scene. Too often investigators are able to collect these DNA containing samples, but can’t do anything with it, because the donor is not in the database. With a national DNA database more crimes will be solved, and hence the chance of being caught will be increased.

Our third argument is the verification of paternity. Every year many women get pregnant and become of this in financial problems, because the father is not willing to share in the costs of raising his children. In western societies these mothers often became dependent of welfare. A better idea in my eyes, is Robin Baker’s proposal of a “child tax“, a system in which a tax is levied at the non-caring partner to support his or her children. The problem with this idea this is that men can easily deny that they the father of said children. Without a national database, paternity test depend on the voluntary participation of people.

The major objection against a mandatory national DNA database, is the violation of privacy. The collection of one’s DNA is only a very small infraction of one’s bodily integrity, it only involves sticking a cotton swab in your mouth which doesn’t cause any harm. More fundamentally, people are afraid of abuse of data by the government. The question is then, what can the government really do with your DNA? In fact not much, tough one’s DNA contains much information about you, but for identification purposes scientists do not use the parts containing genes, but the non-coding parts.

And the information one extract from your DNA is not of much interest. It’s much more attractive for the government to track your credit or debit card records, which do not only tell what you have bought, but also when and where. Also one’s tax returns are much more relevant and detailed than your genetic code, which only contains some 20,000 genes. and of which most are the same as those of tomato plants.

This does not mean we should blindly trust the government. Any national DNA database should be supervised by an independent body, to make sure the data will only be used for the purposes it has been created.

10 thoughts on “The Case for a National DNA Database”

  1. I have no problem with such a thing. Of course, trust is the central issue, and such information could be used (theoretically) for discrimination.

    1. There’s too much real discrimination, such as against race, sex or age, to be much worried about theoretical forms of discrimination. Of course, such discrimination should be prohibited.

  2. In most cases the government already has so much information about you that the question of privacy sometimes becomes almost a moot one. I don’t have a problem with DNA database just as I don’t have a problem with a national registry for married people.

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