DNA testing is the process of analyzing genetic material from an individual to determine identity, susceptibility to disease and other important information. As DNA analysis becomes a more common tool in the fields of medicine and criminal justice, there are still significant drawbacks to go along with its many benefits.
One of the biggest advantages of DNA testing is its use in identifying suspects in a criminal investigation. Because each individual has unique DNA, the margin of error is very small, making it a better form of identification than fingerprints. DNA evidence from blood, skin or hair can be matched to the DNA of a suspect to determine information about where an individual was and who they may have come in contact with.
DNA analysis is especially important in cases of rape, where doctors can often examine a victim and find traces of the rapist's DNA, which can the be compared to suspects to determine the guilty party.
Another major advantage of DNA analysis is the ability to screen for certain genetic diseases or risk factors. Prospective parents can be tested to determine if they carry genes that are responsible for certain conditions that may be present in other members of their families. This may have an effect on the decision of whether or not to have children.
Women involved in certain fertility treatments can also get information about an embryo before it is implanted. This can eliminate or confirm the presence of some genetic disorders, increasing the likelihood of a safe pregnancy and a healthy child.
One key disadvantage of DNA analysis is the potential for invasion of individual privacy. Because a person's DNA reveals so much information about their physical state, it is sensitive information that must be carefully guarded. Concerns about employers gaining access to genetic information about employees and using it to make hiring decisions or determine health care eligibility are common. Information about an individual's ethnic background and parentage could become cause for discrimination.
Finally, there are concerns that widespread use of DNA analysis could lead to the practice of eugenics, in which doctors and individuals could manipulate the gene pool by allowing only desirable genetic characteristics to be passed on to a generation of children. This type of action can be seen as interfering with nature and may run counter to some religious beliefs. The ethical questions concerning genetic modification are often at the forefront of the debate about when, and how, DNA testing should be administered.