Did you know that with $399 and a tube of your saliva, you can find out your genetic predispositions for disease, personality traits, and what medications might work best for you? Or with $149, you can check out your genetic family heritage? How about that for less than $1,000, you will soon be able to get your entire genome mapped?
And what does this mean to you? It seems fair to say that currently, most people don’t concern themselves with their genetic profiles in their day-to-day lives. Surely we read about genetics in the media: what genes are linked with what traits, what advancements are being made in the field of medicine with the growing knowledge of genetic information. But our society certainly doesn’t conduct itself like the science-fiction movie Gattaca, where each person is branded with his or her genetic likelihoods from birth and assigned societal roles accordingly. We are generally oblivious to our own genetic profiles, and pay selective attention to findings about genes mostly when faced with a pressing health problem. For the most part, we carry on our lives with little knowledge about our own genetic makeup and what that information might tell us about ourselves.
This, however, is changing.
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“It’s not science fiction. Nowadays prospective parents cannot only know the sex of their unborn child but also learn whether it can supply tissue-matched bone marrow to a dying sibling and whether it is predisposed to develop breast cancer or Huntington’s disease — all before the embryo gets implanted into the mother’s womb.” -Esthur Landhuis
Have you heard of “designer babies”? Or perhaps you saw or read My Sister’s Keeper, a story about a young girl who was conceived through In Vitro Fertilization to be a genetically matched donor for her older sister with leukemia? The concept of selecting traits for one’s child comes from a technology called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a technique used on embryos acquired during In Vitro Fertilization to screen for genetic diseases. PGD tests embryos for genetic abnormalities, and based on the information gleaned, provides potential parents with the opportunity to select to implant only the “healthy”, non-genetically diseased embryos into the mother. But this genetic testing of the embryo also opens the door for other uses as well, including selecting whether you have a male or female child, or even the possibility of selecting specific features for the child, like eye color. Thus, many ethicists wonder about the future of the technology, and whether it will lead to babies that are “designed” by their parents.
Today’s post is an exploration of the ethical issues raised by prenatal and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, written by Santa Clara Professor Dr. Lawrence Nelson, who has been writing about and teaching bioethics for over 30 years. Read on to examine the many ethical issues raised by this technology.
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