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DNA at home

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that in Germany some very strict laws exist against any DNA experiments outside “licensed sites”, for example the Daily Mail comments how people who do DNA experiments at home may now face three years of jail. I have to ask a question, “is it reasonable to ban all work on a particular field ?”.

Like it or not DNA experiments at home have been possible for over 20 years. Back in the early 1990s they were being considered in popular science magazines. Now for less than 2000 US$ you can get a home microbiology lab in which you can do DNA experiments.

My worry is that yes it might be possible to do some rather antisocial or criminal acts using DNA or DNA modification tools, but on the otherhand if we were to ban every tool which can be used to commit a serious crime then we will end up banning everything. For example I can make a quick list of some easy to misuse household items

cars, petrol (motor fuel), condoms, knifes, biro pens, matches, disposable pocket camera, cricket bat and water pipes.

Now in the interests of public safety I am not going to tell you how to do some very nasty things with these items, I am sure that many of my readers will spot quickly in this list some rather disagreeable possibilities but I think that the cost to the health, safety and welfare of soceity by banning these items would clearly outweigh their misuse.

The problem is that many tools can be used both for good and for bad, for example the uncommonly silly argument in Saudi Arabia against women driving includes.

3 – It also leads to women going out of the house a great deal, but their homes are better for them – as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said – because those who love to drive enjoy it very much, hence you see them driving around in their cars here and there for no purpose, except to enjoy driving.

OK one can argue even from a nonislamic point of view that aimless driving is wrong as it results in needless air pollution, but it is unreasonable to ban the use of a tool which has many legal and good uses because it is possible to use it for evil purposes. For example maybe if someone who is not as nice as me ended up with this computer they could be blogging with it right now on rather nasty topics. They could be writing hate speech or very obscene poetry.

Equally a woman could drive a car to enable her to go and visit the hospital, members of her family or her place of lawful employment rather than somewhere where she might commit an illegal or immoral act. I know in Saudi Arabia that they take a very harsh line on theft, one might have to consider the question of should they ban all driving as a person might drive a car to a bank, rob it and then drive away from the bank with the stolen money.

There does come a point where we have to regulate some items as they have extreme misuse potential, keep in mind that a gun is a length of metal tube. A 44 revolver has a bit more than just a length of tubing but at its core it is a bit of pipe. A shotgun is even more simple. It has very few moving parts and it is a length of steel pipe fixed to a lump of wood, it is also an item with clear misuse potential. I can think of quite a few different types of crimes you can commit with a gun.

Well to get started we have vandalism, armed robbery and murder. I am sure that my readers will be able to imagine some other misdeeds which can be committed with a gun such as illegal hunting (poaching) but we are not here to make a long list of misdeeds. But it should be clear to the reader that while a case can be argued for banning or restricting some metal pipes like the 9mm UZI, the AK47, the Tec-9 and some others, it would be unreasonable to ban all metal pipes. For example I live in a house which has metal water pipes which deliver drinking water and hot water which heats my house.

Equally it would be reasonable for Germany to ban home experiments with some classes of cells and microbes, for example Yersinia pestis (black death), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) Spanish flu and some other nastys. I could even accept as reasonable a law which banned all experiments other than those with a whitelist of organisms.

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