(The Center Square) — New Jersey is facing a federal class-action lawsuit accusing state health officials of violating the constitutional rights of millions of babies and parents by secretly storing blood samples in a database without their consent.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, alleges that the collection of blood “spots” from newborns without notice or consent violates their 4th Amendment rights to be “secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Like other states, New Jersey screens newborns for diseases. Shortly after birth, a baby’s heel is pricked, blood is collected on a card, and the card is sent to the New Jersey Department of Health’s Newborn Screening Laboratory, where the state tests for more than 60 disorders.
But the lawsuit, filed on behalf of several New Jersey parents whose children’s blood was added to the database, points out that state health officials don’t get consent from the parents before taking a blood sample from newborns and keeps a sample of the blood for up to 23 years. One of the parents described the database as “creepy” in a legal filing.
“It gets even worse. Not only does New Jersey secretly hold onto the blood for decades, it can use the blood however it wants,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in the 37-page complaint. “There is simply no limit to what New Jersey can do with the blood.”
The lawsuit follows a 2022 legal challenge by the state Office of the Public Defender and local media outlets after it was revealed that New Jersey State Police used a newborn blood spot to charge the child’s father in a 1996 sexual assault. In that case, a state judge ordered the state to reveal which police agencies used the database to solve crimes.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that once the state has a newborn’s blood, “it can use it however it wishes, including selling it to third parties, giving it to police without a warrant, or even selling it to the Pentagon to create a registry.”
“It’s not right that the state can enter an incredibly intimate moment, the tender days of childbirth, and take something from our children which is then held on to for 23 years,” said Rev. Hannah Lovaglio, a mother of two and one of the plaintiffs in the case. “The lack of consent and transparency causes me to question the intent and makes me worried for my children’s future selves.”
Similar lawsuits have been filed in Texas, Minnesota and Michigan over the retention of blood samples without informed consent from the parents.
A 2009 Texas lawsuit resulted in the state destroying 5.3 million blood samples, while blood samples obtained after 2012 must be destroyed after two years. A 2014 settlement in the Minnesota lawsuit resulted in 1.1 million blood samples being destroyed. In 2022, Michigan agreed to destroy 3 million blood spots, but that legal challenge is ongoing.
“What makes New Jersey’s program so uniquely disturbing is the complete lack of safeguards for future abuse and the lack of consent, which leave the program ripe for abuse,” Christie Hebert, an Institute for Justice attorney, said in a statement.
“Parents should not have to worry if the state is going to use the blood it said it was taking from their baby to test for diseases for other, unrelated purposes,” she said.