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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Choosing Genetic Defects

The Science Times section of the New York Times reporta on an interesting new study in the journal of Fertility and Sterility concerning parents who screen embryos for genes in the hopes that their children will have a disability similar to the parents.   I am not sure how I feel about this.  I am adopted so I must admit I don't value genetic connections like some other people do.  Here is an excerpt from the article,

Wanting to have children who follow in one’s footsteps is an understandable desire. But a coming article in the journal Fertility and Sterility offers a fascinating glimpse into how far some parents may go to ensure that their children stay in their world — by intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism.

The article reviews the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., a process in which embryos are created in a test tube and their DNA is analyzed before being transferred to a woman’s uterus. In this manner, embryos destined to have, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease can be excluded, and only healthy embryos implanted.

Yet Susannah A. Baruch and colleagues at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University recently surveyed 190 American P.G.D. clinics, and found that 3 percent reported having intentionally used P.G.D. “to select an embryo for the presence of a disability.”

In other words, some parents had the painful and expensive fertility procedure for the express purpose of having children with a defective gene. It turns out that some mothers and fathers don’t view certain genetic conditions as disabilities but as a way to enter into a rich, shared culture.

It’s tempting to see this practice as an alarming trend; for example, the online magazine Slate called it “the deliberate crippling of children.”

But a desire for children with genetic defects isn’t new. In 2002, for example, The Washington Post Magazine profiled Candace A. McCullough and Sharon M. Duchesneau, a lesbian and deaf couple from Maryland who both attended Gallaudet University and set out to have a deaf child by intentionally soliciting a deaf sperm donor.  . . .

Controlling a child’s genetic makeup, even to preserve what some would consider a disease, is the latest tactic of parents in an increasingly globalized society where identity seems besieged and in need of aggressive preservation. Traditionally, cultures were perpetuated through assortative mating, with intermarriage among the like-minded and the like-appearing. . . .

Still, most providers of P.G.D. find such requests unacceptable. Dr. Robert J. Stillman of the Shady Grove Fertility Center in Rockville, Md., has denied requests to use the process for selecting deafness and dwarfism. “In general, one of the prime dictates of parenting is to make a better world for our children,” he said in an interview. “Dwarfism and deafness are not the norm.” . . .

Today, parents increasingly use medical procedures to alter healthy bodies. In 2003, for example, the Food and Drug Administration granted approval to Eli Lilly to market human growth hormone for “idiopathic short stature,” or below-average height in children — to make them taller, purely for social reasons. Theoretically, almost a half million American boys qualify for treatment. Why, some may argue, should choosing short stature be different? . . .

 

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