Each person is made up of over 20,000 genes. Genes create parts of the human body from hair follicles to the pancreas. As technology continues to encompass industries, the world of genetics may be the next domino to fall to big data due to DNA laws. As efforts to digitize DNA become more sophisticated, there will no longer be a need to store actual DNA samples.
Big data can be defined as using large amounts of data to predict patterns and trends related to human behavior. Currently, the U.S. criminal justice system has the largest DNA data bank in the world with over 10 million DNA samples. But, the commercial world is not far behind in numbers.
The positives of big data include being able to predict potential regional outbreaks.
Is DNA Personal Property?
Many believe that with enough DNA samples and powerful computers, all future biological questions can be answered. However, with these benefits, individual consent and privacy questions need to be addressed.
DNA Laws used as Strategies for Business Use.
One of the main questions with DNA banks is whether they have individuals’ informed consent to take their DNA. Governments and institutions historically have not done a good job of this.
Henrietta Lacks is a famous U.S. example where her DNA cells were taken without her consent. Europe also has a notorious past in that on more than one occasion, thousands of men had their DNA taken in an attempt to find a sole perpetrator of a crime. Recent court rulings still offer mixed results.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that routine DNA samples from all arrested individuals is constitutional because it serves a legitimate interest.
The court showed that personal privacy is outweighed by public safety. However, this ruling is contrasted in the United Kingdom where they ruled that innocent parties and minors may request to have their DNA samples destroyed. The European court ruled that individuals have a right to be forgotten.
In 2009, an Iceland biotech firm named deCode put its DNA bank up for sale to avoid bankruptcy. Recently, 23andme sold a $300 million stake to a pharmaceutical company and will help the pharmaceutical company develop drugs.
Personal Property vs Commercial Interest
Many proponents of informed consent view DNA as personal property as it describes the genetic makeup of the person. They argue individuals must have clear and informed consent about what companies will do with their DNA before taking the samples. However, a California court in 1983 ruled that a person has no property interest in cells that have been removed from their body. As DNA increasingly plays a larger role, courts will need to balance individual privacy vs. commercial interests.
Legal challenges may be on the rise with big data involved in DNA.
Commercial interests establish an incentive for medical research, commerce, and monetization of patents. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously established that genes are patentable if they have been modified in a laboratory and did not occur in nature.
Another critical question facing DNA banks is whether they are keeping DNA private. Commercial DNA banks such as 23andme and Ancestry both have millions of DNA samples from individuals that signed up for genetic lineage services. But often times, it appears profits come before privacy.
With the rise of genetics, lawyers will have to answer many of the legal challenges this field will produce. Lawyers will have to find solutions that balance obtaining informed consent from individuals while maintaining an economic incentive for corporations to pursue medical research.
As George Annas suggests, a solution to this problem will need for lawyers to adequately draft uniform consent documents that companies can use to protect patients and minimize lawsuits. But lawsuits are a part of business, and lawyers will need to offer alternative dispute resolution to ensure all parties find optimal solutions. Corporations will also leverage the information of big data through mergers and acquisitions. Lawyers will be needed to minimize risks and ensure the continued privacy of the DNA samples.
As big data expands into the world of genetics, it must ensure it protects individuals. Lawyers will have to take an increasingly larger role in being advocates to ensure there are checks and balances on big data.
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