GENTECH archive 8.96-97


military DNA bank news (fwd)

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Reply-To: Human Molecular Genetics <HUM-MOLGEN@NIC.SURFNET.NL>
From: Hans Goerl <>
Sender: Human Molecular Genetics <HUM-MOLGEN@NIC.SURFNET.NL>
To: Multiple recipients of list HUM-MOLGEN <HUM-MOLGEN@NIC.SURFNET.NL>
Subject:      ETHI: military DNA bank news
Date:         Mon, 21 Oct 1996 00:16:25 -0500

As reported on HUM-MOLGEN, two years ago the US military began requiring all
military personnel and many employees of civilian contractors to give DNA
samples. The samples are stored in a facility near Washington DC. The stated
purpose for this program was for the identification of casualties. However,
the Department of Defense refused many requests to formally limit the use of
specimens to that purpose. At one point the head of the program said that if
anybody else wanted to use the specimens for some other purpose, they would
have to have, "a damn good reason."

As of early this year, the Pentagon had collected over 4 million samples.

A few military personnel realized the potential for abuse of this DNA
databank, but were afraid to refuse. However Timothy Mayfield III and Joseph
Vlacovsky, two Marines based in Hawaii, had the extraordinary personal
courage to refuse. They were court-martialed and convicted. They also filed
a civil suit against the Defense Department, lost, and appealed the decision
to a higher court. Some of their lawyers fees were paid by the Council for
Responsible Genetics.

Now, after these courageous soldiers' actions had generated a fair amount of
negative publicity, the US Congress has acted to limit the use of the DNA
databank. Last month as part of a Defense Appropriations Act, Congress
passed a law which, at least temporarily, limits the use of the DNA databank
to casualty identification and criminal identification. The amendment to the
bill was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Kennedy. It is Section 8097 of HR 3610.
While the entire program is economically unsupportable and still subject to
possible misuse, at least now the individuals tested can feel somewhat more
assured that genetic information derived from the samples will not be used
against them.

Isn't it extraordinary how two men armed with the courage of their
convictions and abetted by a free press and socially conscious scientists
can sometimes make life better for millions of others?

Hans Goerl
ETHI editor
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