A scientist at the Imperial College of London has announced that advances in genetic dna testing could soon dictate who settles down with whom. Speaking recently at a eugenics conference in Europe, Professor Armand Leroi noted that affordable gene maps will be available in five or ten years. This means that ordinary people could buy a complete printout of their genetic code and see where the weak links are. The real question they’ll be asking, though, is what’s wrong with the person they’re dating?
Even if couples make it past this point, those planning a family will want to know where the genetic risks lie. The wrong answer could lead to break-ups or choosing one potential mate over another based upon a comparison of their genetic printouts.
Western culture, long saturated in adolescent notions of romance, may soon rediscover its pragmatism as it reads the cold odds of a baby’s future. Couples could use the genetic information to take high-tech steps to better ensure a healthy child. For example, IVF could help a couple choose an embryo free of disease or deformity. With the cost of genetic procedures falling rapidly, gene mapping could become almost as standard as picking out wedding rings.
The topic was met with debate as people discussed the bioethics of what soon might be commonplace. Professor Leroi, speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum 2012, pointed out that expectant parents and their doctors already use eugenics to identify and abort babies with serious defects such as Down’s Syndrome.
Danish neurobiologist Lone Frank noted that this is accepted practice in many European nations. Culturally, the groundwork is there for evaluating the merits of different genomes. However, some people will still view it as playing God.
Much of the debate around eugenics and child selection becomes moot if the selection happens at the mate level instead. The tough moral questions about the acceptability of abortion in cases of fetal infirmity largely disappear. Rather, the debate shifts to the ethics of designer parenting with the intent of producing a certain caliber of child. What happens if young people treat genetic information like having their colors done? Can a genetic “winter” marry a “spring” without polluting the gene pool or risking social ostracism?
This mindset is exactly what worries some groups. Christian Medical Fellowship member Philippa Taylor expressed concern over the idea that the lives of people with genetic infirmities are less valuable than those who better fit the pop notion of perfection. She suggested that society’s priority should be on medical treatment and support rather than prenatal destruction.
Nonetheless, Professor Leroi and others express doubt that couples will rush into trying to design children for specific traits such as hair color or math talent. The technology will still be too expensive, and the mysteries of the genome too complex, to make this feasible. Rather, the greater affordability of genetic information will let it continue to do what it currently does for those who with means: warn of pitfalls such as fatal genetic diseases.
Post provided in part by genetic testing uk