Ethical considerations for DNA testing as a proxy for nationality

Valedie Oray, Sara H. Katsanis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


As nations strengthen borders and restrict refugee admissions, national security officials are screening for fraudulent nationality claims. One tool to investigate nationality claims is DNA testing, either for claimed relationships or for ancestral origins. At the same time, the plight of global statelessness leaves millions without documentation of their nationality, and DNA testing might be the only recourse to provide evidence of heritage or relationships. DNA testing has been used sparsely to date to determine ancestral origin as a proxy for nationality but could increase as border controls tighten. Given the historic lessons in eugenics and the potential for misuse of personal genetic information, it is essential to consider the ethical parameters in order to guide the implementation of genetic data for such purposes. Here, we break down examples of the use of DNA testing for nationality, and the risks and benefits of genetic testing for this purpose. Important ethical considerations discussed include (1) empowerment of stateless individuals with evidence for citizenship proceedings; (2) imprecise correlation between genetic heritage and nationality; (3) effective protection of state interests; and (4) practicalities of DNA testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-66
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Bioethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • DNA testing
  • Statelessness
  • ancestry
  • border policy
  • immigration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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