Serial Killer Arrest Ignites Ethical Debate Over Familial DNA Searches

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Last week, a California serial killer was caught after his son was convicted of a felony weapons charge. A DNA lab was able to discover a genetic link between the son's DNA and evidence from old crime scenes, which led them to investigate Lonnie D. Franklin, Jr.  Franklin has allegedly killed at least 10 people in California over the last 25 years. The police made the connection through the state’s familial search program, which allows police to take DNA from a crime scene and compare it to millions of DNA samples in a database. If there is even a partial match, police can get leads to the criminal by way of a family member.

The search has also raised ethical questions. Critics say it could lead to a form of racial profiling, because a higher proporation of inmates are African American, and linking their DNA to their family members could wrongly lead to suspicions of others in the black community.

We talk with Mitch Morrissey, Denver District Attorney, who supports the use of familial searches. Colorado and California are the only two states with a codified policy allowing this type of database search. We also talk with George Annas, chair of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University.