DNA testing no substitute for commonsense, warns expert

Dr. Lyn Turney, from Swinburne University of Technology, an expert on forensics, pointed out how such tests failed in the wake of the 2009 Victorian bushfire disaster. 

She argues that sole reliance on genetic factors in identifying the remains of the 173 victims caused unnecessary distress to families, devaluing other approaches to victim identification like location, last-minute phone conversations and witness accounts.

Turney said the DNA identification process was made even more frustrating for families when, in many cases, it was unsuccessful, reports the journal New Genetics and Society.
“In the end, many victims were identified based on their location and communication with others. But these methods were not sought nor considered valid until DNA testing failed,” said a Swinburne University release quoting Turney.

“Earlier, recognition of the value of these forms of identification would have expedited the process, meaning bodies of victims could have been returned to their families in a timely manner.”

“In putting so much faith in DNA testing, as a community, we seem to have lost our ability to apply other rational processes,” she said.

The official toll of the Victorian bushfire tragedy recorded that 113 of the 173 victims died in their homes, 27 outside their houses trying to defend these, and further six in their garage and one in a shed.

In most cases their personal vehicles, their sole means of escape, were parked on their properties. 

“They were where they were expected to be, and where family and friends knew them to be,” Turney said. Despite this, it was weeks before forensic experts confirmed their identities and families could plan funerals.

“This was a really sensitive time for families, but this was overlooked because of the need to abide by rigid scientific protocol,” she said.

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