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Debate: Genetic screening

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Should parents genetically screen for healthier offspring? Should it be legal?

Background and context

Using In Vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques, an embryo can be made by the fertilisation of an egg with a sperm outside of the female’s body. The resulting embryonic cells can be tested by removing one and screening the DNA complement to ascertain the presence of specific genes. This procedure is already being employed in labs. It can help to identify potentially debilitating illnesses or inherited disorders, and also for determining the sex of a baby to allow parents carrying a sex-linked disorder gene to procreate without passing on a genetic disorder to their children.

This technology has brought a host of issues to the forefront of the media and science. Particularly controversial is the issue of genetic screening of foetuses to determine their predisposition towards certain congenital disorders, and even more concerning, whether we should intervene to prevent them. In a case in the USA in 2000, a baby boy, Adam Nash, was born after having been selected (genetically screened) as an embryo, from several embryos created by IVF by his parents, on the grounds that he was genetically healthy and able to act as a bone marrow donor for his sister, who had a genetic disease. The case sparked heated moral debates.[1]

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Parent choice: Do parents benefit substantially from the ability to choose to "screen" their children? Should they have the "right" to choose?

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Yes

  • Female bodies already naturally "screen" away unhealthy embryos; why not take this one small step further? BBC Retrieved July 28, 2007. - "Every month a sexually active woman loses fertilized embryos - nature chooses the healthy ones to implant. To go for the healthy ones is a perfectly natural choice for people to make."
  • Being able to select boy or girl embryo could allow parents to select the best match. If both the father and mother desire a girl, wouldn't it be better if they were able to conceive and select a girl? The alternative is that they have a boy and are disappointed. Their disappointment could be reflected poorer childrearing, which would be harmful to the child.[2]
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No

  • Couples who cannot have children (or healthy children) should adopt or foster children. Setting a precedent for every couple to be able to have a baby of their own would be impractical or even unfair when there are adequate arrangements for adoption of orphaned children.[3]
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Designer babies? Can "genetic screening" avoid falling into the feared trap of people creating "designer babies"? Can it be separated from the commonly negative fears of social "eugenics"?

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Yes

  • Nobody is forcing parents to perform "genetic screening", which counters its association with social-planning eugenics.[4] The intention with genetic screening is not to produce a superior race. The main intention is, rather, to afford parents the capacity to produce more healthy children for the sake of the parents and the children themselves. Contrary to many fears associated with such eugenics movements as the Nazis, there would be no state involvement in the selection process, nationalism would not be a factor, nor racism (and genocide could not become involved). If "genetic screening" can be called "eugenics" (a loosely defined term), it should be clarified as not involving any atrocious forms of "eugenics", and this association should not discredit the practice without qualification as to why.
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No

  • Genetic screening creates a slippery slope toward "designer babies". It is right to accept that couples using IVF can ensure that of the embryos conceived a healthy one is implanted. However, this foretells a slippery slope for future exploitation of the process. If we set a precedent for screening and "choosing" babies, this must not develop into the widespread abuse of screening to create "designer babies" chosen for other aesthetic or desirable qualities. This is morally wrong.
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Child's quality of life: Would genetic screening allow born humans to achieve more fulfilling and happier lives?

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Yes

  • Genetic screening better creates the opportunity for a born child to live a healthy and fulfilling life. The technology is available to determine whether a baby is brought into the world with or without a genetic neurological disease such as Huntingdon’s. This technology should, therefore, be used to prevent a child from living a life of suffering with Huntingdon's disease.[5] Again, this is not a case of engineering a child, or altering a genome, but choosing which of several embryos will be implanted into the mothers womb. It is only practical to choose a child with the best chance of being healthy.
Congenital malformations, deformations, chromosomal abnormailities are the leading causes of infant deaths in the US (=20%).
More than 6 000 single-gene disorders - which occur in about 1 out of every 200 births [hhtp://www.medicinenet.com] - such as cystic fibrosis, hemochromatosis or sickle cell anemia.
Dr. Gregor Wolbring (University of Alberta in Canada) sees embryo selection as "a tool for fixing disabilities, impairments, diseases and defects".
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No

  • It is abhorrent to presume that those born with physical or mental defects or genetic predispositions to congenital disorders do not enjoy quality of life as fruitful as those born without. This discounts the valuable contribution of any life to society, and also ignores the feelings and happiness of many individuals. Not only is it presumptuous but quite distasteful to suggest that they be bred out of society as “inferior” beings, and promotes discrimination. More to the point, many “defective” genes confer advantages of a different nature e.g. the sickle cell anaemia allele protects against malaria, and several neurological defects can result in extraordinary levels of intelligence.
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Embryos as "life": Is genetic engineering dealing with embryos that are non-human, opposed to "living human beings", making it acceptable to treat "rejected" embryos without too much concern?

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Yes

  • Laws allowing abortion may make it possible to avoid considering an embryo to be alive: This interpretation of an embryo makes it possible to avoid entirely considering the "screening" process as a selection process between living human beings. Rather, it could be interpreted merely as a selection between different organizations of cells that have differing potential to become healthy "life".
  • The embryos not chosen after screening could be offered up for "adoption" instead of being thrown away: Human life will not be thrown away, and presents the option for childless couples to benefit from this scheme allowing the mother to carry the child to term.
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No

  • Indefinitely freezing rejected embryos would be disrespectful to life. Rejected embryos are inevitably going to be indefinitely frozen. They are very unlikely to be unfrozen and used as they were "rejected". In effect, these embryos will be destroyed. This is wrong.
  • Genetic engineering treats embryos like commodities. Even if we weren't considering embryos to be "human life", it is inappropriate to treat them as commodities with an "option to purchase". This cheapens at least the potential life-forms these embryos can become.


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Precedent: Is there a precedent for genetic screening?

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Yes

  • Testing for Down's Syndrome in pregnancy is already Routine, why not genetic screening?
  • The principle of allowing a childless couple to have a baby is already in place in Britain. This would simply extend the case to allow parents who are entirely infertile to have a baby. If the right to parenthood, and the right to have a child are extended to IVF couples then it is contradictory to deny another couple the chance to have a baby. The opp argument 5 is an argument against IVF in general, and not adoption.
  • IVF treatment is already being employed: Embyros are at present "created" in vitro and implanted into the womb. Genetic screening would merely add a "safety valve" to this process.
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No

See also

External links and resources:

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