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Dismissing DNA dumb

We hold no brief for chairman of the Men’s Educational Support Association, Ralph Boyce.

Nor will we criticise Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite for what some could interpret as starting his re-election campaign a tad early on Monday before the large and influential voting demographic that is the Soroptimist International.

But we deem an apology to Barbados’ women by the goodly St. Philip South MP as somewhat melodramatic in response to Boyce’s suggestion of DNA testing for children at birth.

Both men could be accused of myopia in this scenario. While Boyce might be limiting his scope to that of proof of paternity, and Brathwaite might be accused of playing to the gallery, as all politicians do, DeoxyriboNucleic Acid testing at birth could prove revolutionary in Barbados if introduced and dealt with sensitively.

The benefits of DNA testing in determining paternity have been exhaustively aired previously. It can be used to both disprove and confirm the paternity of a child for both mother and father from the outset and therefore prevent subsequent familial complications, and importantly, emotional anguish for the child. We see merit in anything that establishes truths from the start, and we stridently posit that Boyce’s suggestion is worthy at least of discussion and should not be dismissed in soap box fashion.

But we carry Boyce’s argument somewhat further.

The use of DNA testing or the establishment of a DNA database of all Barbadian citizenry offers significant advantages for national security, law enforcement and health controls.

Medical researchers indicate that newborn genetic screening is a major benefit of DNA testing. They indicate that such early testing can be used to identify genetic disorders and early diagnosis would help in starting treatment promptly and also assist in reducing symptoms that could cause disability.

Some researchers even suggest that one of the best benefits DNA testing offers is via prenatal genetic tests. Such tests, we are told, can help doctors to determine whether an unborn child is likely to have any health issues at birth. The DNA test can also help doctors to evaluate if any genetic disease could be passed through that particular lineage. Additionally, DNA testing at birth could lead to the provision of genetic markers for ailments such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Specialists in the field stress that early understanding of one’s personal biology, through DNA testing, enables and enhances proactive control of one’s health and wellness.

These are not 2013 revelations but information already out there in the medical and scientific realms. With respect to law enforcement and national security, having controlled access to an identification database of all persons born in the island can only serve to assist the Royal Barbados Police Force with their myriad investigations. In situations where there are mass casualties occasioned by aircraft accident, drowning, burning, or other instances where identification becomes problematic, a DNA database could prove vital. Often sexual offences remain unsolved in cases where no facial identification is made by the victims. Again, a DNA database could be crucial in apprehending assailants when they leave physical evidence or bodily fluids on the victims or at crime scenes. The positive possibilities are endless.

Of course, as in most things, there is a downside. There are some who will argue that for the state to have DNA information on its citizens is an infringement of privacy and perhaps other civil freedoms. Additionally, DNA information can be used to one’s disadvantage if obtained by entities such as insurance companies. If there is a history of a particular debilitating ailment in a family, some companies would be loathed or at least cautious in providing health coverage for those in that particular lineage. Then there is the question of controls of DNA tests, storage and of course, human error. But any society must determine for itself where it will go with development, when the good far outweighs the bad. We appreciate that Boyce has confined himself mainly to establishment of paternity in his call for DNA testing for all newborns. But we cannot appreciate his suggestion being summarily dismissed by unnecessary apologetic political grandstanding.†

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