Missing the Point

A few months ago, a woman gave birth to a baby girl. What made this birth noteworthy was that the child in question came with a "guarantee." If you think that makes the baby sound like a car or a refrigerator, you're right. You see, that's where our new reproductive technologies are leading us.   The mother of the new baby carries the gene that causes what is called "early onset Alzheimer's." Her sister contracted the disease at age thirty-eight, and her brother is showing symptoms of dementia at thirty-five.   So the woman had her eggs harvested and fertilized just as in in vitro fertilization. But then, using "preimplantation genetic diagnosis," researchers "weeded out" the embryos that carried the Alzheimer's gene and implanted one of those left in the mother's womb.   Two professors at the University of California, raised ethical questions. Of course they did, you say, killing embryos is killing human life. That's a raging ethical debate, but wait a minute -- the professors didn't mention that. They saw another ethical question -- in their words, "Much like her sister, the woman in the report . . . most likely will not be able to care for or even recognize her child in a few years."   Is it ethical, they asked, to bring a child into this world who will have to watch her mother suffer and die? Wait a minute: Are we really ready to decide in advance who will live and who will die, based on how well the child measures up to a particular standard of life?   And what is that standard? Nothing less than perfection. As columnist Natasha Walter wrote in London's INDEPENDENT, "People in the Western world are beginning to believe that life should be completely controllable . . . [and] that all babies should be perfect . . . "   Now it's easy to sympathize with the parents' desire to spare their child a terrible disease, but those who believe that it will stop at Alzheimer's or sickle cell anemia are kidding themselves. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is already being used for sex selection and, as bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn notes, "Tomorrow it could easily be intelligence or a good piano player . . . " Having children is on its way to becoming what Ken Myers calls "the ultimate shopping experience," a carefully chosen lifestyle enhancement for parents.   This is a high-tech variation of the thoroughly discredited eugenics movement of the early twentieth century -- one that sought to allow only the best people to be bred. Those determined to be "undesirables" were sterilized thereby eliminating their defects from the gene pool. By the way, this idea was championed by Margaret Sanger founder of Planned Parenthood.   Commenting on the birth of the Alzheimer-proof infant, Wilberforce Forum Fellow Dr. C. Ben Mitchell wrote, "If we would see a truly human future for ourselves and for our children, we must value individuals for who they are, not for what they can do. The praiseworthy goal of treating human disease and relieving human suffering must not be allowed to become a tool for eliminating the persons who are suffering. To do so would be to use the good gift of genetic knowledge for evil ends . . . Only vigilance on the part of all of us can prevent a bleak eugenic future." Well said, Dr. Mitchell -- a bleak eugenic future that has just moved one step closer.   For more information: Council for Biotechnology Policy   Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity   Americans to Ban Cloning   The "Bioethics in the New Century Resource Kit" contains a wealth of information for understanding biotechnology and its ethical implications.   For further reading: C. Ben Mitchell, "Eugenics in the Springtime," 5 March 2002.   Natasha Walter, "Science can't save us from ourselves," London Independent, 28 February 2002.   BreakPoint Commentary No. 020206, "Without a Clone: Ultimate Stem Cells."   Lindsey Tanner, "Woman chooses eggs for pregnancy," Associated Press, 27 February 2002.   Kristen Philipkoski, "Designer Baby or Problem Child?" Wired, 28 February 2002.   Yury Verlinsky, Ph.D., et al., "Preimplantation Diagnosis for Early-Onset Alzheimer Disease Caused by V717L Mutation," Journal of the American Medical Association, 27 February 2002.


Chuck Colson


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