SF Chronicle Opposes Berkeley's Genetic Testing Program

by jeeg 27. July 2010 06:20


Each year, UC Berkeley freshmen participate in a program that's meant to draw them together. This year's topic is Personalized Medicine - and as part of the program, UC Berkeley has sent incoming freshmen a kit so that their DNA can be tested.

The DNA submissions are voluntary. But this is still a spectacularly bad idea, for any number of reasons.

What if there's a security breach, and the students' DNA information goes walking off with someone who may not have their best interests in mind? What's going to happen to the DNA once the program is over? And - most important - with so many privacy questions lingering over the emerging field of personalized medicine, should the university be doing this in the first place?

Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, is as concerned as we are. His bill, AB70, would prevent the California State University system from requesting DNA samples from enrolled or prospective students, and ask the University of California to refrain from it as well.

Should it pass, the bill would become effectively immediately. That would still be too late to stop UC Berkeley's project - the last of the 5,500 kits were mailed out this week - but legislators should still pass it. There's a lot more discussion that needs to happen before our public institutions start delving into controversial experiments with DNA collection.

The university says that the DNA tests it's going to perform will be for innocuous traits like lactose intolerance. But it doesn't change the fact that the university will still have the data - and that in the future, someone else could test it for less innocuous things.

The university is also upset that a legislator would try to tell it what it can and can't have as part of its curriculum. Ordinarily, we'd agree. Universities, including public universities, must have the freedom to conduct controversial research.

If the taxpayers are going to be held liable for the university's decisions, then we also have the right to ask questions. And right now we need more answers before the university should proceed.


Editorial, SF Chronicle- July 23


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