- Published: November 7, 2012
- Written by Joshua Jackson
Last month the EU authorized its first gene therapy to treat the rare condition lipoprotein lipase deficiency. China was the first to approve a commercial gene therapy - in 2003 Gendicine was cleared for use against head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Although the FDA has not yet approved any gene therapy drugs for use in the United States it can be expected that this will change in the near future and additional approvals will follow.
The potential applications of gene therapy are extroidinarily broad, and once such methods have been refined through adaptation to a variety of diseases, the question will arise: can it be used to reduce criminal behavior? Already genes have been identified which are implicated in violent behavior. The set of genes which could be usefully targeted in gene therapy may be greater than the set that one would consider for eugenics efforts. Consider for example that some behaviors which arise as a combination of environmental an genetic factors should be treatable by altering the gene. In this way that portion of the population which either benefits from or is unaffected by having the gene need not be affected or involved.
The legal territory surrounding this application of gene therapy parallels some aspects of the case of chemical castration. Notably, in Washington v Harper, the Supreme Court held that the State must prove there there is " 'clear, cogent, and convincing; evidence that the medication was both necessary and effective for furthering a compelling state interest" to medicate a nonconsenting inmate. This condition is difficult to prove in the case of someone at the end of their prison sentence who may or may not recidivate.
Such a treatment could still be provided on a "voluntary" basis in exchange for lighter sentencing or early parole but the condition of one's actions as voluntary is at best questionable when faced with an alternative of continued incarceration.