In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., people want answers and some think they may be locked away in Adam Lanza’s genes.
The Connecticut medical examiner has asked geneticists to study Adam Lanza’s DNA. Lanza is the man responsible for the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 27 dead including 20 first graders. The study, which will be the first of its kind, will be looking for abnormalities or mutations in Lanzas genetic makeup. ABC News reports,
Geneticists not directly involved in the study said they are likely looking at Lanza’s DNA to detect a mutation or abnormality that could increase the risk of aggressive or violent behavior. They could analyze Lanza’s entire genome in great detail and try to find unexpected mutations.
Arthur Beaudet, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine and the chairman of Baylor College of Medicine’s department of molecular and human genetics, said the geneticists involved in the study are more than likely going to try to,
Detect clear abnormalities of what we would call a mutation in a gene … or gene abnormalities and there are some abnormalities that are related to aggressive behavior … They might look for mutations that might be associated with mental illnesses and ones that might also increase the risk for violence.
We already know that there are some gene mutations that are known to be associated with aggressiveness and even violence, but these types of studies are controversial because of the stigma they create for people with similar genetic characteristics. Other experts in the field are not quite so confident that this study is a good idea.
Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said,
Given how wide the net would have to be cast and given the problem of false positives in testing it is much more likely we would go ahead and find some misleading genetic markers, which would later be proven false while unnecessarily stigmatizing a very large group of people … It’s too risky from the stand point of unduly stigmatizing people, but also from distracting us from real red flags to prevent violence from occurring. The last thing we need when people are in the midst of grief is offering people quick fixes which may help our anxiety, but can be counterproductive to our long term safety and ethics.
Although there may be a genetic component to crime, it is important to remember that one single thing can’t be blamed for what happened in Sandy Hook, Aurora, or Portland, to name a few of the most recent mass shootings. There is not a simple explanation as to why a person would walk into an elementary school, or movie theater, or mall and intentionally take the lives of multiple people. More than likely it is a combination of many things. Yes, a person’s genetic makeup may predispose them to be more aggressive, but environment plays as important a role in determining how a person behaves in a given situation as anything else.
However, when people are hurting and in need of answers they tend to latch on to the one thing that makes the most sense, and in a case where nothing makes sense it’s easier to blame the genetics than anything else. Easier to say it was a mutation in Lanza’s DNA than the culture of violence that prevails in our society, or the lack of adequate mental healthcare available to those who need it. It absolves us as a community of any of the blame for the death of innocents if we can point a finger and say, ‘he was a freak, his genetics prove it.’
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