Defusing the legal and ethical minefield of epigenetic applications in the military, defense, and security context

Gratien Dalpé, Katherine Huerne, Charles Dupras, Katherine Cheung, Nicole Palmour*, Eva Winkler, Karla Alex, Maxwell Mehlman, John W. Holloway, Eline Bunnik, Harald König, Isabelle M. Mansuy, Marianne G. Rots, Cheryl Erwin, Alexandre Erler, Emanuele Libertini, Yann Joly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic

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Epigenetic research has brought several important technological achievements, including identifying epigenetic clocks and signatures, and developing epigenetic editing. The potential military applications of such technologies we discuss are stratifying soldiers’ health, exposure to trauma using epigenetic testing, information about biological clocks, confirming child soldiers’ minor status using epigenetic clocks, and inducing epigenetic modifications in soldiers. These uses could become a reality. This article presents a comprehensive literature review, and analysis by interdisciplinary experts of the scientific, legal, ethical, and societal issues surrounding epigenetics and the military. Notwithstanding the potential benefit from these applications, our findings indicate that the current lack of scientific validation for epigenetic technologies suggests a careful scientific review and the establishment of a robust governance framework before consideration for use in the military. In this article, we highlight general concerns about the application of epigenetic technologies in the military context, especially discrimination and data privacy issues if soldiers are used as research subjects. We also highlight the potential of epigenetic clocks to support child soldiers’ rights and ethical questions about using epigenetic engineering for soldiers’ enhancement and conclude with considerations for an ethical framework for epigenetic applications in the military, defense, and security contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberlsad034
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

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Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Duke University School of Law, Harvard Law School, Oxford University Press, and Stanford Law School.


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