After something as tragic as the Sandy Hook massacre, everyone is looking for answers wherever they might be found. In a groundbreaking study, scientists will be examining deceased shooter Adam Lanza’s DNA to see if there are any genetic markers that may indicate someone who has the potential to do something as unthinkable as murdering children. Maybe there might be something there to point out severe mental illness, maybe not.
Baylor College of Medicine’s genetics professor Arthur Beaudet endorses the research, saying, “By studying genetic abnormalities we can learn more about conditions better and who is at risk.” But the ethical implications of singling out genetic mutations to explain violent behavior trouble many other scientists, who worry that such research might be held against innocent people who happen to share some of Lanza’s genetic features.
Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Harold Bursztajn told ABC News that he’s not sure what the U. Conn geneticists will “even be looking for at this point,” considering how thorny and full of false positives the link between genetic markers and violence is.
So far, the strongest evidence that genetics play a role in violent behavior comes out of research on MAOA, a gene that produces a substance called monoamine oxidase. Studies from the early ’90s showed that abused children with certain variations of this gene had problems regulating their aggressive impulses. But University of Pennsylvania criminologist Adrian Raine questions how crucial MAOA is in determining who actually becomes violent. University of California San Francisco geneticist Robert Nussbaum also worries about the potential for genetic discrimination: It’s a shot in the dark that’s unlikely to show anything. If they find something associated with autism, I’m afraid that it might have the effect of stigmatizing autistic people. I can see a whole morass coming out of this.
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