Investigation Says Texas Gave Newborns' DNA to Military Database

By Andrew Moseman | February 25, 2010 2:53 pm

Cute Baby Boy Isolated on WhiteFrom 2002 until a lawsuit last year, the state of Texas took the small blood samples taken from newborns to screen for diseases, and saved them without the parents’ consent. Texas always said it did this for research purposes, of which there are many. But there was a wee detail about all this that didn’t come to light until an investigation published this week in the Texas Tribune. According to the Tribune, between 2003 and 2007, Texas quietly handed over 800 of those samples to the military for a project to create a database of mitochondrial DNA, which people inherit from their mother.

Like virtually every state, Texas routinely screens almost all newborns for rare diseases, collecting a few drops of blood at birth. In recent years many states, Texas included, have stored the samples and offered them up for research, mainly in pediatrics [ScienceInsider]. Because the samples are anonymous, researchers decided it was okay to use them without parental consent. However, the Tribune’s investigation uncovered emails showing Texas state officials publicized the use of DNA taken from newborns in studies on childhood disease, but deliberately dissuaded state employees from divulging the use of baby blood in establishing a DNA database [Popular Science].

These newborn blood samples already had a long and winding legal history in Texas. In 2002 the state stopped throwing out the samples after testing and began to store them indefinitely. State health officials never notified parents of the changes; they didn’t need consent for the birth-defect screening, so they didn’t ask for it for research purposes [Texas Tribune]. When the practice came to light, lawsuits followed. The Texas Civil Rights Project sued in March, but in May, the state legislature passed a law specifically allowing health officials to store the samples for research if the parents don’t object. In December, the civil rights group settled its lawsuit when the state agreed to destroy all the samples it gathered before May 2009, the time the new law passed.

However, Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project says nobody at the Department of State Health Services bothered to tell him about the military’s database, or that Texas was giving anonymous samples to it. According to the Tribune investigation, the state settled the case with such expedience that it never reached the discovery phase, so neither Harrington nor his clients saw any database documents. “This is the worst case of bad faith I have dealt with as a lawyer,” he said Monday [Austin American-Statesman]. The state fired back and called Harrington some names, but he says he might sue again, this time over the database.

Some worry that Texas’s lousy handling of this case will create a backlash—with parents declining to screen their kids (who may end up much sicker because their disease wasn’t caught early), and with the spots no longer made available for valuable pediatrics research, such as tracing the origins of childhood leukemia [ScienceInsider].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Fernando

    What is gained by keeping the samples, what is lost by destroying them and what could be gained if people started caring about something they couldn’t possibly use and gave away for free.

  • Fox Mulder

    What is this, an X-Files episode? Are they trying to clone super human strength babies, or create and spread a new disease in which no one will have a cure for? Either way, it’s creepy and so like our government, full of conspiracies.

  • Fox Mulder

    If you think in mathematical terms, then trying to survey all the genetic variations. Is similar to finding a basis the spans a set.

    They would know what is genetically possible. So they would know how to defend. But you keep worrying the military’s ankle like some yapping terrier. Like all knowledge it is a matter of time before all is found out. Do you want us to find it out first or them (China, Iran, …) . The concept has been around for a long time. See Robert Heinlein’s book, which is or could be called racist. Oh, China is just a bogey man. Just join your friend Richard Gere at the next protest. Get real! I’m afraid of the Margaret Sangers of the World who set up Planned Parenthood and hated Blacks. If my or my kids’ genetic profile isn’t as good as the norm, I will have gene therapy. I will get better. I won’t say creepy and stick my heas in the sand.

  • Another Marine

    The state of Texas gave anonymous samples to the US Military to be included in a nationwide research database. SO WHAT. In what way does any of this have a negative impact on any of these children? How are the people of the US harmed by this?

    How many of you whose heads are spinning because the evil empire (US government) has a mitochondrial DNA database made up of anonymous donors have no problem with the destruction of viable embryos who given the basic necessities I.e. nutrition, water, and controlled environment, would become sentient human beings? Let’s get our priorities in order here folks.

    Why do people assume the military who protects you and could easily take over this country via a coup if they wanted to is out to get them? You are much more likely to die driving your car than at the hands of our military.

  • it support guy

    That is such a breach!!

  • california secretary of state

    What is gained by keeping the samples, what is lost by destroying them and what could be gained if people started caring about something they couldn’t possibly use and gave away for free.


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