More News on DNA in Forensics

We recently noted that DNA profiling has greater public approval in the UK than in America. The UK presently operates the largest DNA database in the world with over 5 million profiles. Nevertheless, that country has just taken a giant step in the opposite direction. New civil liberties legislation, dubbed “the freedom bill,” will require authorities to remove hundreds of thousands of unconvicted people from the database, following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that “the blanket retention of DNA from people arrested but never convicted of any offence [i]s unlawful.” There are 1.1 million people without convictions presently profiled in the database; however, some of these profiles will not be removed as a result of an exception for “unconvicted terror suspects who have been released.”

Here in the U.S., the Supreme Court will consider the post-conviction DNA testing landscape in the Texas case of Henry Skinner. Thousands of convicts are requesting new DNA testing in light of the increasing number of exonerations based on DNA evidence. Skinner was convicted 15 years ago of murdering his girlfriend and her two developmentally disabled adult sons. At the recommendation of his attorneys, he declined DNA testing for his trial. Texas courts said he doesn’t currently qualify under a state law that grants DNA testing to some convicts, and federal courts refused to overrule Texas. The last time the Supreme Court considered this issue, in 2009, a divided court decided to let Congress and the state legislatures make the rules. Therefore, rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to how requests for post-conviction DNA testing are handled. Perhaps this time the Supreme Court will decide to lay down some firmer ground rules.

Filed under Biobanking, Bioinformatics/IT, General Interest, Genomics & Society, Industry News, International Developments, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Litigation, Pending Regulation

Twitter Roundup

With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there are often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. Here is a recap of what I was Tweeting recently @genomicslawyer:

Filed under General Interest

Getting Our Act Together for the Second Decade of Human Genomics

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at Daniel MacArthur’s blog Genetic Future, which is part of Wired Science Blogs.]

We have recently summarized efforts by two state legislatures to design regulatory schemes addressing issues raised by the proliferation of genetic information about individuals. New York’s effort addresses questions of insurance coverage for genetic testing. Massachusetts’ goes much further, calling itself a “Genetic Bill of Rights,”a title that accurately reflects its ambitions. In reviewing both of these proposals we have made the point that state-level legislation is no substitute for a coordinated and long-overdue federal-level approach.

But who will lead that coordinated federal effort? As we wrote recently, since the 2008 publication of a SACGHS report identifying major gaps in the regulation of genetic testing, that committee has been disbanded and no clear successor has emerged to champion these issues at the federal level. Last week, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which was originally created by the NIH to support the Human Genome Project, and is today tasked with advancing the understanding and application of human genomics, updated its long-term strategic plan for the first time since 2003 (pdf). Although a “critical part” of the NHGRI’s mission is the “study of the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of genome research,” the Institute’s new roadmap barely touches upon ELSI issues, and dispenses with “legal and public policy issues” in a single sentence by noting the need for “collaborations.”


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Filed under General Interest, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, International Developments, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation

Genetic Bill of Rights Proposed in Massachusetts

On January 21, 2011, the Massachusetts Genetic Bill of Rights (MA GBR) (pdf) was introduced before the Massachusetts state legislature. At its core, the proposed legislation establishes property and privacy rights for genetic information and genetic material, while providing protections designed to shield individuals from genetic profiling and other misuses of genetic information.

Taken as a whole, the legislation, if enacted, would confer upon Massachusetts residents a significantly expanded set of genetic rights than exist under current federal law. Below we examine several of the bill’s most noteworthy proposals.

The MA GBR addresses perceived gaps and limitations in the coverage provided by major federal statutes, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by seeking to place genetic information on a par with medical records.

The MA GBR’s provisions set basic limitations on the use, including the commercial use, of personal genetic information that would go above and beyond the user agreements and privacy policies employed by some commercial services. For example, the MA GBR prohibits the use of genetic information for marketing or determining credit worthiness. With the proliferation of genetic information, particularly in consumer or commercial contexts, such basic limitations would help address concerns about the lack of mandatory restrictions regarding the sale, transfer or other use of personal genetic data.

The Personal Property Theory of Personal Genomes. But the MA GBR goes much further than mere consumer protection reforms. Section 1 of the proposed legislation explicitly declares genetic information to be “the exclusive property of the individual from whom the information is obtained.” (emphasis added)


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, GINA, Industry News, Informed Consent, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Litigation, Privacy

Twitter Roundup

With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there are often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. Here is a recap of what I was Tweeting recently @genomicslawyer:

Filed under Uncategorized

Update: FDA Taking Another (Public) Look at DTC Genetic Tests

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests are back on the FDA’s public radar screen. A month from today, the agency’s Molecular and Clinical Genetics Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee will meet to “discuss and make recommendations on scientific issues concerning [DTC] genetic tests that make medical claims.” Here is the Federal Register notice (pdf).

The two-day meeting, which is open to the public, will investigate the following topics:

A complete agenda and list of speakers has yet to be published, but the fact that the FDA is singling out DTC genetic tests for specific attention is sure to be a welcome sign to many.


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Filed under Direct-to-Consumer Services, FDA LDT Regulation, General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation

Twitter Roundup

With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there are often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. Here is a recap of what I was Tweeting recently @genomicslawyer:

Filed under General Interest

Recent Developments in Forensic DNA

The use of DNA in forensics continues to expand. Last year, James Cass reviewed the current system of forensic DNA profiling in the U.S., including CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System, the FBI’s integrated DNA profiling program), the controversial practice of partial/familial searching, and calls from President Obama and others to collect DNA profiles for all Americans in a national database. He posted follow-up pieces focused on advance DNA collection under Katie’s Law, the growing backlog of DNA samples, and familial DNA database searching, which gained support after it facilitated the arrest of the elusive serial killer in California known as the Grim Sleeper.

A number of newer developments have caught our attention.


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Filed under Biobanking, Bioinformatics/IT, General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation, Privacy