Having another person's DNA tested will be illegal in the UK

In the UK, it will be illegal starting Sept 1 to take a sample of someone's DNA and have it analysed without obtaining their consent. According the New Scientist, in an article discussing the new law:

The legislation allows for some exceptions. For example, if a couple have a child and then separate, and the man has parental rights, he is entitled to have the child's DNA analysed without getting consent from either the child or mother. He could submit the DNA along with his own for paternity testing.

The new law, part of the Human Tissue Act 2004, applies to employers who want to check up on their employees, insurance companies hoping to avoid insuring expensive enrollees, and publicity hunters who follow celebrities around hoping to get a DNA sample.

Helena Kennedy, chair of the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), which advises the UK government, stated:

Until now there was nothing to stop an unscrupulous journalist from secretly taking an everyday object used by a public figure - for example, a coffee mug - get a DNA sample from it, have it analysed and then publish their genetic information. DNA sequencing has impact not only on one person but on their whole family's privacy too.

To the best of my knowledge, there's no similar law in the US. This sounds like a good idea for American public policy, especially with the large number of ways available to have someone's DNA analyzed without them knowing. If you haven't read it yet you might be interested in Vern's story, a part of the new Consumer's Guide to Genetic Testing now being beta tested on this website. Check it out by clicking on guide in the text of the home page.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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