40 Futures is a speculative fiction series about the criminal justice system.
Alban sat on a stainless steel examination table in the back of a veterinary clinic closed for renovations. His legs dangled and his hands were in his lap, the childlike disposition amplified his nervousness.
“Yo, I keep going back and forth,” he hollered across the room, breaking the silence.
A clinician with his back turned, lifted his head and looked over his left shoulder, “Give me a second.” He fiddled with something on the table for a moment and turned around. Alban could see small plastic vials standing in a red tray, a microscope, and clear cups, with and without liquid in them.
“Like, you want the other procedure or you’re out completely?” The clinician was wearing a medical mask pulled down beneath his nose, glasses, and a white lab coat with the veterinarian’s embroidered logo. The coat was one size too big and belonged to someone named Brian.
“Just remind me the options,” Alban replied.
“I’ve currently got you down for the ‘23&Free’ package. That’s the one that changes all but 23 of your DNA markers. It’s usually enough to throw the cops off and avoid an arrest.”
“Now, there’s also a premium service that can get you down to five original markers—that’s my ‘Five Alive’ plan.” The clinician put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “You know the Feds can now make a match on six markers, right?”
Alban continued to nod and leaned into the up-sell, until he remembered the astronomical cost of the platinum plan.
“Now, as I told you earlier, we don’t talk about why you are here or what trouble you are looking to avoid, so this isn’t a conversation. It’s a decision for you to make,” lectured the clinician. “But, if you are running across state-lines robbing banks or it’s the season for treason, then, I think, being alive is better than being free.”
“Right, but how does it work?” asked Alban, showing a mix of hesitation and curiosity with a man who wouldn’t even share his name, not even a nom de whatever-this-is.
“It’s pretty simple, we’re just deleting some of your STRs,” explained the clinician.
“You spend a lot of time around doctors, don’t you?” Alban was incredulous. “My ‘stars’?”
“I’ve never told you who I work with,” the clinician’s easy demeanor vanished. “S.T.R. They are the markers of your DNA that allow the cops to turn your genes into something like a fingerprint.
“So, think of this as the genetic equivalent to burning your fingerprints off. But, instead of acid, we’re gonna remove some of your blood, isolate the DNA, edit it,” he pointed back to the workstation, “and reinject you with the final product. Voilà, new you.”
He stared at Alban, waiting for a decision.
“Don’t worry,” said the clinician worried the customer was getting cold feet, “unlike the fingerprint thing, this is painless.”
Links from the Podcast
Genealogy sites give law enforcement a new DNA sleuthing tool, but the battle over privacy looms. (ABA Journal)
When the police can’t afford to solve cold cases using DNA databases, deep-pocketed donors can. (New York Times)
What is CRISPR gene editing, and how does it work? (Conversation)