Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Genetic Clocking

A new genetic test purports to clock people's age within 4 months. This is fraught with many problems.

>>the life insurance company YouSurance has announced that it would be testing the epigenetic age of their policy holders to assign them to risk groups. <<

First, this ties an important resource to the surrender of genetic information. If you refuse to give up your DNA for testing, you can't get insurance from that company. How long do you think it'll be before that's required by all insurance companies? Or all health care? Or to get any service whatsoever that involves age? Probably not long. Certainly a lot less if politicians own stock in the company that makes the tests, as happens with drug testing.

Second, it opens the way for discrimination, which is already a vicious problem in the "Insurance" industry.

Forensic scientists are also contemplating how epigenetic clocks could help determine the age of suspected criminals.

Here we run into a problem with consent. Suspects don't have body autonomy. They're routinely violated because they're held by a more powerful institution. Now consider how racist America's penal system is. That means people of color will have much less genetic privacy than white people, because they get picked up by the police more often whether they deserve it or not and forcibly stripped of their rights. People will just say there's no reason for them to protest giving up DNA unless they are criminals. This is not true, but the argument is ubiquitous.

>>But pediatric epigenetic clocks are likely to have non-medical applications as well. They could soon be used in immigration cases to prove the age of undocumented migrants seeking asylum as minors. Other future uses can be imagined, such as for child labour and trafficking surveillance, or even for the identification of child combatants in armed conflicts.<<

With children, of course, it's even easier. They have no legal title to their bodies in the first place. Adults decide what is to be done to them. If children protest the violation, just pin them down and do whatever you want like molesters do. The only risk is if you annoy other adults who hold power. So if you're an institution or government or other powerful group, that risk approaches zero. At least until people decide they'd rather burn your society to the ground than put up with pervasive violations.

>>However, most epigenetic tests have not yet been scientifically validated to confirm their precision and accuracy in different sub-groups of the population, and the ethical, legal and social implications of their use are not well understood.<<

Likely challenges involve both natural variation (some people "age slower" than others) and environmental advantages (sheltered people may "age slower" than disadvantaged ones). We damn well do know the implications, though: people will use this information to hurt each other, because they are already abusing each other with similar information. And just look at who's sniffing around requesting access to the tests.

>>In 2018, the identification of the suspected Golden State Killer made it clear that biological information shared with companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com through direct-to-consumer tests could be mined by law enforcement agencies. This case raised public and legal concerns about the privacy of genetic information, and the uses of DNA stored by private companies and in government databases.<<

Insofar as you are permitted to do so, keep your DNA private, and your relatives' DNA private. Once it's been read, it is no longer private and can be used to hurt you or people you care about. These tests use your own body as a weapon against you, and use relatives as weapons against each other. Forget about consent, it's irrelevant. The information will be taken by force, or occasionally subterfuge, as soon as anyone in power wants it.

>>Due to the capacity of epigenetic tests to expose sensitive information about an individual’s developing environment, social conditions and life choices, the implementation of tests like the pediatric clock requires close attention to issues related to privacy, surveillance and basic human rights.<<

Observation of current regimes indicates they care nothing about human rights or privacy and will take what they want to use how they want. Therefore the predictable damage done by violating people's bodies and privacy are almost certain to manifest.

>>When genetic testing was proposed as a solution for family reunification for the thousands of children separated from their parents by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations, ethicists and advocacy groups raised significant issues, including the lack of informed consent and concerns about the long-term storage of DNA in either private databases or those previously used only for those accused of crimes.<<

Consider also that genuine consent can only occur between equals, when there are no consequences to either decision. In this regard, most people have rarely if ever seen it. Instead what they see are things like "By entering this website you consent to the use of cookies" (which is the same argument as "By entering this frat house you consent to sex") or "Sign this form consenting to all known medical procedures or you don't get any health care." So the technical definition of consent and how it actually gets used are nothing alike. The "consent" in family reunification would be taking DNA from all the children by force, and telling adults that surrendering their DNA was the only way to get their children back. If the requested payment was sex instead of DNA, it would be considered rape, but blackmailing people for other things is routine to the point this society would break down if it couldn't be done that way.

>>The use of genetic tests to prove the biological relationship between family members seeking to re-unite in a country has also been criticized for being ethically problematic for children in non-genetic families, and having potentially devastating consequences for members of genetic families if DNA test errors occur. These situations could impede the reunification of children with their primary caregivers.<<

Now consider fun things like race. People already overestimate the age of black children by about 4 years, which means 14-year-olds are routinely mistaken for adults. What if that's not just lack of experience causing visual mistakes? Black girls enter puberty well before white girls. What if their genetic aging is different? And then how does that affect mixed-race people? I doubt the people making the tests will care. People already treat tests for drugs and bomb components as "real" when in fact the ones in common use actually detect a whole range of chemically similar things, legal and illegal. That's not proof, but people act like it is, and the results are devastating.

>>Problems may also arise if epigenetic clocks are used in immigration cases before we fully understand and address their ethical, legal and social consequences.<<

The tests already exist and are for sale. Therefore, assume they are in use, perhaps secretly. Sooner or later it will come out where and how people are using them. But by the time something like this gets talked about, it's already happening. It's too desirable for people in power to resist.

>>To date, there have been attempts but no official report of any police force or immigration agency successfully using an epigenetic clock test in solving a challenging criminal case or asylum claim.<<

Just because it's not reported doesn't mean they aren't doing it. They could be using this all the time as a quick easy solution without ever admitting it. So the thing to watch for isn't "official reports." It's vulnerable people reporting that someone took samples from them -- which is how China got caught organlegging its political prisoners, not that this has stopped the practice -- and the rate of sales for the testing materials.

>>However, it has come to our attention that researchers have been approached by governmental agencies interested in using the pediatric epigenetic clock in particular, and by migrants searching for ways to prove the age of their undocumented children in order to be granted access to legal privileges reserved only for minors.<<

If the government is asking about it, they're probably already doing it and just would like someone else to take over the work.

>>Standards of practice, ethical guidelines and regulations are critically needed to ensure the responsible use of epigenetic tests.<<

How about DON'T. We don't have a society where we can have nice things.

>> Most urgently, there is a need to protect children and their caregivers from premature or socially inadmissible uses of pediatric epigenetic clock tests to ensure their promises are realized with their best interest in mind.<<

Forget it. Those people don't have enough power to enjoy protection. You'd have to change the whole society to fix that. Look how privacy is destroyed in other areas. This would go against a massive trend. It is not going to happen without major changes all over the place.
Tags: ethnic studies, news, politics, safety, science
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