Studying the DNA of Newtown Shooter – A Double Edged Sword…

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Source:  DNA of Newtown Shooter Adam Lanza to Be Studied by Geneticists – ABC News.

LanzaBeaudet noted that studying the genes of murderers is controversial because there is a risk that those with similar genetic characteristics could possibly be discriminated against or stigmatized, but he still thinks the research would be helpful even if only a “fraction” may have the abnormality or mutation.

“Not all of these people will have identifiable genetic abnormalities,” Beaudet said, adding that even if a genetic abnormality is found it may not be related to a “specific risk.”

“By studying genetic abnormalities we can learn more about conditions better and who is at risk and what might be dramatic treatments,” Beaudet said, adding if the gene abnormality is defined the “treatment to stop” other mass shootings or “decrease the risk is much approved.”

The successful mapping of DNA is perhaps the major accomplishment of our times. Determining what each point on that map means will prove to be even more significant.   A case in point should be learned from one-hundred years ago. In the early nineteen hundreds eugenics was the “scientific breakthrough” of the times.  Here is how Wikipedia defines that movement:

Eugenics is the applied science of the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population, usually a human population.  It is a social philosophy which advocates for the improvement of human hereditary traits through the promotion of higher reproduction of more desired people and traits, and the reduction of reproduction of less desired people and traits….

As indicated in another Wikipedia quote below when we try to socially engineer improvements we are very open to adding our prejudices and world views to the mix:

The way eugenics was practiced in this period involved “interventions”, which is a euphemistic name for the identification and classification of individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals and entire racial groups — such as the Roma and Jews — as “degenerate” or “unfit”; the segregation or institutionalisation of such individuals and groups, their sterilization, euthanasia, and in the extreme case of Nazi Germany, their mass extermination….

I remember reading some detailed accounts in the Indiana Historical Society journals of local attempts to apply eugenics to the population of Indiana in 1909.  It resulted in sterilization of a good number of people who were deemed Mongoloid. Many deaf people were also sterilized because they were considered to be of low IQ which of course was later found to be totally untrue.  The purpose was to eradicate that condition from the population.  The problem was that many who were sterilized  were later found to be quite normal.  The researchers in their enthusiasm also took liberties to expand the definitions to include many poor and uneducated rural families.  And as the quote above indicates eugenics was the reason given for the mass exterminations in Nazi Germany.

Learning from history we must be very careful in how we use DNA knowledge in the social sphere. Misguided “good intentions” can lead us down some paths that could do much more harm than good.