Presidential DNA: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Millions of individuals in the United States will know something about their own DNA by 2012. Whole genome sequencing will no longer be the exotic luxury item it is today. Genome scans like those available now for a few hundred dollars will be dirt cheap, if not free. By almost all accounts, genetic information will be more accessible to more people in 2012 than it is today.

The next presidential candidates will face an electorate that is radically more conversant in and curious about DNA than ever before. We should reasonably expect that the presidential election of 2012 will include, for the first time, requests for candidates to make their genetic information part of the public record.

Should the candidates heed these requests?

In an article published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, Robert Green and George Annas advocate for the next presidential candidates to honor a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for DNA. If genetic information is invoked by either candidate, the authors argue, the outcome will almost surely be one of exaggerated claims:

“…in the world of inflammatory accusations and smears that characterize presidential politics, it would be easy to engage in what might be called “genetic McCarthyism” by implying that an increased risk of disease is more substantial than it really is.”

The issue of presidential DNA and who gets access to it, is here to stay. 2012 presidential hopefuls have a few years to work out their talking points.

What would your talking points be? Would requests for disclosure of genetic information affect your decision to run for public office? Could you imagine scenarios where genetic information might influence your decision to vote for one candidate over another?

This week I’ll be interviewing Robert Green to learn more about his views on the future role, or absence, of genetics in political campaigns. Comments are open.

Green, Robert C., Annas, George J. The Genetic Privacy of Presidential Candidates. N Engl J Med 2008 359: 2192-2193.

Comments

4 Responses to “Presidential DNA: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

  1. Jason Kelly on November 20th, 2008 8:01 pm

    I doubt he’ll give it out, considering this:

    “The President-elect will also have to get used to handing his glass to a Secret Service agent every time he has a drink outside the White House. The agent carries a small bag in which to pop the glass and later he destroys it.

    The idea is to ensure that no unauthorised person has access to the Presidential DNA, but it is not clear how an enemy would use it.”

    from here:
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2008/11/09/barack-obama-what-life-will-be-like-for-new-us-president-115875-20881650/

  2. Chris Koenig on November 30th, 2008 12:09 pm

    The NEJM article made me really aware of a serious hazard of personal genomics. Given the simplicity of taking a DNA sample from anybody and forwarding it to one of the service companies for having a genome wide analysis done, how darn easy will blackmailing be? Particularly in the light that the complexity of the results’ meanings are hard to convey to the public.
    I strongly believe we globally need tighter regulation here! We need to ensure the sample owners’ consent!

  3. Pat on December 13th, 2008 1:47 pm

    Presidential genome sequence or not, it’s doubtful that anyone would want to clone a President.

    Attitudes concerning DNA genomes and personal privacy within the realm of health care for tissue regeneration, etc., or to immobilize the spread of disease can be considered an important medical research project that is equally applicable to Presidents or to any other citizen, and forms the pathways of the future and why Constitutional privacy is relevant to health care research within a personal framework of importance.

    If access isn’t possible, or detrimental decision making is done because of research access, it’s doubtful that medical science will be able to develop all of those wonderful and beneficial things that measuring and calculating and organizing the personal genome can make possible.

    The desire to thwart science would be equally detrimental to mankind as the disclosure of personal genome environments might be with respect to the individual. On the other hand, if personal privacy can be assured, and no detriment from data gathering can be assured, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages in the interests of health care and science.

    No one can provide DNA-based health care that meets potential expectations without also being permitted to gather the data to make such an option possible. To prevent it from being used in a detrimental fashion by making DNA weaponry, or by making economic sanctions possible to reduce costs is the real heart of the argument, and where the rubber meets the road Constitutionally, as well as morally. DNA research to enhance quality of life rather than to diminish it is supremely a part of the moral choice that is today’s science.

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