Effects of DNA databases on morality

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Introduction

The society today has lost a great deal of moral values and the decline is expected to continue as more of civilization scientific advancement come into the world and according to Krettenauer (2011), it is as if for every step in civilization, there is a piece of morality lost. This seems to lend credit to Roosevelt’s assertion that teaching a man only in mind wile disregarding morality is like creating a societal menace.

Science and technological advancements, which contributes to civilization, in the fields of communication, security, health and agriculture among many more have brought a lot of good things we can celebrate about. In fact, according to Wallace et al. (2014), some have eased life so much to the point that some groups have started to complain. The reverse effect to this fete is that morality is greatly compromised by most of these forward steps. Take for example, the effects of the internet has become so overwhelm that parents are unable to control its use by the young people.

The latest in the security sector, maintenance and access of DNA database, has elicited a lot of mixed reactions from within and without the purview of security. In as much as it comes with a lot of promising benefits, the ethical and moral concerns should also be given equal attention. This paper therefore, will discuss the shifting moral landscape in light of factors surrounding DNA databases.

DNA database and its acquisition

DNA database is a profile of an individual’s genetic characteristics kept by an institution for some specific purpose. Some of the areas in which such genetic information could be applied include but not limited to forensic tests, medical researches and familial identification. Genetic information can be extracted from human material samples like blood, saliva or even hair.

Though there are individuals who voluntarily give their human material samples for extraction of their genetic characteristics and further preservation of the same in various places, as observed by Visser & Nick (2015), a majority of the acquisition process of these bodily study materials are viewed as going against the accepted moral values in the society. In fact in some countries it has become a form of coercion on individuals to volunteer these samples for determination of their genetic characteristics.

Until recently, in the United Kingdom, it was required that any person accused of crime however petty it could be was to have their DNA profile taken and profiled in the National database (Linacre, 2003). Because of the fear of encroachment of private information, which is not ethically right, the public protested forcing an amendment to the relevant section of the law and consequent deletion of a considerable number of individual profiles from the database.

At Statens Serum Institute in Denmark, blood samples of children born since 1981 are taken for purposes of screening of various diseases. However upon completion, the same sample is used to determine ones DNA for purposes of profiling in the relevant databank for future identification of criminal act. Though it could be a good strategy, but the presumption of future guilt on innocent child is totally not morally acceptable.

Arguments for DNA database

The proponents of establishing national DNA database have their fair share of reasons to support their view. One of the reasons they give is that these databases helps reduce the concept of discrimination globally. They argue that by maintaining a database that includes every citizen of a country helps reduce cases of police harassing some particular group discriminately as DNA analysis links an offender directly to a crime without the police having to identify suspects, which could otherwise be many. (American National Research Council, 1992)

Secondly, information from the DNA profiles of citizens of a particular country can go a long way in combating criminal acts. A match made between what is available in the database and what is collected from a crime scene can be used as strong evidence to link one to a criminal act. Since each individual’s genetic makeup is unique, an individual linked to a particular crime by means of DNA tests cannot come around to disown the results. Besides being considered as accurate, it is also argued that the method is faster.

The possibility of sharing information on the database between security agencies in different countries also counts for the advantages the new technology came with. Terrorism activities are therefore said to be suppressed because of this possibility of sharing database information. In fact those in support of countries establishing their individual databases argue that the level of terrorism experienced in the world is because some countries are still either reluctant or unable to establish their database (Mangin, 1997).

In terms of viability, the time saved when a crime suspect is quickly identified means that even the financial bit is also reduced as a result of reduced working hours. Thus this technology can be said to be both time and financially viable. It should also be observed that a national database that includes everybody is economically viable than smaller databases in terms of administrative and maintenance costs.

Though appearing to be a bit farfetched, at least according to the National Research Council of the United States (1992), there is also the view that maintenance of a national DNA database help reinforce the protection of human rights. The proposition is that every citizen is entitled to peaceful living free from criminal activities. Since DNA databases are kept to tighten security issues, it is in order to assert that they are tools for reinforcing security rights.

Proponents also puts it that, the argument by critics against DNA database that the technology infringes on people’s privacy by profiling some very important private information, is neither here nor there for there are very many private organizations, like insurance firms, that hold such information (Mangin, 1997). Therefore, if one can trust the private sector with such information, why can’t they trust the government even more? Furthermore, the government must put in place necessary regulations and mechanisms to help preserve the privacy of such sensitive and private information.

Most of the arguments put forth by those who support the establishment of national DNA database center are focused on the efficiency the technology brings to the life of individuals and they are very valid. The arguments raised against DNA database centers however, as discussed below give a lot of focus to the moral concerns arising from embracing this technology.

Critics of DNA database

According to the critics, profiling people’s genetic characteristics; including some very crucial information like health related information, contributes to infringement of the basic right to privacy (Downs & Swienton, 2012). Infringement of right to privacy is not only legally wrong but it is also morally unacceptable. Even though the remotest of conscience will show one that it is both morally and ethically wrong to contravene such a basic right, the situation today of increased issues like crime and terrorism pushes the security personnel, for example, to put security matters a head of moral concerns. These are the practices tilting the morality scale.

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Secondly, in some instances the information on the database can be accessed for some reasons other than what it is meant to serve. Those in charge of protecting the data and the database generally are also human beings who are not perfectly upright in terms of morality and ethics. Occasionally when opportunities present themselves in form of commercial benefit, these trustees might be tempted and unethically leak some of the data. Apart from those who should have the outright access to these data, there are also those in need of such data, for example researchers. They would not hesitate to use whatever means to obtain these information as long as they achieve their objectives.

Siegel (2010) asserts that, in a morally average society, everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In a society embracing DNA data profiling where everybody is on the database, everybody is presumed to be either guilty or potentially guilty so that their DNA profiles are kept in readiness for their eventual criminal acts.  Looking at the topic from this angle, the critics argue that DNA database is a phenomenon that perpetuates the criminal aspect of man and makes it look like crime is inherent in man from birth. This is a situation which will continue harming the moral content of the posterity.

For critics, the accuracy of DNA testing is not always perfect. During tests, issues like human error, environmental factors like excess heat and chances could affect the outcome of a DNA test. When such errors occur, there could be false matching where a DNA sample wrongly matches that of an individual merely because the sample had been interfered with. These are not isolated cases as handling the genetic constructs requires very sharp accuracy and keenness.

In his article in The Guardian, James (2009) argue that in some instances, DNA tests may lead to wrongful conviction, especially arising from false matching or when the police are unable to get the right matches and therefore going for partial matches. In partial matching, the police look for partial resemblance of the genetic characteristics. This may result into accusing a relative of the real suspect whose DNA partially matches that of the criminal. This is an outright false accusation which is both morally and religiously wrong.

The issue of discrimination is articulated differently by the critics of DNA database. The critics argue that the police may find a way of over representing a certain group they perceive to be more criminal and under representing those that are perceived to be less criminal. According to Wallace et al. (2014), when this happens, the chances that more convicts are going to come from the over represented group is high and this sets the stage for discrimination. A good example is at one time when the UK database had a round 1 million profiles of none convicts and almost 70% of them constituted profiles of black men.

Morality

Morality as a subject focuses more on how individuals maintain a mutually conducive relationship with one another within a society. For this case to prevail within the society, individuals need to posses certain values like honesty, respect, caring, kindness, generosity, fairness and love among other virtuous practices (Nucci, 2008). With these virtues, everyone in the society will feel the drive to take responsibility of every aspect of our deeds where one gets self resentment when they do something they consciously feel is wrong.

Though there is a big debate surrounding morality as perceived by members of different societies, the foundation of morality is the golden rule. It is from the golden rule that peripheral moral values like fairness and kindness are built. In other words, the golden rule sums up what leading a moral life looks like. Once the rule has been adopted by the society, every child born into the society will be guided by the values of that particular society and consequently the morality standards get fused into their personality traits so that anything outside the generally accepted moral standards is considered weird and foreign.

Majority of academicians do link development of morality to environmental factors that we interact with in our daily lives thus teaching us a lesson or two. If this was the case, then the meaning of morality would be very varied and wide, in fact, to the point where some societies could have been completely foreign to moral standards of another society. This is however not the case as there is a common factor of morality that cuts across the entire kingdom of humanity. For example snatching a poor man’s land from him because he can’t defend himself is an outright moral wrong regardless of the society you are in.

Morality therefore doesn’t just develop from our interaction with the environment but rather the environmental factors act on what is there from birth. As Eisenberg (2000) puts it, human beings are born with instincts but these instincts, at this stage, are not fully developed to differentiate between right and wrong and thus the need of the environmental lessons together with societal guidance to better develop  and direct these instincts which later become part of our moral values. Using other animals to illustrate this, for example, a cow also interact with the environmental factors in a rather similar manner to man, but because they lacked instincts, they are unable to see good from evil and as such have no morality.

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DNA database versus morality

It is evident that for the period human being has been on earth, a lot of emphases have been given to educate the mind without a similar attention given to educating man on morality issues. At least according to Roosevelt, that has led us to where we are today; the age of forensic science. The disregard to moral values in the society is not because people just like to do so but because the new technologies come with certain intricate aspects which overlook the morality facet of the society.

From the above discussion, it is true that cases of crime have become widespread and advanced a level higher to terrorism. At this rate it is only logical that an advanced counter terrorism strategy must be invented and adopted. Therefore when the knowledge in forensic science came up, leaders and security organs in particular had to run for it and overlook privacy issues for example. It should be obvious to anybody that invading somebody’s information as private as medical information is immoral and unethical as well (Kohlberg, 1963), but because it is the only sure way to tame criminal activities, the authorities are left with no other option but to do it. These are the situations forcing man to act immorally thereby shifting the landscape to an immoral society.

In some instances, armed with some knowledge in forensic studies, a criminal would purposely obtain body- material sample like hair and drop it at the crime scene thereby leading the security personnel to wrongfully accuse a rather innocent person (Argo & Francomano, 2013). Though in this case, the problem is not a created by the database but rather the creation of the database has created a loophole through which criminals perpetuate their criminal acts and subsequently upsetting societal peace. The moment the wrong person is linked to the criminal activity, already the immoral act of false accusation shall have been committed.

Creating a national DNA profiles database where everybody’s data is profiled creates a tense atmosphere in a society.  The profiling creates a perception of a criminal and immoral society where everybody has to be kept on watch everywhere all the time (James, 2009). Gradually the society will adopt the system of having to be watched all the time or else everybody turns to crime and immorality. These are events that will gradually tilt the scale towards extreme end of immorality.

Immorality also expresses itself in cases where, as it has emerged, those who collect the human material samples would then sell them to researchers, for example, thereby turning the whole thing into a commercial activity. In all the cultures of the world, there is none that considers sale of any human body part a legally and morally upright business to transact. This means that almost everybody in the entire world consciously treat this type of trade as immoral.

A closer look at those who engage in selling these human material samples reveals that they are driven by personal greed to earn more money. This is because they are expected to be professionals who are earning some income and can comfortably steer their lives (Beyleveld, 1997). Though buying these materials is also morally crooked, those who play the devil’s advocate would argue that the availability of the materials is what drives the researchers, for example, to want to buy them and if we were to go by this argument, it becomes clear that DNA database has created an opportunity for engaging in an immoral activity. All these contribute to the continually shifting morality landscape.

Conclusion

In as much as we give credit to what DNA profiling has achieved in terms of reducing the severity of criminal activities and terrorism globally (Doleac & Jennifer, 2017), we must also turn on our backs to see the destructions it has caused to our social fabric-morality. DNA profiling and keeping a database has left the society living in fear in as much as it has helped to reinforce security measures. It has created opportunities for unscrupulous business activities and stuffed the environment with a perception of an immoral society.

Forensic science and other new areas of studies alongside technological advancements have brought with them a lot of social evils (Freud, 1962). Some morally upright individuals nonetheless resort to immorality because some new order present a case in which you either choose the morality way or carry out the new procedures and disregard morality. In most cases individuals will be forced to carry out the new procedures to guard their economic interests. As more of this happens, the morality landscape gradually shifts to the wrong direction.

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