If you could end a childhood disease—would you? We all want to say yes. Saying no seems monstrous.
But how far are you willing to go? Take the case of Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder that destroys the child’s central nervous system by age five. Any number of “reproductive genetic technologies” or RGTs could be used to prevent this from happening, either now or in the near future.
Which of these options do you approve—or disapprove?
- Prospective parents could use genetic screening to figure out if they are carriers of the Tay-Sachs gene. If they are, they could simply adopt.
- OR: A couple could become pregnant, use amniocentesis to test the fetus, and abort if the test is positive for the disorder. Then, the couple could try again until they get a Tay-Sachs-free embryo.
- OR: A couple could use in vitro fertilization to create several test-tube embryos, test each one, discard those that have the gene, and implant an embryo that does not.
- OR: In the near future, a couple could use human genetic engineering to remove the Tay-Sachs gene and replace it with a good gene. Poof! Tay-Sachs is forever vanquished from the family tree.
Tay-Sachs is only one of the horrible childhood diseases that could be avoided or eradicated with RGTs, as sociologist John Evans discusses in his latest book, “Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate.” But there is controversy about all of these technologies and the choices are not simple. At the far end of the spectrum, some speculate that RGTs could be used to create a “post human” super race.
This week, we will think about some of the ideas raised in Evans’ book. Most of these choices involve religious and ethical dilemmas.