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Eugenically Child Born in Brave New Britain

Posted Jan 11 2009 4:59pm
Several SHSers have sent me the story of the birth of the baby girl, who was selected "in" as an embryo, as her "defective" siblings were destroyed, and permitted to be implanted and born because she did not carry a gene that gives rise to breast cancer. Yuval Levin has already discussed this matter over at NRO's blog The Corner, and he points out both the ethical implications of this event and an example of post modernism in journalism in which the BBC redefined "conception" to mean implantation in the womb instead of fertilization. From Levin's post:

Better to eradicate the carriers, it seems, than to risk a potentially curable if very serious adult-onset illness. So should cancer patients wish they had never been born? Should the rest of us wish they hadn't been? The BBC itself then [states]:

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) involves taking a cell from an embryo at the eight-cell stage of development, when it is around three-days old, and testing it. This is before conception--defined as when the embryo is implanted in the womb.

By whom, exactly, is "conception" defined as "when the embryo is implanted in the womb"? I suppose if you can't deny that life begins at conception you just insist that conception means whatever you want it to mean. So why not call it "pre-conception genetic diagnosis"?

Curing the disease by killing the patient is hardly a step forward for medicine, and eliminating the unfit before they’re born so they won't pass on their genes to future generations is just eugenics, pure and simple. That little girl is very lucky to be alive.

I believe that these procedures, while well-meaning, are the early steps that will ultimately lead to a utilitarian dystopia of the kind warned against by Aldous Huxley. As I wrote in Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World:

Huxley's novel [ Brave New World ] never described the events that led to the end of history. Had he written a prequel, what might he have imagined induced the ancestors of the characters in his novel to unleash a biotechnology that became so powerful that it resulted in a "Brave New Man...so dehumanized that he doesn't even realize what has been lost" [in the words of Leon Kass]. Perhaps it would have been a fervent desire to exercise hyper-control over our health and mortality, a trend building to gale force in our own time.
I was referencing embryonic stem cells. But I think pre-implantation genetic diagnosis qualifies too. In our understandable desire to alleviate potential future suffering, we presume to decide who is worthy of being born and who should not be allowed to live. Once that principle is accepted, it will go from stopping embryos and fetuses with a propensity to cancer, Down syndrome, dwarfism, and other disabling conditions or illnesses from being born (or killing them as newborns if a mistake is made and they are born), to wiping out people with conditions that may be socially disdained, such as a propensity to obesity or homosexuality (if a genetic cause is ever identified).

I submit we have not the wisdom for such hyper-control. I submit that all of us must be welcomed equally in life, or at some point we will all reach the point where most of us will be in pronounced danger of being hustled out of it.
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