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UK commission rejects infant DNA profiling

The Register | April 1 2005

The UK's Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has advised against a proposal to profile the DNA of every newborn infant. Although the HGC conceded that such a scheme might have benefits including allowing the advance planning of medical treatment, the ethical, legal and social concerns currently outweighed these.

HGC chairwoman, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, told a press conference: "We have concluded that there are important ethical, legal and social barriers to genetic profiling of this kind, although there could be medical advantages in the future. It is important that research continues in order to establish how far profiling could be clinically useful, and it is critical that developments are kept under review.

"Specifically, we are recommending to government that the entire topic should be revisited in five years, when technologies will have moved on and the prospect of this becoming a reality is closer," she advised.

The HGC also identified other areas of concern. Its report outlines:

During our discussions, some strong objections were raised to genetically profiling babies at birth. Some of the concerns are that the information coming from the tests could be used to stigmatise individuals and that this might also lead to discrimination in areas such as insurance, employment and education; and that the information might be used by police for unwarranted purposes. We did agree that any move towards universal genetic profiling would strengthen the case made previously by HGC and others for the development of comprehensive safeguards around confidentiality and non-discrimination on the basis of a person’s genetic makeup.

The HDC's recommendations come after a January report by watchdog GeneWatch UK which stated that the National DNA database - a crimefighting resource collected for the Police National Database - posed a serious risk to civil liberties and held the prospect of a "Big Brother state".