Give cops access to hospital blood samples for crime fighting: outgoing Health Minister

Edith Schippers (Photo: Commonst)Edith Schippers (Photo: Commonst)

Minister Edith Schippers of Public Health wants to give the police and judiciary access to DNA material stored by hospitals for medical purposes, according to a proposal she posted online "for consultation". She wants the police to be able to use this DNA material to help solve serious crimes, the Volkskrant reports.

The debate on using stored biomedical material has been running for years, according to the newspaper. A study by the Rathenau Institute in 2009 revealed that biomedical databases in the Netherlands have some 50 million pieces of body samples of some 14 million people stored. Most of this involves samples a patient gave for medical examinations, such as blood tests or urine tests. 

Schippers' proposal that this material can be sued for medical research - unless the donor refuses - was met with approval. But letting the police have access to it is meeting some resistance, according to the newspaper.

The proposal to give the police access to this DNA material includes a number of conditions. Firstly, the material must be needed to solve a serious crime, such as rape or murder, which carries a sentence of at least eight years in prison. Secondly, the database can only be used for targeted searches - the police must match the name and surname of a suspect with DNA trace evidence found in a crime. The police can therefore not search the database randomly. And thirdly, the database can only be used if it is impossible to get a DNA sample from the suspect because he is a fugitive, missing or dead. 

Schippers wants the database to be used as a last resort to get enough evidence for a criminal to be convicted. A committee will be established to "test" every request to access the database.

Despite these conditions, online forum Privacy Barometer is still worried. They call this proposal a worrying development and predict that it will result in the violation of medical confidentiality. "This material was never given in the knowledge that the police and judiciary can use it for investigation purposes in the future", a spokesperson said to the Volkskrant. The Privacy Barometer worries that this is a "slippery slope" that will end in a national DNA database that contains DNA samples of all Dutch. 

All Dutch can react to the proposal online until June 23rd. Whether this bill will ever reach parliament is likely up to the new cabinet.