Some genetic variants only have weak associations with specific conditions or traits, making it difficult to predict how a child could be impacted, and may cause unnecessary worry for parents. Where do we draw the line between its potential use and its undue stress?
In addition to this, the analysis of a genome requires a lot of expertise, the children cannot consent, and little phenotypic information at birth is available to guide interpretation. So, although sequencing at birth could contribute to a national database, it may not be clinically relevant to do so for healthy babies.
But would a national DNA database be helpful?
The UK’s National Criminal Intelligence DNA Database holds the genetic information of a select number of individuals and is invaluable tool to helping against crime. But what if we were to extend this database to a national level?
DNA reveals so much about a person including their ethnicity, their diseases susceptibility, and the risk of data abuse could be high.
In 2012, the UK Protection of Freedoms Bill declared that in the interest of public privacy, without compromising the duty of the state to protect the public, they would remove 1,766,000 DNA profiles from innocent individuals from the database. Additionally, 7,753,000 DNA samples containing sensitive biological material were destroyed.
First, let’s look at the DNA database we currently have: one for criminal intelligence. Would a national DNA database be helpful for police to solve crimes? Almost certainly. The database would be able to help police match the criminal to the crime, and if many countries adopted similar databases, it would be easier to identify people who have committed crimes in other countries and it would be harder for them to flee and escape conviction. Likewise, having a whole population DNA database could help eliminate ethnic and gender bias when solving crimes, as well as potentially making crime solving quicker and more accurate.
However, if the database contained many samples, there would be an increased possibility of false matches, and if no full DNA was able to be taken from the crime scene, police may look at partial DNA matches which could lead to innocent relatives of criminals being wrongly convicted.
There would also be an increasing concern about the privacy of this database, who has access to using it and how? Who would own this data, and who could buy access to it?
It seems for now, we are luckily a long way off creating genomic databases for whole populations.