Today, the Connecticut Medical Examiner’s office begun an “Adam Lanza DNA study” to determine whether anything inside his genetic makeup could have warned police of his horrific acts ahead of time. Geneticists at the University of Connecticut will conduct the the study.
The study is highly controversial, in part because it portends the world of “Gattaca,” a popular 1997 science fiction film. That film portrays a futuristic world in which certain human beings are genetically engineered to weed out “defects” and given preference to natural-born human beings who are considered inferior. Many people fear that, if “violence” or other undesirable gene markers can be identified, genetic testing may lead to lasting social stigmas, genetic discrimination in the general population, as well as pre-emptive abortions.
The Lanza study is believed to be the first of its kind, and will apparently be looking for genetic clues that might explain Lanza’s violent behavior. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed 20 first grade children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Baylor College of Medicine’s genetics professor Arthur Beaudet endorses the research, saying, “By studying genetic abnormalities we can learn more about conditions better and who is at risk.” But Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Harold Bursztajn told ABC News that he’s not sure what the U. Conn geneticists will “even be looking for at this point.” Dr. Bursztain also cautions that this type of genetic testing to establish a link between genes and violence is thorny and full of false positives, and that “The last thing we need when people are in the midst of grief is offering people quick fixes which may help our anxiety, but can be counterproductive to our long term safety and ethics.”
Karen Mosher, Ph.D., Clinical Director for Kennebec Behavioral Health also notes that, while the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings have prompted an increased focus on mental illness and its link to violence, “the connections between mental illness and violence are not that strong. They are not predictive.”
Genetic testing has long been controversial, ranging from the issue of whether a person owns their own genes (a matter currently before the U.S. Supreme Court), to whether such testing should ethically be used as a tool for abortion and selective prenatal screening, to whether the data from such tests can be deemed trade secrets by pharmaceutical companies.
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