Monday, December 22, 2008

Bush and Lawmakers Sneak a National DNA Databank into Existence

Bush and Lawmakers Sneak a National DNA Databank into Existence

Jim Kouri

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While most Americans were bombarded with news coverage regarding the presidential race without end, President George W. Bush almost silently signed a senate bill that would change America forever.

S.1858 allows the federal government to screen the DNA of all newborn babies in the United States. According to the legislation, the new law must be implemented within 6 months of Bush's bill signing in April 2008.

According to police experts, this infant DNA collection is now being carried out by individual states and sample DNA is being submitted to the feds. Congressman Ron Paul states that this bill is the first step towards the establishment of a national DNA database.

The rational for the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007 is that it represents preparation for any kind of natural or man-made emergency or disaster. The bill states that the federal government should "continue to carry out, coordinate, and expand research in newborn screening" and "maintain a central clearinghouse of current information on newborn screening... ensuring that the clearinghouse is available on the Internet and is updated at least quarterly." Sections of the bill also make it clear that DNA may be used in laboratory experiments and tests.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called or mtDNA).

The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.

DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.

An important property of DNA is that it can replicate, or make copies of itself. Each strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.

The New York State DNA Databank became operational with the first "hit" linking a convicted criminal with DNA evidence from a crime scene. The Databank is part of a national system called CODIS, a searchable software program with three hierarchical tiers of the DNA Index System (DIS) -- local (LDIS), state (SDIS), and national (NDIS).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) serves as the NDIS connection and links New York State with other participating states. This tiered approach allows individual state and local agencies to operate their respective DNA databases according to applicable state law and local policy.

In New York State there are eight LDIS DNA laboratories. The State Police Forensic Investigation Center (FIC) in Albany serves as a LDIS site for forensic casework performed at the FIC and as the SDIS laboratory for New York State. All LDIS laboratories maintain a Forensic Index which is comprised of DNA profiles from crime scene evidence submitted by the agencies they serve.

These profiles are routinely compared in order to identify and link criminal incidents that may involve the same perpetrator. The SDIS database at the State Police FIC contains forensic DNA profiles uploaded by each of the LDIS laboratories and enables inter-comparisons of crime scene evidence DNA profiles among the participating LDIS laboratories in New York State and across the country.

According to a statement released by Texas Congressman Ron Paul, "S. 1858 gives the federal bureaucracy the authority to develop a model newborn screening program. [T]he federal government lacks both the constitutional authority and the competence to develop a newborn screening program adequate for a nation as large and diverse as the United States. ?"

There are also many law-enforcement officials who are uneasy with this centralized databank especially since a newborn has not committed any crime that warrants its DNA sample to be stored by the government.

"It's one thing for a state such as New York or Oregon to store the DNA of a convicted felon, but it's entirely inappropriate for the feds to collect DNA from someone who's never committed a crime," said a former New York City detective, Sidney Frances.

"I believe the framers of the US Constitution did not intend innocent babies to be treated the same way we treat convicted rapists and killers," the decorated detective added.

"Even if it's granted the DNA will be used to help protect children and adults during a medical emergency or disaster, there is no assurance that future administrations won't allow the stored DNA samples to be used with more sinister goals," said another veteran cop in New York.

"While it may be defensible to collect and store the DNA of dangerous human beings, I cannot understand the rationale for collecting such biological material from infants. I'm also not comfortable with the fact that the [DNA] law was passed without public scrutiny. Where are the watchdogs in the news media?" said Officer Edna Aquayo.

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