Experts doubt plan to study Connecticut shooter’s DNA
Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:03PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 27, 2012 3:32PM EST
Geneticists at the University of Connecticut have been asked to study the DNA of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza in an investigation that’s believed to be the first of its kind.
The study is expected to look at abnormalities in Lanza’s DNA that could increase the risk of aggression. However, some health experts are warning of the ethical repercussions in linking generic mutations to violent behaviour.
University of Connecticut spokesperson Tom Green told ABC News that the state’s medical examiner has asked for help from the school’s genetic department.
Green said the study has yet to begin and he could not provide any details about what the research would entail, but he said the department would help in any way it could.
Police say Lanza, 20, used his mother’s guns during a shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn. shortly before Christmas that killed 27 people, including 20 children.
Lanza killed his mother in her bed before his Dec. 14 rampage. He took his own life as he heard officers arriving to the school, according to police. Authorities have yet to provide a theory about his motive.
Lanza was described as socially withdrawn and awkward, and has been said to have had Asperger's disorder, a mild form of autism that has no clear connection with violence.
Link difficult to prove
While few details have been released about the study, some mental health experts worry that the findings could lead to an unfair stigmatization against others with similar genetic abnormalities to Lanza’s.
“To date there’s no known gene to going postal,” said Dr. John Vincent, head of molecular neuropsychiatry at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Vincent told CTVNews.ca on Thursday that there have been very few studies on the genetics of aggression in humans.
“If you were trying to find a gene, I’m pretty sure this would not be the way to do it. You would need to study a population in the order of tens of thousands.”
Vincent said he’s apprehensive about what researchers plan to do with the data following the study.
“If they publish it, my concern would be how that information would be digested by the general public and I think that’s where the danger lies.
“Another person may have a mutation of the same gene but it’s just completely by chance and completely unrelated to Adam Lanza’s behaviour. The danger then is it could be perceived as a risk factor when it’s not.”
University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman told CTV News Channel on Thursday that it’s very difficult to theorize what violent behaviour an individual may carry out based on his or her genes.
“From a mental health point of view, genetics is so new and poorly understood in terms of this kind of predictive values, that I think we should be looking at other indicators and not genetics at this point.”
Bowman said researchers may discover anomalies within Lanza’s genetic structure pattern that could be associated with violence or aggression. However, he said that all individual possess genetic anomalies, “it’s just a question of where they are.”
With files from The Associated Press