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Forensic applications of molecular genetics: ethics and law to inform policy issues

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Biology - Genetics
  • Biology
  • Criminology
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy


Molecular analysis of DNA variation has usurped the place of all earlier technologies in forensic identification of victims and suspects alike. Although the field of ethics has made attempts to cope with the plethora of available genetic information, especially in clinical application, there has been little scrutiny of emerging ethical issues in the forensic domain. Legal scholarship highlights some aspects of the emerging issues, with particular relevance to the challenges faced in court and those regarding individual liberties. The overall objective of this thesis was to evaluate the scientific validity, ethical acceptability and legal accountability of the forensic applications of molecular genetics. In particular, contemporary science has allowed us to access information far beyond what was originally anticipated, such that trace DNA can be obtained trivially from any individual. As a consequence, the scope and composition of existing DNA banks far exceeds the legislative mandate. Chapter 1 reviews the current legal standards for evidence and assesses the level of exactitude necessary for forensic DNA testing to meet evidentiary standards. An evaluation of current practices in DNA banking revealed adequate informed consent practices; the need for a re-examination of access to public health samples with attention to local population interests and the necessity for developing standardized guidelines for banking practices and uniform quality assessment measures (Chapter 2). Comparing current forensic and genomic markers revealed similar concordance and discordance rates with a slight performance advantage towards the forensic markers. The results indicate that multiple runs are necessary to ensure reliability (Chapter 3). A significant ethical issue arises from the forensic practice of surreptitious DNA sampling. This lack of transparency violates autonomy, threatens the legitimacy of the State's int

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