University of Baltimore Law Forum


The recombinant DNA controversy is a novel one, because proposed legislation is aimed at the regulation of pure scientific research rather than at the application of technology. In the case of DNA research, at least in an academic setting, it would appear that we are faced with a classical constitutional confrontation. On the one hand, fundamental civil liberties are involved. On the other hand, it is argued that the Commerce Clause and powers under Art. I sec. 8 permit regulation in this area because of the magnitude of the postulated danger to public health. Unlike many such conflicts, this need not be resolved by the largely arbitrary application of ideology. This is an issue of fact namely, whether there is a significant danger to the public.

There is at present no scientific data to support the contention that recombinant DNA research poses a hazard to the public health. Government efforts to obtain such data have been minimal, and the results have been uniformly negative. Rigid regulation based on supposition would remove all limits on government power to regulate under the Welfare Clause since we are increasingly finding that there are few if any activities which do not to some extent affect the public health.

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