The word “eugenics” often elicits thoughts of heinous Nazi practices rooted in racist beliefs. In our class discussion this week, the question was posed of how we (as a society) can prevent that kind of thing from happening. Though I think (and pray) that American culture is incapable of morphing into the phenomenon that was Nazi Germany, I believe that eugenics will likely be a part of our future. Technologies that may be used for eugenic purposes already exist and will inevitably become more widespread as the technology continues to advance, the ubiquity of such methods increases, and the cost of the processes subsequently decreases.
This very topic was discussed in a Canadian article from earlier this year. As it turns out, Canadian couples utilizing IVF therapy are taking advantage of private labs in the United States by sending embryos to be rapidly tested for genetic disorders. Chromosomes contained in a single embryonic cell can be scanned for genes that are involved in a variety of genetic conditions. This way, only the parents’ best embryos are used in the subsequent steps of the IVF process. The article goes on to say that the future of IVF includes DNA microchips can analyze a thousand traits at once, allowing parents more choice not only in traits related to their potential child’s health, but also others, such as his or her height, eye color, athletic ability, etc. The author raises the question of whether or not we should open the door to this kind of “unnatural selection.”
A New York Times article published this summer discusses a new, non-invasive method for blueprinting the DNA of a fetus using only blood taken from the mother and saliva collected from the father. This new process circumvents the risks of inducing a miscarriage that accompany methods such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. The end result is a map of the fetus’ entire genome determined with approximately 98% certainty. The author warns that this new method raises serious concerns because it may increase abortions on the basis of parental trait preferences rather than solely on the basis of medical issues.
The refinement and greater availability of technologies such as these, coupled with the legality of abortion in the United States may lead us into an age in which eugenic practices are commonplace. Though this is clearly a little ways off, it is important that we really consider the the purpose and potential effects of employing these practices before they become widely available. It is likely that parents would seek out these technologies with the best of intentions for their future offspring, but is it ethical to employ such technologies to satisfy parental preferences? Will there be a need for government regulation at some point? Further, what are the biological consequences of taking control of our own evolution? These are interesting and important things to consider as we are continue to be amazed by the leaps and bounds made in the field of genetics.