The dystopian sci-fi thriller is fast becoming our reality.
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Many doctors encourage pregnant women to obtain prenatal genetic screening, and, if the test comes back positive for a genetic condition, to abort. A recent survey found that a quarter of physicians admitted trying to influence mothers’ decisions, usually encouraging them to end the life of a genetically disadvantaged child.
New DNA testing can screen fetuses for hundreds of genetic traits in the first trimester of pregnancy. Such tests are becoming cheaper, less invasive and more widely available. One test uses tiny amounts of free-floating DNA in the mother’s blood stream that can give researchers a baby’s an entire genetic code.
In June researchers at the University of Washington announced a new technique that can map a fetus’s DNA and thus make it easier to prenatally alter the genetic makeup of a developing child. Researchers say such a procedure may be available in clinics in as little as five years.
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) continues to grow in popularity. PGD allows parents to create designer babies. First, embryos are created via IVF; then, after a few days of growth in a lab, the embryos are screened, and those that are determined to have higher risk of having certain traits, including genetic disabilities or the “wrong” sex, are killed. (PGD is a favorite among Indian and Chinese nationals, who travel to the U.S. for the procedure because their own countries outlaw the practice.) Embryos who pass the screening process are transferred to the mother’s womb to continue developing.
A 2006 study by John Hopkins University found that 42 percent of fertility clinics offered PGD for sex selection. Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg of The Fertility Institutes uses PGD and has suggested that he will be able to screen embryos for eye and hair color within a few years.
Some experts believe this new technology is changing parents’ attitudes toward their children. President Bush’s Council on Bioethics warned in 2003, “The attitude of parents toward their child may be quietly shifting from unconditional acceptance to critical scrutiny: the very first act of parenting now becomes not the unreserved welcoming of an arriving child, but the judging of his or her fitness, while still an embryo, to become their child, all by the standards of contemporary genetic screening.”
A 2009 poll reported in the Journal of Genetic Counseling found that a majority of respondents would elect to have prenatal genetic testing for mental retardation (75 percent) and deafness (54 percent). Thirteen percent even said they’d desire testing for superior intelligence. The authors concluded: “Our study suggests that consumers desire more reproductive genetic testing than what is currently offered; however, their selection of tests suggests self-imposed limits on testing.”
In an interview, Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, predicted that within a decade, prenatal genetic screening will be available not only for physical and mental traits but also for behavioral conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, proneness to addiction, and even sexual orientation.
“We may all think that parents and society are very interested in diseases,” he told me, “but I’m here to say that they’re also very interested in personality and behavior.”
Many parents feel they have a right to genetically perfect children, and courts are increasingly willing to recognize that right. At least 28 states recognize “wrongful birth” lawsuits, in which parents of disabled children are granted compensation when doctors fail to inform them that their unborn child may be at higher risk of a genetic disorder.
Caplan believes American culture reinforces parents’ desire for genetic perfection. He said:
There’s going to be demand in a society oriented toward doing well, toward perfection, toward the value of the best you can be, even a society that says, “I want a better life for my child than I had for myself.” That’s an ethical principle that you can hear in every religion, you can hear it in secular society — it’s just around. So somebody’s going to say “Why won’t I test my kids, to [give] them a better life than I had?
Given all these changes, how long will it be before mothers feel obligated either to abort “imperfect” babies or to manipulate the genes of their embryo-children?
How long until those who do not get tested will be regarded as immoral? As Robert Edwards — test tube baby pioneer and Nobel Prize winner — has said, “Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease.”
Caplan explained where this view might lead:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online