The main ethical hurdle to establishing a universal forensic
DNA database is cost, not civil liberties, Canterbury
University ethicist Dr Carolyn Mason says.
Addressing the New Zealand Bioethics Conference in Dunedin on
Friday, Dr Mason said the huge cost of the computing systems
needed to hold every New Zealander's profile in a database
seemed like the ''wrong kind'' of ethical objection to its
However, the money it would absorb could be used to fund
other social services.
Dr Mason said maintaining the existing partial database
created inequalities, because those it captured as part of
criminal justice proceedings were likely to be the least
powerful members of society.
If universal, there would be political pressure to ensure it
was not abused, because no-one would be exempted.
Criminal conviction rates were likely to increase, and its
existence would act as a deterrent, Dr Mason said. However,
Dr Mason acknowledged it could wrongly implicate some people
in crime scenes.
At present, when police investigated serious crimes, they
sometimes requested familial DNA samples, which was
distressing when it revealed previously unknown
She admitted thatsome would see her view as ''naive'', but
she did not believe New Zealand would ever be ruled by a
totalitarian government that would abuse such a database.
It was possible costs would reduce over time with advances to
computing systems, she said.
Retired biochemist Dr Mike Legge, when asked for audience
questions, suggested the collection of blood spots from
babies had become a ''default'' database, which had even been
used in criminal cases under strict legal controls.
New Zealand established its database of DNA profiles (samples
are destroyed) in 1995, the second country to do so.