Breast cancer gene-free baby born

by Jennifer Lahl, CBC President on January 12, 2009

Not all scientific and medical progress is ethical. Certainly, not all progress is for the benefit of the human future. This particular story is a case in point.

From the story:

“The first baby in the UK tested before conception for a genetic form of breast cancer has been born. . . the embryo was screened for the altered BRCA1 gene, which would have meant the girl had a 80% chance of developing breast cancer.”

This from a family with a three generation history of breast cancer diagnosis in the women from her husband’s side of the family. All diagnosed in the women while in their 20s.

What are the ethical dilemmas? How do we even begin to count the many steps, ways along the way, which undermine human life and human dignity and advance a culture that is fascinated on avoidance of disease, illness or even the slightest of imperfections – whatever that means. These attitudes are so prevalent in the IVF – reproductive medicine gone wild industry. And we as parents are to blame too, right?

First, make no mistake. Pre-natal genetic diagnosis (PGD) is NOT without error and is NOT without harm done to the embryo. To biopsy an embryo and remove some genetic material to perform the test can harm and even destroy/kill the embryo. Sometimes genetic testing is WRONG too. So we may incorrectly label an embryo diseased which is healthy, or label it healthy when it is diseased. Slippery slope to eugenics? More like a moral landslide to me.

Secondly, this case is one of a specific illness. But where is the moral limit? Some argue that PGD would never be used for ‘frivolous’ testing but only for ‘serious’ illness and disease. Not true, where here in the U.S. we use this test for social sex selection. Because we want a boy or a girl. And oh by the way, we want a healthy, disease free child too.

My colleague, Josephine Quintavalle, quoted in this article rightly states that this sends a message that “you are better off dead than born with this gene”.

Breast cancer gene-free baby. Where will the lines be drawn? Hard to draw a line that has no moral basis or foundation to it anyway. And that is the problem with the human future. No one can agree on who’s human and people in positions of influence are adamant that they get to decide. And if opposition is voiced, we can bet we will be labeled anti-technological luddites who are against progress!

Sad day for this birth announcement.

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