human embryos be screened for genetic defects? Page
Zinser investigates this morally thorny issue.
History illustrates that many of our
most famous names possessed a less-than-perfect complement
of genes. Beethoven's mother, at the time she was pregnant
with him, already had several children: three were deaf,
two were blind, and one was mentally retarded. If she
had had aborted the (also congenitally-deaf) Ludwig,
the world would now be a musically poorer place. He's
not the only famous person to have been born less than
perfect. Aristotle suffered from epilepsy, as did Vincent
Van Gogh. The poet and philosopher Homer was blind from
birth. Toulouse-Lautrec suffered an incurable congenital
bone disease. Stephen Hawking has motor neurone disease.
One may wonder whether their handicaps played a part
in driving them to excel so magnificently in other areas.
Many of us (with FAP or without) might
not be here if we had been genetically screened out
by our parents for things that we suffer from today.
How many of us would prefer to not have existed at all?
We: may not be: famous, but I bet we're all happy to
Life is all about risk. Whether we
realise it or not, we spend most of our lives minimising
risk. We choose: a salad over chips to reduce our risk
of obesity and coronary heart disease. We put our seat
belts on to reduce the risk of death and injury in a
car crash. We teach our children to read and write to
(ultimately) reduce their risk of poverty in later life.
The more certain a risk is, the more likely we are to
do something to minimise it.
And this is why the families with FAP
have been sanctioned to screen genetically against the
disease that they carry: there is a very high risk that
any chid carrying the FAP gene will develop the disease,
and many of them wish to minimise that.
The Red Lion Group has a significant
number of members with FAP, making the issue particularly
relevant to us. So where do the answers lie? Is generic
screening the ultimate solution, or can it bring its
own and complex issues? Ultimately, is it right or is
it wrong? Socially desirable or undesirable?
Genetic screening and embryo selection
is, to the many who carry the genes for debilitating
and fatal diseases, a godsend. It offers an escape route,
a hope for freedom from a curse that you and your children
don't deserve. People that are affected say it's easy
for those who morally object to screening to pontificate,
but unless you have actually experienced the vulnerability
and torture of watching your children suffer or die
from something you unwillingly gave them, it is unfair
and inappropriate to comment on the rights and wrongs
of those who do suffer.