Tuesday, May 8, 2007

That Slope Sure is Slippery [Jay]

A friend of mine e-mailed this story in the Telegraph about the most recent move by the British medical community to selectively screen embryos for genetic defects that could present a problem in the life of the human being in question. The latest development is the request to screen out embryos that exhibit a genetic predisposition toward congenital fibrosis of the extramacular muscles which would cause a severe squint and necessitate several corrective surgeries. As quoted in the article:

“The businessman he is treating has undergone six operations with only marginal improvement.”

I posted on this idea of screening embryos to address serious medical condition as “cure” for genetic diseases and drew a comparison to those who champion abortion as an effective means of addressing poverty. What strikes me as alarming is how fast the definition of “problem” has moved from an embryo exhibiting a lethal disorder, to an embryo exhibiting the possibility of a future disorder or predisposition towards health problems, to possible genetic flaws that cause emotional trauma but are not life threatening.

This quote is particularly troubling:

“A spokesman for the HFEA said: "We give consideration to any couple who come to us through a clinic.

‘We judge each case on its merits, and it would depend on the severity of the case and the effect on the family. The experience of any parent living with a condition would be taken into account."

Here is what they are saying. If an embryo exhibits a possible predisposition toward a genetic disorder or trait that they share with their parent, and the parent emotionally struggled with this characteristic, the doctors will “screen out” that embryo so that the future child does not have to suffer as their parent did. This is not good.

Wesley Smith posted on this as well and he points out the selective breeding aspects of this new eugenics. I knew a woman who bred champion boxers. When an “all white” boxer was born the standard practice was to kill the newborn puppy to prevent the mutation spreading and to guard against the future health problems associated with “all whites.” This is exactly what we are doing with this process. We are just doing it to a very early embryonic human being as opposed to a newborn puppy. The slippery slope is moving fast.

There is one important distinction that has to be maintained. The vast majority of selctive breeding is through hand picking the dogs that exhibit the traits you wish to see in the next generation and mating them. Embryo screening is looking at the genetic structure and predispositions of embryonic humans and terminating the lives of the ones that do not measure up. That is what the terms "screening" and "discarding" mean. What the heck, they never knew they were human beings so we can do what we want right? They were small and only a few days into their life, so they do not count. We are doing them a favor by killing them early before they become aware how bad their lives are. Ask any physically challenged individual and they will tell you they would rather not be alive, right? Human beings only matter when they are older, larger, and less flawed. That is so obviously superior to allowing sick children to be born and have to suffer. Especially when the parent knows how bad life can be with the disorder in question. God help us.

I would like to contrast this reality to an opinion voiced in an article I found written in November of 2004 on MedicineNet. The quoted text from this article:

"The use of the technology to prevent disease is wonderful. ... When you're preventing lethal and horrible disease in children, it's a good use," Art Caplan, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, tells WebMD.

"But when you get into hair color and freckle selection, that's a whole different story," Caplan says. "In our market, whatever you can pay for, you can do. We don't have [a regulatory agency] here to stop us from going where money and bias can take us. The prospect for a slippery slope has been handled in England because they have built stairs."
(Emphasis Added)

It sure does look like it has been handled. There is no slippery slope in England to worry about.

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