The field of science has made countless advances over the last few decades—many of them beneficial and worthy of accolades. Yet, not all of these advances are for the betterment of human beings. Today’s commentary examines a recent breakthrough that purports to give parents an image of their preborn baby and his predicted health. But what is the cost?
A recent headline proclaiming the great advances science has made in detecting defects in preborn children sent a chill down my pro-life spine. Proclaiming the incredible news that a day is upon us when scientists will be able to run genetic tests that will identify more than 3,500 genetic irregularities, the reporter echoed a concern raised by some in the medical community that such testing could lead to more abortions!
Oh really! We never would have guessed.
Dr. Jay Shendure, the lead scientist on the project, is an associate professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington. Along with colleagues, he has been concentrating his efforts on reconstructing “the genome of a fetus using DNA samples from the parents.”
While the same report describes the genome reconstruction effort as currently costing between 20 and 50 thousand dollars, it is also noted that, as the testing becomes routine, the price will drop dramatically. A time will come, they say, when expectant mothers need only go for a simple blood test where detection of a problem—or lack thereof—will be recorded. But what is the risk?
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, penned an article entitled, “My Son is Not a Genetic ‘Fault.’” She explains, “While the hopes of those advocating prenatal testing see this as a bright spot for mankind’s future, those of us whose lives have been touched by someone with one of these genetic ‘faults’ see it as another form of discrimination and extermination.”
Hawkins continues, “If abortion clinics will kill an unborn baby simply because it’s a girl, as Live Action has so pointedly uncovered in recent weeks, what will stop them from making money off of aborting children with genetic faults?”
Kristan is not alone in her concerns. When the British news agency Daily Telegraph broke this story, Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the Pro-Life Alliance, responded saying, “One always hopes, vainly, that in utero testing will be for the benefit of the unborn child. . . . But, whilst this new test may not itself be invasive, given our past track record, it is difficult to imagine that this new test will not lead to more abortions.”
Anthony Ozimic of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children understands those concerns. In an e-mail to LifeNews, he stated: “The science-fiction scenario of the film Gattaca, in which babies are graded at birth according to predictions of future health, is becoming fact. Society can reverse this nightmare scenario by resolving to put human beings above so-called scientific progress.”
The term “designer baby” was discussed in a 2006 article because it had
made the transition from sci-fi movies and weblogs into the Oxford English Dictionary, where it is defined as “a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics.” This coinage was prompted by recent advances in genetics that may make such babies possible. We need to pause and ask what moral or ethical limits, if any, should apply to the selection of our children’s genes or characteristics.
We disagree with the writer questioning “ethical limits,” but have to ask a more profound question that is rarely posited in scientific discussions: Since the advent of reproductive technologies in the late 1970s, what has happened to man’s ability to unconditionally welcome children without first having to resort to quality control practices?
In the wake of normalizing in vitro fertilization and post-implantation genetic diagnosis procedures, we are faced with a world where many prospective parents no longer anticipate celebrating life, but prefer celebrating the possibility of avoiding the “imperfect child.”
Indeed, it is sadly the case that the worst of science fiction is coming to pass in humanity’s rush to play one-upmanship with God. That is a tragedy that only a generation yet to come will be capable of assessing.
What does that make us if not at the very least a culture that is morally and ethically imperfect?
Judie Brown is president and cofounder of American Life League and a three-time appointee to the Pontifical Academy for Life.