Although the United States will not conduct its next presidential election for another fifteen months, the race for the White House begins in earnest tomorrow in Iowa with the Ames Straw Poll. As the coverage of straw polls, campaign ads and political positioning shifts into high gear, it may not be a coincidence that the issue of surreptitious genetic testing is also back in the news.
The legal and ethical uncertainty surrounding surreptitious genetic testing—which can be broadly defined as any genetic test performed without the knowledge and/or consent of the individual tested—first piqued the public′s interest shortly after the 2008 election thanks to an editorial by Bob Green and George Annas in The New England Journal of Medicine. Green and Annas worried that “persons or groups opposing a candidate [and] hoping to harm his or her chances for election” would obtain and release genetic information without consent, a form of “genetic McCarthyism.” This would not be very difficult, the authors concluded, since “sufficient DNA for amplification and analysis can be obtained from loose hairs, coffee cups, discarded utensils, or even a handshake.”
Nearly three years later, surreptitious genetic testing is back in the news thanks in large part to an in-depth article by Eriq Gardner in the current issue of the ABA Journal. Gardner′s piece examines the practice of surreptitious genetic testing, provides a compelling anecdote from a confessed “DNA thief” and highlights many of the privacy concerns associated with the practice.