Carnegie Mellon University
Workshop on the Ethics of Post-Conflict and Post-Disaster DNA  Identification

Workshop on the Ethics of Post-Conflict and Post-Disaster DNA Identification

September 22-24, 2011, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA USA)


The Workshop on the Ethics of Post-Conflict and Post-Disaster DNA Identification will be held from Thursday Sept. 22, 2011 through Saturday Sept. 24, 2011 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.  Session locations will be available shortly.

The information that can be found on this website includes a general description of the workshop (this page), the workshop program, information about participants, background readings, and information on the organizers, advisers, and participating institutions

Statement of Objectives

Over the past 30 years, forensic DNA profiling is increasingly becoming a standard tool in the search for missing people in the aftermath of mass violence and mass disaster. The time is right to systematically identify and analyze the major ethical and policy challenges associated with this use of genetic technology.  This workshop will serve as the first step of a three-year research project with this goal in mind.  It convenes practitioners, bioethicists, and social scientists to explore the ethical dimensions of DNA identification in post-conflict and post-disaster societies. 

The specific objectives of the workshop are to:

  1. provide an engaging, open environment for stakeholders from different contexts to share their experiences and knowledge;
  2. identify common ethical challenges and concerns in applying DNA technology toward identifying missing persons;
  3. discuss the evolving practice and application of DNA identification and implications for future identification efforts; and
  4. finalize the agenda for the empirical aspects of the research project.  

We hope that participants will bring their personal experiences in the field to bear on the issues we will be discussing and that the diversity of participants in the meeting will mean that comparisons can be made between situations in different regions, and also how the recover and identification of bodies is perceived by various stakeholders (e.g., relatives of the missing, human rights advocates, government officials, and scientists). 

You can find more information about this project in the Background Readings section of this website.

Meeting Format

As you can see from the preliminary program, on Thursday Sept. 22 we will have four panels on general issues that are applicable to all stakeholders in the realm of post-conflict and post-disaster identification.  We will also have a discussion on existing guidelines in this arena and what can be done to improve them.

On Friday Sept. 23, we will have nine roundtable discussions (some running two at a time) that focus in depth on more specific issues, such as the return of partial remains, the problem of mistaken identifications, the commercialization of post-conflict and post-disaster identification, and the need to balance privacy and the public good in the use of DNA databases in this context.  You will have the opportunity to choose the roundtable in which you participate.

The morning session on Saturday Sept. 24 will be devoted to finalizing the agenda for the research project that will emerge from this meeting.  Please note that the Saturday morning session is optional for all attendees who are not on our bioethics or practitioner advisory boards.  That said, we welcome your participation in this session and would be delighted to have your input on which problems you think we should focus on over the next two years.

In order to minimize the burden placed on participants, we are not asking you to write a paper or prepare a formal presentation for the meeting.  Rather, we plan to ask a two or three individuals to serve as provocateurs in each session, which essentially means that they will talk for no more than 5-10 minutes, laying out the problems that they find most vexing or controversies in the field that are ripe for resolution.  Once these provocations have been made, the floor will be opened up to all partipants for a discussion/debate moderated by one of the organizers.

Chatham House Rule

The meeting will be conducted under the Chatham House Rule, whereby “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” (About Chatham House Rule)

We will have people taking comprehensive notes on the meeting’s discussions and produce a summary of topics that arise, under the constraints of the Rule. These documents will be posted on this website after the conference. Please let us know in advance if you have any comments or concerns about this arrangement.


This meeting is co-sponsored by The Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Funding Organization

This meeting is being funded through the generous support of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (R01 HG005702-01).

Thank you!

We thank your for your participation in this exciting, timely, and important meeting, and look forward to seeing you in September.