Procedure proposed by Government technically flawed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 12:00am

I refer to the report headlined, 'Genetic tests for abode children sealed' (South China Morning Post, May 30).

Whilst we are relieved that agreement has been reached between mainland and SAR authorities on the necessity for genetic testing as a means of determining relationships between individuals, the procedures outlined in the report by which this is to be achieved are profoundly disturbing and fundamentally flawed.

The proposals suggest that the Government Laboratory be expanded specifically to deal with the tens of thousands of cases expected to result from the right of abode issue. The cost of this expansion places an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. The proposed addition of eight staff to the laboratory will allow 3,000 cases per year to be processed.

This falls far short of the Government's own estimates of the number of cases needing further clarification. If the Government Laboratory is to be the only centre performing these DNA tests this procedure appears to be incompatible with the Court of Final Appeal's ruling that all right of abode cases be settled in a reasonable time-frame.

The setting up of a routine DNA testing laboratory by the Government will be counter-productive to the evolution of the high-technology service industry in Hong Kong. The private sector utilises funds derived from routine testing to subsidise basic research and development aimed at improving the techniques and services it provides. In this way, the number of skilled workers and the pool of knowledge of the whole field increase, contributing to a healthy, competitive environment. In contrast, the Government's stifling proposals of routine sample testing will barely cover costs. They will add nothing of value to the high-technology sector and simply drain valuable income from companies with a greater entrepreneurial vision.

The Security Bureau was quoted as saying that 'Enlisting the assistance of overseas laboratories . . . is undesirable . . .' There are several companies in Hong Kong that are perfectly able to provide these DNA fingerprinting services. In many other countries genetic testing of individuals for immigration purposes is performed by the private sector.

Most importantly, the procedure proposed by the SAR Government and the Public Security Ministry is technically flawed, as it requires the separate testing of samples. Under the proposals, the applicant is tested in the mainland, the parents in Hong Kong and the results are compared. This is scientifically unsound, as it is virtually impossible to reproduce exactly the test conditions between different laboratories. This method also increases the documentation, bureaucracy, possibility of interference or contamination, and cost of the procedure. Interestingly, no information was announced regarding how these two different systems would be monitored to ensure consistency of data.

Reputable private laboratories are able to conform to any regulations set down by the SAR and mainland authorities regarding security of sample handling, confidentiality of personal data, and the accuracy in obtaining and interpreting the results. The effect of the Government's action will be the complete removal of the DNA fingerprinting market from a range of small businesses in which overheads are high and international competition is fierce. These proposals are also fundamentally at odds with the Chief Executive's stated aims of making Hong Kong an international hub for high technology.

The Government should review the proposed regulations as they directly infringe the right of customers to choose which service they prefer based on commercial considerations. The continued existence of several companies may be affected and in doing so adversely influence the perceptions of potential investors in high technology in Hong Kong.

Dr RICHARD A COLLINS Project Manager Hong Kong DNA Chips Ltd