Has Science Gone too Far?
Recently I was discussing Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) with some friends and we argued for and against it. PGD is linked to IVF and refers to the procedure to identify defects, diseases or conditions prior to embryo transfer.
During the IVF procedure, the embryo is tested for specific conditions and the couple can decide if they want to discard the embryos if it tests positive for the condition they are concerned about. For example, if a family is concerned about Down Syndrome, sickle cell anaemia, neurofibromatosis or cystic fibrosis, they can test if the embryos has the condition and therefore decide not to use the embryo. In some clinics or certain countries, they may not be provided that choice as their policy is that they will automatically not select that embryo that tests positive for the concerned condition but will either discard it or use it for clinical research.
We argued about the morality of this approach of PGD. Some argued from the faith point of view and the fact that science shouldn’t be playing God. People shouldn’t be able to choose what type of child they get and God should be the only one deciding. If an embryo has a birth defect, then that means it was meant to be. They say that embryos shouldn’t be destroyed as that is in effect killing a life and each child should be given a chance. The fact that a child has a condition doesn’t mean the parents should love them less and besides, no one knows what great things that child could have achieved in this world. Some of the most famous, inspiring or talented people in history have had one condition or the other.
I argued that it wasn’t so easy only looking at it from this faith or moral prism. People dealing with a situation usually have a hard time deciding to opt for PGD. While growing up, I have known friends that had sickle cell anaemia and many have died. It was very traumatic for a lot of them as they experienced painful crisis a lot of the time and this was hard for their friends and family to watch them in so much pain. No one wants a child to be born into pain and suffering especially in a society where they can be stigmatised or even bullied for their condition. Raising a child with a severe condition can also put a lot of strain on a couple’s relationship or marriage and people say couples raising severely handicapped children have a tendency to split up due to the pressure that the required care puts on their relationships. If a couple who are carriers of the sickle cell gene watched others with sickle cell crisis, they would most likely do everything in their power to prevent them bringing a child with the condition to this world. Likewise with conditions such as Down Syndrome or Tay Sachs. Some people, if they have seen the suffering of friends who have children with these conditions may chose PGD if there is a high likelihood that they may pass it on to their children.
Sickle cell anaemia is a condition common to people of African descent and Asians. For everyone that is a carrier of the sickle cell gene, having a baby with another person who is also a carrier, will result in 25% chance of having a baby that has sickle cell anemia.
Of course, carriers of the gene can ensure they only get married to someone who is not a carrier to ensure they do not have the risk of having a child with sickle cell. But should that be their only option? What if a person that is a carrier falls in love with another people who is also a carrier? Should they not get married just because of this? Should they not have any children because of this? Or should their only option be to adopt?
It is never that easy to judge or criticise people’s decisions when looking in from the outside. Both sides have very powerful arguments. Certainly without a doubt, when an embryo is discarded, you are destroying a life and a potential. Virtually everyone knows someone with a serious condition and if you asked them whether they wish their loved one had never been born and been part of their lives, the answer would most likely be no. Therefore the faith based argument is understood. However so to is the point of view that if you can avoid untold suffering on a child or if a child has a condition with a short life span, then choosing not to bring that child into the world is the best for all parties including the parents. Clinical research on the embryo may even lead to a cure for future generations.
Of course, PGD can also be used to choose gender, hair and eye colour and other features in an embryos and these might be reasons people can do without. But in cases, where the qualify of life that the child might be subjected to is at stake, should we be able to judge and decide what’s best for them?
What are your thoughts? What is your opinion of PGD? Has science gone to far? Are faith and science mutually exclusive?
Imaged Culled from: Genetic Testing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.newhopefertility.com/genetic-testing/
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