Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor without Wisdom

Labor Day USA is traditionally the close of summer. It is a day-off from work for most of us and it is a day to spend with family and friends. It should be a day to reflect of human labor and thank God for the good human labor. We should especially reflect on the wisdom of our labor.

Science and technology, especially in the so-called “developed world”, is increasingly consuming larger parts of human labor. It should be obvious that all that is technically possible is not always ethical, moral or licit. Wisdom needs to always accompany human labor. Unfortunately, science and technology that is supposed to serve man is increasing —at a disturbing pace— to degrade and to dehumanize people.

Couples Cull Embryos to Halt Heritage of Cancer by Amy Harmon (N.Y. Times, September 3, 2006) presents a “case study” of human labor lacking wisdom.

As Chad Kingsbury watches his daughter playing in the sandbox behind their suburban Chicago house, the thought that has flashed through his mind a million times in her two years of life comes again: Chloe will never be sick.

The means to justify the idealistic end of “Chloe will never be sick” include in vitro fertilization (love replaced with a technique) and “quality control” of genetic screening (eugenics).

Prospective parents have been using the procedure, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., for more than a decade to screen for genes certain to cause childhood diseases that are severe and largely untreatable.

Now a growing number of couples like the Kingsburys are crossing a new threshold for parental intervention in the genetic makeup of their offspring: They are using P.G.D. to detect a predisposition to cancers that may or may not develop later in life, and are often treatable if they do.

For most parents who have used preimplantation diagnosis, the burden of playing God has been trumped by the near certainty that diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia will afflict the children who carry the genetic mutation that causes them. The procedure has also been used to avoid passing on Huntington’s disease, a severe neurological disease that typically does not surface until middle age but spares no one who carries the mutation that causes it.

The “procedure” used to avoid passing on Huntington’s disease includes, not healing Chloe, but rather selecting Chloe as worthy of human development and consigning her siblings to be either frozen or destroyed.
But every time Mr. Kingsbury looks at Chloe, with her blue saucer eyes and her tantrums that turn abruptly to laughter — and back — he knows it was worth it.

If Mr. Kingsbury could look at his other children, frozen or destroyed, we would hope that he would change his conclusion.
Many of those exploring P.G.D. are the first generation of women to have reached reproductive age after their mothers developed cancer and tested positive for one of the breast cancer mutations. They see it as saving not just their children but generations of descendants from the same fate.

“I was very relieved to know that I would not have to pass this gene on to my children,” said Michaela Walsh, 20, a junior at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., who found out she carries a BRCA mutation. She has already decided she wants to use P.G.D. when she has children. “My mother told me that the only worse thing than having cancer twice was having to give the gene to me.”

But the same knowledge makes others who carry the mutations take particular offense at the selection procedure, which they say implies that they themselves, and many members of their family, should never have existed. It raises the specter of eugenics, they say, in the most personal terms.

“It’s like children are admitted to a family only if they pass the test,” said Denise Toeckes, 32, a teacher who tested positive for a BRCA mutation. “It’s like, ‘If you have a gene, we don’t want you; if you have the potential to develop cancer, you can’t be in our family.’ ”

Other critics oppose preimplantation diagnosis on the grounds that it could be used to select against homosexuals, women or people with disabilities. It reduces people to their genes, they say, and paves the way for the pursuit of children designed to suit parental ideals and for discrimination against those born with perceived imperfections.

Medicine should always help people. I suppose P.G.D. only “helped” Chloe to “pass the genetic test” that her siblings “failed.” P.G.D. as a technology does not produce “designer babies”. Rather, it destroys those who fail to meet pre-conceived criteria.

Human life should always be respected and accepted as is and not be subject to quality controls. P.G.D. and related technologies seems to come from fear: Fear of defects and imperfections. Fear of human life. Fear of its mystery and its drama.

How many wonderful people are missing because of P.G.D.? Human labor as biotechnology is in urgent need of wisdom.

Photo: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Genesis Genetics Institute (detail)
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Anonymous Theresa said...

Wow- this sounds like that movie "Gattica".. It is amazing that it is all becoming a reality. And in India people are having cheap ultrasounds and aborting baby girls. Abortion is a slippery slope- once you start saying it is ok to kill a baby, to end life under a certain set of circumstances then suddenly people begin including more circumstances when it is acceptable. Now we are actually living in a world where women are murdered before they are born (so much for abortion being a "feminist" cause!) and people are actually deciding to destroy life based on genetic traits. Soon killing life based on looks will be acceptable too (no dark eyes, frizzy hair, etc.) How scary!

5:32 AM  
Blogger pazdziernik said...

A movie? No. The real tragedy is either of not recognizing the humanity of others and responding with compassion, or of recognizing the humanity of others and responding with barbarism.

11:54 PM  

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