The developments of scientific research in the last decade have significantly advanced our understanding of DNA, and how our genetic code controls who we are. In 2003 human DNA was sequenced for the first time. Since then many people have been able to have their DNA sequenced and the applications of this have expanded greatly. It can now be used to carry out DNA screening/testing, as well as forensics, identity testing and research into evolutionary history. Genetic screening/testing includes pre-implantation screening (on embryos when IVF is carried out), pre-natal screening, newborn screening, genetic disease carrier screening and diagnosis of genetic diseases. Although these may be beneficial there are also many social/ethical concerns which accompany them.
|Human embryo created by IVF|
|What if you had been designed?|
There is also a risk that by eliminating genes seen as 'bad' for causing genetic diseases we could in the process get rid of genes that are beneficial. Such as the gene for cystic fibrosis. This is a recessive gene and so you would only suffer from cystic fibrosis if you had two copies of the gene. However, if you only have one copy of the gene you are simply are carrier of the gene and this has been shown to protect against the disease tuberculosis (TB). There are other cases similar to this, such as being a carrier of the gene for sickle cell anaemia gives protection against malaria.
Newborn babies and young children can also be screened for genetic diseases at the request of their parents. There are issues with this as the child does not get a choice whether or not they want to be tested. If they are found to have a genetic disease, is it right for them to be told? Is it right for the parents to keep it from them? If you had a choice, would you want to know the future of your health? If there was no treatment for the disease, would you rather live your life as normal without knowing?
The discussions on this topic are endless, but I have my own opinions on some of these issues. I think that the idea of genetically engineered babies will always be wrong and unnatural. I think that newborn babies and young children should not be tested for genetic diseases unless they are showing symptoms of a disease. We should be allowed to choose when old enough if we would like to be tested for genetic diseases, and fully think through the decision and the implications of that decision beforehand. Now this technology is available to most people it would be reasonable for everyone to think about whether if they had a genetic disease, would they like to know about it or would they rather live none the wiser. As for genetic screening before we are born I am not so sure I have a solid view on this. When IVF is involved, that in itself is already an artificial procedure. Because there is (although extremely unlikely) a possibility that the same egg and sperm fertilised during IVF could have been fertilised naturally, there is then just the choice of which embryos get implanted back into the mother and this also could have happened naturally. Although when a foetus is screened and then terminated if it is found to have a genetic disease, I think this is more unnatural. As the foetus was conceived naturally and if it weren't for the technology we have now there would be no way of knowing this. Also the foetus is a lot more developed than the embryos that would be discarded after IVF. If there was no intervention then the baby would be born naturally and nobody would choose not to have been born and to have lived.