Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-cvxtj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-13T10:45:23.132Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Ethical Issues in DNA Identification of Human Biological Material from Mass Disasters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 April 2013

Luciana Caenazzo*
Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padua, Padova, Italy
Pamela Tozzo
Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padua, Padova, Italy
Daniele Rodriguez
Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padua, Padova, Italy
Correspondence: Luciana Caenazzo, PhD Department of Molecular Medicine, Legal Medicine Unit University of Padua Via Falloppio, 50 35121 Padova, Italy E-mail


Each mass disaster has its own characteristics and will involve a different approach, so the safeguarding and collection of forensic evidence have to be considered as part of the field response procedure. DNA typing has played a more prominent role in the identification of human remains, and particularly so for highly decomposed and fragmented remains. Although the ultimate goal is to obtain the identification, the specific context of each application of human identity testing has its specific problems, ranging from technical approach, through statistical interpretation, to ethical issues. The preparedness plan of the forensic genetics laboratory needs to include policies for family notification, long-term sample storage, and data archiving. For this reason, DNA sample collection and a strategy for DNA-based victim identification needs to be part of the preparedness plan. In this paper, the authors seek to define three of these ethical aspects: (1) the humanitarian importance of identification; (2) resource allocation in the victims’ DNA identification; and (3) the secondary use for research of the samples initially collected for identification purposes. DNA analysis for the purpose of identifying victims of mass disasters has complex implications that demand much more rigorous examination than they have received until now.

CaenazzoL, TozzoP, RodriguezD. Ethical Issues in DNA Identification of Human Biological Material from Mass Disasters. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2013;28(4):1-4.

Special Report
Copyright © World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1.Ziętkiewicz, E, Witt, M, Daca, P, et al. Current genetic methodologies in the identification of disaster victims and in forensic analysis. J Appl Genet. 2012;53(1):41-60.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
2.National Institute of Justice. Mass Fatality Incidents: A Guide for Human Forensic Identification. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice; 2005. Accessed March 25, 2013.Google Scholar
3.Alonso, A, Martin, P, Albarrán, C, et al. Challenges of DNA profiling in mass disaster investigations. Croat Med J. 2005;46(4):540-548.Google ScholarPubMed
4.Graham, EAM. Disaster victim identification. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2006;2(3):203-207.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
5.Prinz, M, Carracedo, A, Mayr, WR, et al. DNA Commission of the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG): recommendations regarding the role of forensic genetics for disaster victim identification (DVI). Forensic Sci Int Genet. 2007;1(1):3-12.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
6.Budowle, B, Bieber, FR, Eisenberg, AJ. Forensic aspects of mass disasters: strategic considerations for DNA-based human identification. Leg Med (Tokyo). 2005;7(4):230-243.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
7.Hick, JL, Hanfling, D, Cantrill, SV. Allocating scarce resources in disasters: emergency department principles. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;59(3):177-187.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
8.Lunetta, P, Ranta, H, Cattaneo, C, et al. International collaboration in mass disasters involving foreign nationals within the EU: medico-legal investigation of Finnish victims of the Milan Linate airport SAS SK 686 aircraft accident on 8 October 2001. Int J Legal Med. 2003;117(4):204-210.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
9.Missing People, DNA Analysis and Identification of Human Remains—A guide to best practice in armed conflicts and other situations of armed violence. 2nd ed. Geneva, Switzerland: International Committee of the Red Cross; 2009. Accessed March 25, 2013.Google Scholar
10.Knoppers, BM, Saginur, M, Cash, H. Ethical issues in secondary uses of human biological materials from mass disasters. J Law Med Ethics. 2006;34(2):352-365.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
11.Kelman, I. Operational ethics for disaster research. Int J Mass Emerg Disasters. 2005;23(3):141-158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar