DAY 47: God, DNA and the Supreme Court

June 19th, 2013 § 0 comments

I’ve been rather slow, given my obsession with DNA and the state’s use of biometrics, in catching up with the crucial dereliction by the Supreme Court in Maryland v. King, decided earlier this month. The vote was 5-4, with dissents from the ‘libertarian conservative’ Scalia and the three women.

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for formal group photo in the East Conference Room in Washington

(It’s a 2-year-old picture, I don’t know if the court has changed.)

The issue, if you hadn’t heard, was that one Alonzo King was arrested for ‘menacing a group of people with a shotgun’, as happens from time to time in the U. S. On his arrest, the cops took a DNA swab from his cheek as part of a ‘routine booking procedure’. They then matched it with a sample from a six-year old rape. King was accordingly convicted; but he had never been a suspect. The police, following their usual practice, probably didn’t ask permission before taking his DNA. In so doing, Scalia and the other minority judges held, they made nonsense of the Fourth Amendment (the one which  which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures).

All of which is fascinating, given that, as I mentioned a while back (posting for 20th January), the U.S. army left Iraq carrying DNA samples (and other things) from three million Iraqis. They certainly mean to use the DNA, like the Maryland cops, to link people on their system with bad deeds elsewhere. And if Iraq has a Fourth Amendment, they don’t care. (The Iraqi Constitution seems pretty good on rights – and it has a minimum wage and universal healthcare. So why not go there for a gap year? Scared of the Americans? They’ve gone, I thought.)

However, exaggerated fears that the same Supreme Court were about to grab the rights over your DNA which are owned – depending on your viewpoint – either by you or by the Creator of the Universe,

god_ribozyme can temporarily be dismissed. I was scared, after reading ‘Ufo-Blogger‘ who pointed out that:

‘by the way, the very idea that the Supreme Court can “rule” on this issue is also a fraud. No court has ownership over your genetic code. No government authority has a higher power than the Creator of the universe and the creative, life-giving forces that brought you into being. Your DNA is yours alone, and any claim over it is null and void from the start.’ So there.

(NB This blog is a fascinating source of information, e.g. on secret alien DNA discovered by Russians. It makes a break from the boring old ACLU and similar human rights sites.)

Here’s a summary of their unanimous judgment – even the most reactionary Bush appointees came down on the right side. (The judges must be getting tired of DNA by now after two heavyweight cases in a month.) It was the notorious case of Myriad Genetics, Inc; who patented the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which can dramatically increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. And then naturally charged women large sums for the related tests: e.g.

‘Lisbeth Ceriani, a breast cancer survivor and plaintiff in the Myriad case, was faced with a bill of $4,000 for a test to determine if she carried a genetic mutation associated with hereditary ovarian cancer, because Myriad had refused to enter into a contract with her insurance company. She had to wait 18 months before she was able to obtain the test through a grant, at which point she learned she did indeed carry a mutation.’

Myriad’s shares dipped briefly after the judgment; it might be an astute time to buy. They’ll be back.

For information on the battleground worldwide, as opposed to within the narrow world of the Supreme Court, I recommend WHO,
who (who?) have info on the ‘ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of human genomics’, which I haven’t read yet – watch out for updates. The acronym ELSI – presumably the folk at WHO call it ‘Elsie’ – is a populist touch. The material on the page should be good to while away the odd hour while you’re waiting for your bail hearing to come up.

This anonymous medieval German love-song – the lost key song – was a favourite of my father’s I think he once told me it was by Rilke. Was he winding me up? I give, naturally, a translation into modern German or Merkelese as we call it.

Dû bist mîn, ich bin dîn:
des solt dû gewis sîn.
Dû bist beslozzen
in mînem Herzen:
verlorn ist das slüzzelîn:
dû muost immer drinne sîn.

Du bist mein, ich bin dein:
des sollst du gewiss sein.
Du bist eingeschlossen
in meinem Herzen:
verloren ist das Schlüsselchen:
Du musst immer drinnen bleiben.

 Music: something of a contrast, as flicking through the Morning Star today – skip the working class movement and the G8, get on to the music reviews – I was transfixed by Peter Lindley’s review of Icelandic group Samaris in Stoke Newington (‘the dawn of new wave techno romanticism’). Here’s a taste, although I think you can actually catch a vid of the London concert online.

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