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The Genes for Violence: "My Genes Made Me Do It"

Why do some people murder? Is it in their blood? Maybe so, according to scientific studies that suggest that there is a genetic basis for violent behaviors:

They've tested some 30 criminal defendants, most of whom were charged with murder. They were looking for a particular variant of the MAO-A gene — also known as the warrior gene because it has been associated with violence. Bernet says they found that [the defendant] Waldroup has the high-risk version of the gene.

"His genetic makeup, combined with his history of child abuse, together created a vulnerability that he would be a violent adult," Bernet explains.

Over the fierce opposition of prosecutors, the judge allowed Bernet to testify in court that these two factors help explain why Waldroup snapped that murderous night.

"We didn't say these things made him become violent, but they certainly constituted a risk factor or a vulnerability," Bernet says.

Bernet cited scientific studies over the past decade that found that the combination of the high-risk gene and child abuse increases one's chances of being convicted of a violent offense by more than 400 percent. He notes that other studies have not found a connection between the MAO-A gene and violence — but he told the jury that he felt the genes and childhood abuse were a dangerous cocktail.

"A person doesn't choose to have this particular gene or this particular genetic makeup," Bernet says. "A person doesn't choose to be abused as a child. So I think that should be taken into consideration when we're talking about criminal responsibility."

Does that make a person less culpable of his own actions? What do you think of the "my genes made me do it" defense?

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128043329&ft=1&f=100


If you KNOW that you have a variant of the gene which causes violence, then it becomes your responsibility to look out for your own behavior.

Possibly convicted cons could be profiled for MAO-A variants (that's another headache for privacy issues)to gauge their behaviour, maybe even asked to report to some center again after release....

For first timers, I doubt this defense should be considered. A crime which happens in the spurt of the moment is different from one planned out over days or months. In the latter case, the suspect is judged even more harshly.

I dunno, this sounds much like the excuse for people who said they were asleep when they raped someone....
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Faulty logic. "Where there is smoke, there is fire." requires one to assume that the only way to make smoke is to have a fire. Everyone with that gene does not commit murder.
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@Renacier: Well said!
Gene or no gene, history of being abused or not, you've still gotta pay if you kill someone. It's an excuse, sure, and it may help us understand WHY someone did it, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't have to pay the piper.
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I think more research is needed. What if ALL people with this gene have a history of violence? If these people are simply genetically programmed for that switch to flip, does locking them up in jail solve the problem.

If you've never gone into the "rage hole", tis a scary place where all humanity disappears, no thoughts, no awareness, only FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! If people are genetically pre-disposed with a light trigger, they're simply in the wrong time.
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While this is important information, it should not prove the aggressor to be innocent. Violent rage or not due to possible linking of genetics after the fact does not account for one's actions.
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Certainly this should be taken in to account at sentencing. If the criminal violence is in the guy's DNA, then clearly, it's beyond his control. Which means it is not safe to *ever* let him out. Anyone who uses such a defens should automatically be commmitted to a maximum security mental hospital for life.
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*guy with a large knife comes over to stab me*
"NOOOOOO! Don't stab me!"
"Oh, I can't help it - I have a gene that makes me violent"
"Oh, alright then"
*stabbed*

I DON'T THINK SO! If someone does something because of their genetics, it only makes them more likely to do it again. This is more of a reason for life in prison than freedom. It would suggest they can't be rehabilitated. Though, as others have noted, I'd like to see how many normal people have the same gene and don't act on it.
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@Kalel: Thank you. Best comment on the subject.

Some people are predisposed to addiction; they're still responsible if they get drunk or high and hurt someone.

Juries are filled with idiots. Some of the decisions juries have made make me want to give them a smack upside the head.
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Very familiar to the "I have a disease" excuse of alcoholism. If it's a disease, then you take away some of the personal responsibility.

Also reminiscent of the "nature vs nurture" arguments for homosexuality. You shouldn't have to prove whether or not you're gay by "choice" to just be happy as who you are, but some people prefer to think they were "born that way", and their opponents prefer to think they made a choice, as if it's curable.
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