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A New Use of ‘Race’: The Evidence and Ethics of Forensic DNA Ancestry Profiling

Journal of Applied Philosophy

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Recent advances in population genetics have made it possible to infer an individual's ancestral origin with a high degree of reliability, giving rise to the new technology called ‘DNA Ancestry Profiling’. Bioethicists have raised concerns over using this technology within a forensic context, many of which stem from issues concerning race. In this article, I offer some reasons why we ought to allow forensic scientists to use DNA Ancestry Profiling to infer the race or ethnicity of perpetrators — on a particular understanding of race or ethnicity — in at least some cases. First, there is reason to think the process will meet our evidential standards in many cases. Second, the technology has serious prospects for improving racial justice. Third, the ethical concerns that have been raised can be addressed. And last, using Forensic DNA Ancestry Profiling to infer race or ethnicity has many benefits over its successor technology known as Molecular Photofitting. I conclude the essay by sketching the empirical work that remains to be done.