The Government has your baby’s DNA. Constitutional? YOU decide.

In the February 4th 2010 article, The Government has your baby’s DNA, CNN’s Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, relates the story of how a Minnesota couple came to discover that their baby daughter, Isabel Brown, carries a gene that puts her at risk of cystic fibrosis: The government told her.

“It’s simple, the [Brown’s] pediatrician answered: Newborn babies in the United States are routinely screened for a panel of genetic diseases. Since the testing is mandated by the government, it’s often done without the parents’ consent, according to Brad Therrell, director of the National Newborn Screening & Genetics Resource Center. [http://genes-r-us.uthscsa.edu/]

“In many states, such as Florida, where Isabel was born, babies’ DNA is stored indefinitely, according to the resource center.

“Many parents don’t realize their baby’s DNA is being stored in a government lab, but sometimes when they find out, as the Browns did, they take action. Parents in Texas, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits, and these parents’ concerns are sparking a new debate about whether it’s appropriate for a baby’s genetic blueprint to be in the government’s possession….”

According to Cohen’s article, many states, including the state of Florida where Isabel was born, store DNA tests indefinitely.  The Browns were appalled to make this discovery, worrying that their daughter’s DNA records could be disseminated to other agencies and used at some point to prevent her from getting a job or purchasing insurance.

The State of Minnesota’s website explains that they indefinitely store DNA as a service to the public, for example, in case tests need to be repeated, or to aid in the identification of a missing or deceased child, also to provide data for medical research.

For insight into why states do not ask parents’ permission before gathering DNA and screening babies for genetic diseases,  Cohen put the question to Art Caplan, bio-ethicist* at the University of Pennsylvania:

“It’s paternalistic, but the state has an overriding interest in protecting these babies.” However, he added, “I don’t see any reason to do that kind of storage.  If it’s anonymous, then I don’t care.  I don’t have an issue with that.  But if you keep names attached to those samples, that makes me nervous.”

Should the residents of these states object to the testing and storage of their children’s DNA?  All opinions and “spin” aside, are these practices a violation of their Constitutional rights?

To answer this question, you may look to the Amendments to the Constitution and decide for yourself.

In 1789 the very First Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures twelve amendments to the United States Constitution.  Ten of these amendments were ratified [to approve and sanction; to make valid] and became part of the Constitution in 1791.  They are known as the “Bill of Rights” and remain today as the primary protection of the rights of the American people.  The Bill of Rights limits the government’s powers to unreasonably interfere with people’s rights to go about their lives as they see fit. Amendment 4 deals with an individual’s right to privacy.

Quoting from The People’s Guide to the United States Constitution:

Amendment 4.

The right of the people to be secure [safe] in their persons, houses, papers, and effects [personal belongings] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause[“probable cause” means a valid reason in presuming someone is guilty of some illegal act], supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Earlier, in Great Britain and in the thirteen Colonies, the government could search any person or place it wanted to search without legitimate cause or reason.  This amendment, however, only protects a person where the invasion of privacy is “unreasonable.” It is not considered unreasonable for the police to look into a person’s car or house after an arrest or to follow a suspected criminal across private property in order to make an arrest.

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights states the purpose of these amendments and the reason they were added to the Constitution.  To understand the Bill of Rights more fully, I invite you to read pages 119 through 155 of The People’s Guide to the United States Constitution, where words and terms are defined within the text as above, allowing you to easily read the entire text of the United States Constitution in just few hours.

To read the full CNN article:       http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/02/04/baby.dna.government/index.html?hpt=Sbin

The Bill of Rights and its preamble can be seen and read in their original format at your local library or online at www.archives.gov.