Genetic Research: How Far Is Too Far?

By Gondles, James A., Jr. | Corrections Today, April 1994 | Go to article overview
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Genetic Research: How Far Is Too Far?


Gondles, James A., Jr., Corrections Today


Are there things we really don't want to know about ourselves? I pose this question in light of the recent attention being given to genetic research and its potential for detecting the ills of our society.

In 1990, ACA's membership adopted a public correctional policy on research and evaluation. As part of this policy, ACA calls for corrections officials to "prohibit the use of offenders for experimental subjects in medical, psychological, pharmacological and cosmetic research except where warranted and described for the diagnosis and treatment of an individual's specific condition." This policy grew out of a position statement the Association passed in 1976 calling for a ban on the then-practiced random use of offenders as subjects in medical experiments.

Genetics may be the next area of research to show up on our doorstep--particularly in relation to genetic mapping. Genetic mapping is a technique by which genes are analyzed so as to pinpoint the presence and pattern of defective genetic material.

Huntington's disease, certain kinds of cancers and numerous other medical conditions have been determined to be linked with genetic abnormalities. Alcoholism, drug and substance addictions, syndromes and certain forms of deviant behavior each may have genetic origins that, if exposed and confronted, could affect society's treatment of such conditions and its response to crime and punishment. Ultimately, researchers hope to eliminate defective genetic material before it can be passed on to succeeding generations.

But are we as a society prepared to learn so much about the mysteries of the human condition? Many agree that this type of research has many potential benefits. But for others, it is a highly manipulative process with so much potential for abuse that the benefits could never outweigh the compromises we would have to make to obtain and use the information effectively.

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