The news that scientists can test a fetus’s genome through non-invasive means presents a crucial challenge to the moral integrity of society. Will these tests be used by parents and doctors to help prepare the family for a potentially special-needs child? Or instead, will this science accelerate the ongoing search and destroy mission to eugenically cleanse our progeny? In other words, will the fictional world of Gattaca now become fact?
Alas, based on current trends, it would seem so. We increasingly feel entitled not only to have a baby, but to have a baby of the kind and nature we want. Already, 90 percent of babies whose prenatal tests show that they will be born with genetic conditions such as dwarfism and Down syndrome, are prevented from being born. Pressure on expecting parents to abort the “defectives” was so clearly demonstrated that the late Senator Ted Kennedy and former Senator (now Kansas Governor) Sam Brownback co-sponsored the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act, requiring that genetic counselors be neutral with regard to the options of birth or abortion. IVF embryos are already being genetically screened before implantation, with unwanted nascent lives thrown out as medical waste — including those with a detected propensity to adult onset diseases. There is even advocacy published in prominent bioethics journals arguing on behalf of “post-birth abortion,” that is, permitted infanticide if the baby that is born does not suit the needs and desires of the parents. And let us not forget that sex-selective IVF and abortion already happen — the latter of which the president of the United States wishes to remain legal.
This particular well could have no bottom. Imagine if scientists discover a genetic component to homosexuality. At least some of our gay brothers and sisters would not be allowed to live. Not only that, but the screening could easily include testing for what are essentially cosmetic issues. Already we have seen IVF advertised as a means of determining hair and eye color.
Many neo-eugenicists assure us that these decisions will all be laissez faire, that is, based solely on “choice.” But that is a fantasy. There are already calls among the Medical intelligentsia to offer prenatal genetic testing to all expecting mothers, not just those who are “at risk,” with the clear intention that the eugenic abortion rate increase. One could easily envisage laws that restrict coverage for children with serious prenatal detectable health conditions. And the raw power of peer pressure could make it very difficult to permit genetically determined babies from being born with serious illnesses or disabilities.
The march of science cannot be stopped, we are told. But this is about ethics, not science. What we do with our technological prowess is what matters. The answer to the evil potentials of the coming genomic screening is to strengthen our commitment to human life and deepen our capacity to love.