Embryo Eugenics: Proactive Natural Selection

As medicine begins to move forward faster than our shared ability to comprehend the implications and dangers of science moderating morality, we are left alone to fend for our private values precisely as they are being publicly challenged by the preferences and prejudices a brave new round of Eugenics embodying the embryo stage of reproduction in a new movement I call “Proactive Natural Selection.”

Brand New World

Eugenics has a terrible history as a way of cleansing the general population from the burdens of birth defects and mental disabilities.

Brave New World

In 1921 the first formal Eugenics theory was set in place in publication and conference. Eugenics then supported a scientific method for separating and dividing people based on their genetic makeup — who they were mysteriously born to be — and not their promise in society. The Nazis were especially enamored with Eugenics because it gave them a scientific reasoning to support their want to create a superior Race of people. Mengele’s Twins Study is a morbid example of Eugenics in action.

Brave New World

There are some who claim Eugenics can detect the criminal mind so the naughty child who becomes inebriated in crime as an adult can be identified and “fixed” in childhood via surgery to eradicate the criminal tendency before it is too late and society is harmed.

Brave New World

When a married couple wants their child to be like them and to help prolong their genetic code in the evolution of history, are they practicing Eugenics — via folklore — if they choose a certain sexual position to try to conceive a boy?

Lie down after sex and stay there for a while. Supposedly that gives the boy sperm a chance to beat the girl sperm to the egg. Make love standing up. Try the rear-entry position. Focus on his pleasure — if the male partner climaxes first, supposedly you’re guaranteed a boy. Give in to seduction — if the man is the one to suggest some baby-making, you’ll get a boy. Gals, sleep to the left of your partner.

The next wave in Eugenics is deciding fates and selecting traits in the embryo stage — before there is the forever consequence of a live birth to burden the world — or the opportunity to disappoint parents hoping for a certain genetic code and being devastated by the perceived loss of their wishes and dreams in the birth of a child incapable of, or unwilling to carry on, the precious parental genetic code of beauty and intelligence. “Proactive Natural Selection” reflects the current practice of the conflict between morality and medicine:

In medicine and (clinical) genetics preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a considered as a very early form of prenatal diagnosis. Its main advantage is that it avoids selective pregnancy termination as the method ensures a pregnancy free of the disease under consideration. PGD thus is an adjunct to assisted reproductive technology, and requires in vitro fertilization (IVF) to obtain oocytes or embryos for evaluation.

Should we encourage embryonic cancer screening?

If cancer is detected, or considered high risk later in life, should that embryo be ended before it begins a life of burden on society and heartbreak in the family?

People with a family history of breast and bowel cancer will be allowed to screen embryos for the genes that raise the risk of those diseases, the Government’s fertility watchdog ruled yesterday.The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will permit doctors to select embyros free from three genes that can cause tumours, even though they confer only an 80 per cent risk of diseases that will not develop until adulthood. The decision to approve the procedure, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), expands the range of disorders for which it is available.

The diagnosis was originally licensed only for genes invariably causing disease, such as cystic fibrosis, although in 2004 the HFEA also agreed to permit screening for a gene carrying a 90 per cent risk of bowel cancer.

Once you open the Pandora’s Box of testing embryos you cannot stop the expansion and the depth of the testing and the decision making:

In its early days, PGD targeted fatal childhood diseases such as Tay-Sachs. But a new survey of U.S. fertility clinics, scheduled for release this week by the Genetics and Public Policy Center, suggests the line is moving.Among clinics that offer PGD, 28 percent have used it to target genes whose associated diseases don’t strike until adulthood. The list includes Alzheimer’s, which afflicts some people in their 30s but usually arrives much later.

According to next month’s Journal of Clinical Oncology, PGD has also been used to wipe out colon cancers that don’t develop until age 45 to 55 and are treatable, if detected early, with survival rates of 90 percent.

From The Daily Mail:

The new screening technique is based on Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), originally developed in the late 1980s to identify genetic defects and chromosomal abnormalities in embryos before they are transferred to the womb.The latest advances in automated computer analysis and genetic probes mean it is now possible to screen for virtually all currently identified genetic disorders. They include Fragile X Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, Diamond Blackfan, Krabbe’s disease, Sickle Cell, Tay-Sachs disease and Marfan Syndrome.

So far six patients have had the £6,000 technique now being provided by Dr Simon Fishel and his team at the Nottingham-based CARE Fertility – half of them with NHS funding. Dr Fishel said: ”This is the beginning of a genetic diagnostics revolution.

”A technique capable of detecting at least 200 genetic disorders can now be offered to British couples at risk of having a seriously sick baby, often with a terminal illness.

The Daily Mail also reports the next, logical, incredible, step in the process:

The Church of England has broken with tradition dogma by calling for doctors to be allowed to let sick newborn babies die. Christians have long argued that life should preserved at all costs – but a bishop representing the national church has now sparked controversy by arguing that there are occasions when it is compassionate to leave a severely disabled child to die.And the Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, who is the vice chair of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, has also argued that the high financial cost of keeping desperately ill babies alive should be a factor in life or death decisions. The shock new policy from the church has caused outrage among the disabled.

Do Down Syndrome children add to the forward movement of the human condition or deny it?

I have a distant cousin who is “retarded” as they called it 60 years ago when she was born and for all of those 60 years she has just existed in a chair every day combing her hair with one hand and aimlessly paging through the Sears catalog with the other. Is she a human being? Yes. Is she human? No.I would have a difficult time raising a Down Syndrome child though I would do the job if the situation required my compliance. I believe life is explored through intellect and knowing “out of the box” your child would never progress beyond an elementary level no matter how hard they tried and you tried would be hard to accept. Does that make me an elitist? Probably. Is genetic testing moral?

Should science have a conscience? Must we demand more for our children than thumbing through the Sears catalog for 60 years? I always tell people “we are not our bodies” but I do believe we are our minds and to have an incapacitated mind from square one is something rough to abide.

If science and technology allow the moral wiggle room to identify broken embryos that might not survive on their own and produce good things for the betterment of society, isn’t it also science’s duty to allow the opposite to survive as well?

If a Deaf couple wants to continue their genetic gene pool of congenital Deafness and their embryo is demonstrated to be Hearing, shouldn’t that Deaf couple have the same opportunity to abort the Hearing child and try again for a Deaf embryo?

Several U.S. fertility clinics admit they’ve helped couples deliberately select defective embryos. According to a new survey report, “Some prospective parents have sought [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] to select an embryo for the presence of a particular disease or disability, such as deafness, in order that the child would share that characteristic with the parents.Three percent of IVF-PGD clinics report having provided PGD to couples who seek to use PGD in this manner.” Since 1) the United States has more than 400 fertility clinics, 2) more than two-thirds that answered the survey offer PGD, and 3) some clinics that have done it may not have admitted it, the best guess is that at least eight U.S. clinics have done it. Old fear: designer babies. New fear: deformer babies. (For Human Nature’s take, including more findings from the survey, click here.)

If we create genetic markers for “Proactive Natural Selection” then we better be prepared to confront the who and the what influencing these decisions of life, and more often, death:

Wanting to have children who follow in one’s footsteps is an understandable desire. But a coming article in the journal Fertility and Sterility offers a fascinating glimpse into how far some parents may go to ensure that their children stay in their world — by intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism.The article reviews the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., a process in which embryos are created in a test tube and their DNA is analyzed before being transferred to a woman’s uterus. In this manner, embryos destined to have, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease can be excluded, and only healthy embryos implanted.

Yet Susannah A. Baruch and colleagues at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University recently surveyed 190 American P.G.D. clinics, and found that 3 percent reported having intentionally used P.G.D. “to select an embryo for the presence of a disability.”

In other words, some parents had the painful and expensive fertility procedure for the express purpose of having children with a defective gene. It turns out that some mothers and fathers don’t view certain genetic conditions as disabilities but as a way to enter into a rich, shared culture.

It’s tempting to see this practice as an alarming trend; for example, the online magazine Slate called it “the deliberate crippling of children.” Controlling a child’s genetic makeup, even to preserve what some would consider a disease, is the latest tactic of parents in an increasingly globalized society where identity seems besieged and in need of aggressive preservation. Traditionally, cultures were perpetuated through assortative mating, with intermarriage among the like-minded and the like-appearing.

Where do we go from here? Science and technology will only get smarter and better and provide even harder, conflicting choices when it comes to creating and sustaining life. “Designer Babies” are possible today because of scientific study and great leaps in treating disease using gene therapy and stem cells. You can pick you child’s gender, eye color and — if you so desire — a disability or not. What will tomorrow provide?

Are we within the generation of the Super Baby that will live twice as long as us and have perfect eyesight, outstanding musculature and incredible intelligence? Are we creating a new Master Race that will be healthier, stronger and smarter than the sum of us? Has Mengele’s twisted attempt to quantify life through death now been re-contorted and reborn under the scientific guise of Embryo Eugenics and Proactive Natural Selection?