I am my brother’s keeper: Familial DNA testing

I like to use transferable concepts to provoke thought.

Rather than just talk about familial DNA testing in a boring way, let’s have some fun.

Let’s go back to Star Trek.

If you haven’t seen Star Trek before at least once, then maybe you should just give up in life, right?

Do you remember this episode?

This episode above of Star Trek: The Original Series, “Mirror, Mirror” was broadcast for the first time on October 6, 1967.

In this episode, the crew has a transporter mishap swapping Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. In the so-called Mirror Universe, the Enterprise is a ship of the Terran Empire, an organization as evil as the United Federation of Planets is benevolent. There is an Evil Kirk and an Evil Spock. A whole alternate universe of evil doppelgangers.

Do you have an evil relative?
Do you have an evil relative?

Do you have an “evil” relative?

Do you have someone in the family tree who is in the DNA database such as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)?

Why should you care?

The concern is literally biblical in origin. We can find it in Genesis 4:9

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

It seems as if eventually we are all going to be our family’s keeper to some degree or another. What started off as a laudable idea of collecting DNA samples from all soldiers as an ostensible means of identifying remains, to then public safety minded registration of DNA for sex offenders only, has turned into DNA collection for all convicted felons to now even convicted misdemeanants with rumblings of taking DNA from folks who are simply accused of a crime. Now, we find the legislature authorizing and encouraging familial DNA testing.

Here an example of what is to come. “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Sadly, the answer is yes.

Family DNA pushed for crime probes

By Margaret Harding


Source: Family DNA pushed for crime probes – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Saturday, May 14, 2011

A [Pennsylvania] Senate bill would allow Pennsylvania police officers to track suspects through their relatives’ DNA, a process discussed on Friday during a seminar at Duquesne University.

The seminar focused on the pros and cons of familial DNA searches, which scan a state’s DNA database of offenders and turn up near-matches that are close relatives of DNA found at crime scenes.

Legislation introduced in March by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester County, would require suspects charged with felonies and some misdemeanors to be swabbed for DNA samples, and would allow the use of familial DNA searches.

“It should be a last resort-type of analysis when law enforcement has exhausted all their investigative leads,” said Pete Marone, director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, which recently expanded to do familial searches. “It’s not always successful. … It’s a long shot, but when everything else is falling short, it’s the only shot you’ve got.”

The use of such familial DNA helped police arrest a suspect believed to be the Grim Sleeper killer in California. The suspect’s DNA was not in California’s database, but his son’s was — for a felony gun conviction. The son’s DNA led police to the suspect, whose DNA matched that from the crimes.

“It was worth it in the end to attempt that,” said Ron Freeman, a former commander with Pittsburgh police who spoke about the case at the seminar.

Local police departments already use DNA to search through a national database to link suspects to crimes. Ross police recently had two hits in the database in two weeks for separate crimes — a burglary last fall and an armed robbery last summer. The suspect in the armed robbery, Daniel Lintz, 22, of Erie, is the database’s real “success story,” Detective Brian Kohlhepp said.

Lintz was passing through the area when the crime occurred, and is in jail in Georgia in another case, Kohlhepp said.

“This would have been a difficult case for us to solve as this individual is not likely to cross our path again,” Kohlhepp said in an e-mail. “Had it not been for the (database) hit, this case would likely have gone unsolved.”
How are we going to regulate this all?
Poorly, I fear. Poorly.
Here are some attempted policies to try to govern the use of familial DNA:

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