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DNA Testing for Reunification Raises Ethics Issues

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies have offered their services to help reunite families separated at the southern US border, but such testing also raises ethical concerns, the Verge reports.

More than 2,300 children have been separated from their families as part of a new US "zero tolerance" policy and, in some cases, the children are too young to be able to give their own or their parents' names, which make reuniting them with their families difficult, USA Today adds. After some prodding, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki announced in a tweet that her company would be offering genetic testing to families there through nonprofit legal aid organizations. MyHeritage similarly offered 5,000 of its kits for testing, USA Today says.

But as Wired writes, genetic testing might not be a good idea. It notes that getting consent from the children for testing might not be possible, that the genotyping that 23andMe and MyHeritage do has no legal precedent for establishing familial relationships and might not hold up in court, and that testing could uncover cases of rape or incest.

There are also civil liberties concerns, the Verge adds, especially if DNA collection at the border were to become routine and if the companies held onto the data they generated. "Letting the Trump administration subpoena a DNA database of immigrants, asylum seekers, and people they're trying to throw out of the country is probably not consistent with the ethics of the people being tested," New York University School of Medicine's Arthur Caplan tells the Verge.