Screening for a range of disorders and impairments has increasingly become a routine part of prenatal care. Blood tests and amniocentesis for chromosomal disorders like Down Syndrome. And genetic tests for disorders like Tay-Sachs.
When prospective parents receive a positive diagnosis, a poor result, for any of these tests, then abortion is a considered option.
In addition to prenatal testing, we can see Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), this is where a set of embryos are created via in vitro fertilisation and then the embryo that doesn’t have an impairment or disorder that is trying to be bypassed is selected.
These are some of the ways in which we try to manage whether a child is born with various disabilities and impairments. Think of biohacking the procedure for more optimal health benefits for the child.
Prenatal testing has raised a wide range of ethical and social issues that can be thought through and discussed. I am going to try and view these issues through the supposed disability theory.
The chicken is only an egg’s way for making another egg.
Now we could examine the situation for when should these tests be made accessible, who should have access to them, and when are they are humane to use.
So a fair and compelling argument in support of making various prenatal tests available, mentioned in an early article, is our individual rights to autonomy.
It is the capacity to choose for oneself and pursue a course of action in one’s life, often regardless of any particular moral content.
As a society, we are reaffirming that people have the right to their own reproductive freedom. Which is to be the ones who decide when, whether, and how to have children and create a family.
Therefore prenatal testing can give potential parents greater control over their reproductive narrative. This has a strong hypothetical argument in favour of using these technologies.
However, considerations for the opposite view regarding any ethical complications that go along with the use of such technologies also come into effect.
For example, we might raise the question about access to prenatal testing!
Is it acceptable for a specific test to be granted particularly when, as mentioned earlier, the outcome of a positive result might well lead to abortion?
Also for what conditions is it acceptable to screen for? What counts as enough of a disability or an impairment to justify performing a test for the parents?
Take into account the Models of Disability:
Social disability: feature of fit or lack of fit between the body and social, material, or technological environment.
How about, do prospective parents have a duty of care to screen for a particular condition, and abort if a positive test comes back? It could be said that this is part of responsible parenting or part of protecting the health and wellbeing of the child about to be born.
The Paradox of Harm
This is where bioethicists raise what is called the Paradox of Harm: the point that you can’t harm a nonexistent being.
So we need to look at the argument of using prenatal testing and abortion as a way to protect the health of an embryo. The fetus is either going to be born with the disorder or it’s not going to exist at all.
If you bring an infant into this world, even if that child has a disability, as long as their condition isn’t so unfortunate that they would be better off not having been born, then living is a more desirable option than not existing at all.
You’re not harming anyone by allowing them to exist with a disability because the other option is nonexistence.
Of course, there are some conditions such as Tay-Sachs, where it is completely incurable and results in a very young and incredibly painful death. You could quite well argue that existence, in this case, is simply worse than nonexistence.
However, in the general case, things screened for in prenatal testing is for conditions like Down Syndrome. Can we say that it is plausible for people born with a condition like that to be better off than not existing at all?
So do we owe it to our future children to use such prenatal tests as part of responsible parenting as a way to protect that child’s health? Though it does leave us with the question of when is it acceptable and when is it not?
In the past average lifespan was dramatically lower than it is today, through knowledge, technology, medicine, lifespan has increased dramatically, why can it not continue, we look back 100 years and consider the toughness, in 100 or 1000 years will they look back and consider us unfortunate?
Editing the Human Genome
Altering the genome of an embryo in humans at this stage is more or less considered unethical and illegal. That being said there are reports that it has already been done with a set of twins being born with a modified genome.
This obviously brings up concerns surrounding the impact it has on individuals as well as humanity as a whole. Editing inheritable genes means that those modifications will be passed on to future offspring.
This certainly has the feel of ‘playing God’ to it, is it acceptable to edit a gene out that would naturally give a child a debilitating disease. How about editing a gene in to enhance our performance or should we just leave it up to nature to decide who gets the good genes.
Take into consideration we already use IVF treatments and medicines to save and prolong lives, so in a sense, we already act as a god in this respect. Consequently, we come back to the question of where do we draw the line, or do we even draw one?
Certainly, some good can come out of it, modifying genes that remove cancer or other debilitating conditions would surely benefit an individual. We could significantly reduce the strain on the healthcare system. Although would this bring about other unforeseen scenarios that hinder our health and well-being.
Editing the human genome does bring about many concerns that will be discussed in another article. For now, we can deliberate the paths people can take. The goals we are trying to achieve from abortions, IVF to surrogacy.
But which disorders should get edited? As mentioned, specific conditions can be treated with medicine, or do we edit genes to make treatment unnecessary? By moving the bar does a normal condition now become a disorder?
Can we even edit out a disability like a deformed limb?
Considerations before going Ahead
I will give you two thoughts on the matter:
- Is the idea that testing for a particular condition symbolically disrespects and devalues everyone who’s currently living with that condition. It tells them that basically having that condition means that their lives are not worth living or that they were not worth raising as children.
- This reveals and entrenches problematic parenting attitudes, that it tells prospective parents that they ought to be unwilling to accept an imperfect child, and it encourages in them a myth that if they only just go ahead and take all the right steps ahead of time, they can be guaranteed or all but guaranteed a perfectly healthy child.
Future Generations: Kicking Deadly Diseases Out of the Gene Pool
Are we putting off the inevitable, a future where all life is created artificially and natural births are outlawed because of the diseases they carry?
The headlines of the future:
- Genetic Modifications are safer, cheaper, and more feasible
- We’re not playing God, rather we are saving lives
- Create a healthy, intelligent, strong future for your child
- Reduce the risk of chronic diseases that are prevalent in today’s society
- Build the foundation for healthier children to live healthier lives
- If you have a sense of social responsibility, it will change the world for generations to come.
The future of our species is at stake. If we’re not careful, the next generation will be plagued with diseases that are already extinct in some parts of the world due to prenatal testing for them. We must take into consideration ethical considerations through human biohacking and think about how this might affect future generations before it’s too late.
Biohacking is a scary word, but what does it actually mean? It’s the idea of hacking your body to improve its performance. The reason this term has been popping up lately in conjunction with prenatal testing is because some parents want their children to be as healthy as possible from birth and are willing to try anything that will help them reach that goal.
In short, biohacking future generations means trying to hack into our genes for better health. Ethical considerations through human biohacking come down to whether you think we should have control over how our DNA shapes us or if nature should take its course without interference from man-made devices like IVF treatments and genetic engineering.
Is there an obligation to bring our offspring in to the world with a better chance at survival, considering what we are doing to the planet?