The attorney who filed a lawsuit against the state for storing infants' blood samples without consent is demanding that Texas recover hundreds of baby blood spots turned over to a military lab to build a national — and someday international — mitochondrial DNA database.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General's Office has released a statement saying the attorney just wanted his attorney's fees and his headlines.
The state settled Jim Harrington's lawsuit in December, and agreed to destroy more than 5 million baby blood samples stored without parental approval. But today's Texas Tribune story reveals that hundreds of the blood spots were forwarded along to the federal government to create a vast DNA database, one that could help crack cold cases and identify missing persons.
Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said when he was negotiating the settlement, he was told some blood spots were used for medical research — but never for forensics.
But Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said Harrington was "provided accurate answers to the questions he asked."
"Once Harrington negotiated $26,000 in attorneys' fees and costs for himself, accepted a settlement agreement and got his desired headlines, he was satisfied and dropped his lawsuit against DSHS," Strickland said in a statement. "It appears recent media reports caused Harrington to backtrack in an effort to obscure how he chose to handle this case."
The full text of Harrington's letter to Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott is below:
Last year, our office represented a group of parents, who successfully concluded litigation in federal court about the secretive misuse of infants’ blood spots gathered at the time of birth for infant screening. The Texas Department of State Health Services collected and released those blood samples for research (so the public was told) and stored them at Texas A&M. By the end of the litigation, there were about 5 million such samples, for which no parental consent was obtained.
As a result of the lawsuit, the Legislature passed a law that set up an informed consent mechanism for parents so they could decide whether to allow their children’s blood to be stored indefinitely and used for research. The state was required to destroy all earlier samples for which it had not attained or could not attain parental consent.
Now, it has come to our attention today through news reports and agency documents released under the Public Information Act that the TDSHS has been supplying those blood samples taken from newborn babies to the military, not just for research, but so that the military can build a mitochondria DNA data base, which can be used in part for law enforcement purposes.
This is an alarming development and raises the specter of the federal government building an international DNA data base.
This has been done surreptitiously and without consent of the parents. In fact, no information was given to them that this might happen and indeed the documents released today show a deliberate intent at deception by state officials over whom you have authority.
We write you because this has gone on during your watch as Governor and Attorney General, respectively, and needs to end on your watch as Governor and Attorney General.
We ask that, within ten (10) days of this letter, you retrieve from the federal government all the blood samples that Texas has sent to the U.S. military and retrieve and destroy all information taken from those samples, unless the state or federal officials produce documents showing written consent from the parents, authorizing such use of their children’s blood samples.
This is a critical issue that touches on the both the state and federal governments’ violation of the fundamental right of personal privacy and integrity – a right fully protected by both the Texas Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.