My genetics, your genetics, eugenics

There is an interesting perspective* in Science magazine today, about the types, prevalence, and ethical issues associated with currently available techniques for screening or preventing heritable genetic conditions.

It’s a very grey area ethically.  Once you can screen and/or prevent something that poses a serious risk to a child (e.g., CF, Tay Sachs), it seems important to do so.  The trouble is that now we are able to screen for anything we know how to attribute to genetics.  This isn’t everything; the human genome sequence is a blueprint for all of our traits, but our understanding is so incomplete as to have whole floors and wings of the blueprint unexplored.

The US is a hotbed for embryo screening, in part because any effort to regulate the practice with a law inevitably devolves into an abortion debate in the political arena, and the bill fails or is scuttled to preserve public favor of the party in question.

There are new technologies* (some of which I work with, albeit on a totally different system) that allow sequencing of the fetus’s genome with nothing more than a blood draw from the mother and a saliva sample from the father.  These are likely to be widely applied, and soon.  This is just my prediction, but most IVF clinics already leverage whatever genetic screens are available when taking embryo biopsies.  Plus these have zero risk and are more accurate than amniocentesis.

I do not know where I stand on these screens.  I understand what the different genetic conditions entail, and I understand the risks of heredity, and I am someone who always believes more information is good.  I think I would be well prepared to interpret even traits with incomplete penetrance (where you can have the genes, but not the condition, making the stats much more complicated).  And yet, I do not know where I stand on these screens.

If Pea is a CF carrier, and we didn’t have trouble conceiving, we would have been rolling the dice before we even knew there were dice in our hands.  Now we may have to choose whether to roll the dice or put them down carefully to have us land on GO.  Should we look into a mortgage on Park Place at the same time?

This is still too early, I know, but the perspective caught my eye, and I’ve been pondering this from when I got the initial requisition for the CF test for myself.

* if you can’t see these articles, but are curious about them, let me know and I can send them your way.

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2 thoughts on “My genetics, your genetics, eugenics

  1. Turia

    It is a really tough call. I remember when I had the anatomical ultrasound with E. and they found that choroid plexus cyst and I freaked the F out about it, my midwife said to me, “Sometimes we just know too much these days”. They were legally obligated to tell me what the scan had shown, even though they all knew it was meaningless AND they knew that telling me what they’d found (even as they told me it was meaningless) would cause me to freak out for the rest of the pregnancy.

    I have always assumed that knowledge is power and more knowledge is always better. Some days now I’m not so sure.

    I hope for your sake Pea isn’t a carrier and the issue will no longer be an issue. (Also- I am 100% positive that my clinic did not scan for CF in its original bloodwork.)

    Reply
    1. labmonkeyftw Post author

      I think the trouble is that now we get to decide how much more information we get. The basic CF screen identifies 88% of caucasian carriers, there is a deletion/duplication screen that bumps that to 99% combined with the basic, and then there is a very pricey “sequence your genes” option that is 100% likely to identify any mutations, but if it’s a brand new mutation, there won’t be any information as to whether it actually causes a problem. I’m leaning toward the basic + deletion/duplication, but can’t get my fertility clinic to send me the requisition codes.

      Reply

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