Powered by WebAds

Monday, September 04, 2006

Eugenics on the March?

I posted a while back about elective gender selection, where parents can ensure the gender of an embryo before it is implanted. The different motivations a couple might have for choosing to perform the procedure range from preventing the passing on of a disease that only affects one gender, to looking for a more balance in a family that is weighted toward one gender or the other. But this article, in the NY Times, illustrates precisely how slippery the slope of these types of procedures can get.

The piece discusses a preimplantation procedure, called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, where embryos are screened for various diseases before they are implanted in the mother. Apparently, the practice has spread to increasingly include not just screening embryos for a certainty of disease, but screening embryos for genetic predispositions to certain diseases.
Already, it is possible to test embryos for an inherited form of deafness or a mild skin condition, or for a predisposition to arthritis or obesity. Some clinics test for gender. As scientists learn more about the genetic basis for inherited traits, and as people learn more about their genetic makeup, the embryo screening menu and its array of ethical dilemmas are only expected to grow.

“From a technology perspective we can test anything,” said Mark Hughes, director of the Genesis Genetics Institute in Detroit, who is performing P.G.D. this month for two couples who want to avoid passing on a susceptibility to breast cancer. “The issue becomes what is considered serious enough to warrant such testing and who decides that.”
I don't want to minimize the seriousness of a predisposition to a disease that puts a child at a high chance of developing an illness over the course of his or her life. But it just seems like selecting an embryo with the least chance of a possible predisposition to such diseases smacks of Gattaca-like superbaby farming. I am quite sure that if it were medically possible, some parents will soon feel no compuction about asking to have their fetuses screened for genes that can ensure high intelligence or pleasing physical attributes - and that there will be doctors who will be happy to comply.

What scares me most about this trend toward eugenics is the high probability that these techniques will remain an option only for the wealthy. The possible dichotomy that this type of genetic selection might produce is frightening. Are genetic diseases and predispositions to such diseases to become the bastion of the underprivileged? Are the poor of our society to become denied yet another perk of life, that of being ensured healthy offspring? Worse, is the already large gap between those who can afford to provide the best in life to their children vs. those who cannot only going to get wider as "the best in life" comes to include not just material goods, but attributes like a good brain for math and a predisposition to be thin?

Scary thought.

(HT)

18 Comments:

Blogger Halfnutcase said...

at least you can be thankfull that the fantasitcaly intelegent do not tend to also be the rich and famous.

theres a little unspoken rule:

the smarter someone is, the more problems they have.

they'll be settling for mediocrity they will.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You keep on using words like "frighting" and "scary" but fail to demonstrate what exactly is so scary about such an outcome.

Do you, in general, fear that we will find cures to diseases because mostly wealthy countries will receive these cures while africa will most likely not receive them? Most science and technological achievements go to the wealthy in a disproportionate amount. Should we oppose scientific progress for such a reason?

Even if everything did happen, as you fear, there is nothing wrong with this. Rich folks will be healthier, and poor folks wont be any worse off. Its perato efficient-esq. Just be thankful you are wealthy.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"You keep on using words like "frighting" and "scary" but fail to demonstrate what exactly is so scary about such an outcome."

Such practices could ultimately have a very negative, oppressive effects on the insurance industry, particularly health insurance, where insurers could insist on higher premiums and lower health classifications for people who were not genetically tested and therefore, are therefore, more of a risk. Furthermore, this could spill over into areas such as marriage (i.e. choosing a mate, or the reluctance to accept someone who did not have such pre-gestational genetic screening, or someone who did, yet survived, and is determined to have a predisposition to certain diseases or limitations. Also, it could cause moral or cultural shifts whereas today, everyone, for beter or worse, is thought to be on equal footing and everyone, for better or worse, is viewed as having the potential to become who ever they choose to become. Yet, if such pre-gestational screening were to become the norm, those who were pre screened and determined "worthy" to be born would be readily perceived as genetically superior to those who did not. And from a genetic standpoint, there would be justuiication for promoting and defending this view.

To answer the question, such practices, which on the surface appear beneficial, would in reality cause sweeping negative shifts in the established financial, social, occupational, and moral norms of a free democratic society.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous bsci said...

The other frightening and scary part is that science isn't flawless. Sometimes genes that predispose someone for something bad are also linked to something good.

The first example that comes to mind is that sickle cell anemia is a horrible resessive disease (You need to get the gene from both parent), but if you are a carrier (having the gene from only one parent), there are protections of maleria.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to haVE A little faith in G-d also. He knows what's best for us in our lives and we should leave nature in his hands to some extent or at least in this case. You can plan to have a child with no hereditary diseases, but if something happens to him/her car accident, choking , etc what exactly did you accomplish. Trust in G-d.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"Anonymous said...
You have to haVE A little faith in G-d also. He knows what's best for us in our lives and we should leave nature in his hands to some extent or at least in this case. You can plan to have a child with no hereditary diseases, but if something happens to him/her car accident, choking , etc what exactly did you accomplish. Trust in G-d."

This is a Christian mentality and besides, has nothing to with the true issues pertaining to fetal genetic testing.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

Are the poor of our society to become denied yet another perk of life

The poor aren't denied anything - they simply cannot afford it. They are no more denied genetic testing than a Lamborghini Countach.

And for what it's worth, of course Gattaca-like farming will become available. It's not necessarily desirable, but it is inevitable. In fact, it's really only the first step; enhancements are just around the corner.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's inevitable that in a society where the majority of it's citizens do not have health insurance that the rich will be healthier. What difference does it make if the health preference begins in the embryo? What I think is scary and frightening is that if you have a disease in America and you aren't of a certain class then your chances of surviving are significantly less than if you are rich.

2:42 AM  
Blogger Pragmatician said...

As it is the childen of a wealthy home often get more chances in life (better schools, lessons in art,music etc...)So not much would change in fact.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"What I think is scary and frightening is that if you have a disease in America and you aren't of a certain class then your chances of surviving are significantly less than if you are rich."

What I think is scary and frightening is that if you have a certain political outlook in America and you are of a certain counterintuitive, defeatist, self-righteous mindset then your chances of making sweeping social critiques with no backgound data to sustain the argument and no suggestion of a solution are significantly greater than if you weren't.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous bsci said...

Instead of thinking about Gatacca and "enhancements" think thalidomide. A drug that helped with morning sickness and probably went disproportionately to wealthier mothers. As a result, their children had severe birth defects.

Preventing clear, fatal genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs is one thing, but the science to say with 100% confidence that a gene selection will be an "enhancement" is still very far off. I think we will soon see a generation where the wealthy try to enhance their children and the failures will be as common as the successes.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think everyone is taking for granted the painful process that fetal screening actually is. If you're going to screen BEFORE implantation, you are forcing women who would normally get pregnant normally, to undergo horribly painful IVF procedures. Not to mention the awful hormones and terrible side effects (cysts, fever, cancer, etc) that they can cause. Plus, the first IVF baby isn't even old enough to observe long term side effects of IVF, let alone PGD screenings.

IVF isn't very pleasant, but if you cannot get pregnant normally, then it is a process that people will push themselves to do. But to condemn every woman (albeit wealthy) for such a thing?

Of course, one can get amniocentesis and abort if the results aren't to standards. But that also appears to be very painful.

I think we're also missing the second tragedy in this entire affair: further subjugation (oppression?) of women to painful treatment. I wonder what it will do to their collective psyche to know that they must go through painful hoops to have children.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"I think we're also missing the second tragedy in this entire affair: further subjugation (oppression?) of women to painful treatment. I wonder what it will do to their collective psyche to know that they must go through painful hoops to have children."

...and this just in from the "Do You Know How To Read Deparement" with additonal commentary from the "What Are You Even Talking About Divisions." Stay tuned for our film at 11....the world premier of Attack of the Killer Knee-Jerk Reactions.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous BobF said...

Every great invention at first was very expensive, then became available to all. Science should't be restricted because the rich benefit first. If they didn't nooen would ever benefit.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have done PGD, or pre-implantation genetic testing, for fertility reasons. My husband and I had difficulty getting pregnant and I had several miscarriages. We did PGD to weed out the viable embryos from the unviable ones (that would lead to miscarriages or Down's syndrome). I had only one normal embryo and that was selected. I became pregnant and gave birth. I am very grateful to PGD.

IVF is a hassle (many trips to the clinic for ultrasounds) but it is not painful. It is certainly not oppressive of women.

PGD can clearly be used for sex selection (we did not have any choice) but it's not obvious to me what's wrong with that.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous jennifer mueller said...

ok.. so the deal with eugenics is that we are fully capable of doing the process, we just havent reached our full potential, right? I have have gotten numerous websites that say we aren't capable and then others who say we can...I would appreciate it if you would clear the misconseption up.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still Wonderin' wrote: "This is a Christian mentality and besides, has nothing to with the true issues pertaining to fetal genetic testing."

I disagree with that statement. From a risk management point of view, I can see how this would affect the Amish and those of Ashkenazi decent. However, your first post at 1:01 PM is absolutely correct.

Right now, in the health care field, there are many studies going on where personal records are being retrieved at the requirement of the government and insurance companies. With the advent of Electronic Medical Records, it is only a matter of time before these insurance companies use this information to determine insurability based on genetic risks. It's frightening.

Then there's the MIB (Medical Insurance Bureau) who keeps a file on each person based on applications for life insurance. Also very dangerous.

The less the government has in their hands, the better - for privacy purposes.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

valium no prescription buy generic valium online - valium quality sleep

8:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home