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.