By Joanna Tavares
Does having the technology to alter genes justify parents being able to predetermine embryo traits through a screening process?
More and more couples are taking this technological approach. They bypass the natural uncertainties of child birth by handpicking things such as gender or specific genes.
This method was created to screen embryos for disease carrying genes. By screening the embryonic cells beforehand, doctors could choose the specific cells that carry the harmful gene and discard them. Only the ‘good’ embryos would be implanted into the mother through in vitro fertilization.
But what makes an embryo “good” or “bad”? Is it okay to just trash any embryos with an extra x chromosome or ones with the gene that increases the risk for breast cancer? This is the god-like decision couples are making when they decide to hand-select their children’s gender and future.
Yes, being able to ensure your child’s safety from a disease like breast cancer is an incredible opportunity and a life saving one as well. But when it comes to choosing whether you have a boy or girl, that decision is much less significant. This is where ethical questions arise. So many viable embryos are wasted simply because they would result in the birth of a little girl rather than the boy its parents want so badly.
Despite the “unethical” consequences of genetic alterations, there is the good side. It can save a child from a lifetime of hospital visits and a short lifespan. This past Tuesday, The New York Times published a story featuring Amanda Kalinsky and her family. Kalinsky was diagnosed with Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease, otherwise known as GSS.
This rare neurological disease, which leads to a slow and painful death, has been a plaque on the Kalinsky family for generations. After the diagnosis, she immediately said no to having children for fear of spreading this death sentence down to her kids. But with further research, Kalinsky and her husband discovered in vitro fertilization and the ability to test the embryo for this horrible disease before implantation.
It is because of this questionable approach that Kalinsky and her husband were allowed to bring three beautiful and healthy kids into this world who won’t have to carry the unfortunate family disease. For this reason, it makes it hard to dismiss genetic alteration all together. It can give life to those who didn’t think life could be possible. However, it still messes with the natural death rates and population sizes of the world.
The big question is then, do the benefits outweigh the bad? Should we be able to determine the fate of an embryo because of its likelihood to carry a disease or lead to a boy rather than a girl?