Related or contrasting ideas may be found in the sections on Animal Rights, Knowledge, Life, Medical Ethics, Nature, Progress, and Science




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Genetic disease is under control

Opponents tend to exaggerate the influence of genes on human development

“Regulating eugenics,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 121 (April 2008), p. 1583

“Professors Allen Buchanan, Dan W. Brock, Norman Daniels, and Daniel Wikler offer a more thorough and nuanced position in the Rawlsian vein: genetic enhancements are morally permissible and laudable, while genetic interventions to prevent disabilities are morally obligatory. They begin by discerning that arguments against liberal eugenics often are misinformed by notions of genetic determinism. Noting that genes do not define destiny, but rather that an individual is made up of the interaction between genes and environment, they argue that providing a child with superior genes is no different than providing a child with a superior education.”


Bad genes are responsible for only 3% of all disabilities

Hilary Rose (professor of sociology at City University, London), “Eugenics and genetics: the conjoint twins?” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 20

“Pointing to the statistic that genetic impairment only constitutes 3 per cent of all impairment may weaken the cost-benefit effectiveness of eugenicist claims that what is needed is a search and destroy operation, but what it does not do is to tackle the taken for granted eugenicism in which some ‘right hands’ decide which of the ‘impaired’ foetuses need to have maternal decisions made about their survival.”


Some genetic “flaws” have survival value

June Goodfield (fellow, British Royal Society of Medicine), Playing God: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life, 1977, p. 66

“We must neither make any absolute judgments about genetic defects, nor be in too much of a hurry to engineer them. Some characteristics may be both useful and harmful at the same time. We might wonder why, during evolution, the gene for sickle-cell anemia, so prevalent amongst the black population, has been retained. It is so obviously harmful that one might expect it to have been eliminated by natural selection. There is an advantage associated with this condition, however, for those who carry this factor have been found to have a high resistance to malaria.”


Prenatal testing allows most defective embryos to be aborted

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. 40

“On the other hand , in a report from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, only one couple in nine went on to conceive after being advised of genetic or hereditary deficits.”


There are new conventional medical treatments available for some genetic disorders

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Choosing the Future: Genetics and Reproductive Decision-Making, 2004, p. 13

“Over the past two decades, there have been significant developments in the treatment of the symptoms of some single gene disorders such as sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis, leading both to increased life expectancies and improvements in quality of life. There are also a limited number of conditions for which treatment is available such as PKU, where treatment consists of dietary intervention and/or giving the individual an enzyme that makes up for what their own body cannot produce. Another example includes a very rare genetic disorder that prevents individuals from making leptin. Leptin is involved in switching off appetite when we eat. These children are constantly hungry and become morbidly obese. Following identification of the gene and its mutations, a handful of children who have this condition have been treated. They develop appetite control and dramatically lose weight.”


Genetic screening is promising

GENERALLY

Genetic information is very much non-unique, and privacy concerns are minimal

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Whose Hands on Your Genes? 2000, p. 5

“It is perhaps also important to reflect on how un-special genetic information is. For example, a mother shares approximately 99.95% of her genetic information with her daughter but that same woman shares 99.90% of her genetic information with any randomly chosen person on the planet. There is only 1.5% difference at the level of genetic information between humans and chimpanzees, which means that while we share 99.90% of our genetic information with other humans, we share 98.5% of our genetic information with chimpanzees. We also share 40-50% of our genetic information with bananas and cabbages. When thinking about our genes we need to remember that they are also shared with most of the rest of the ‘living world’. Thus genetic privacy and the alleged rights to control ‘our’ genetic information are to some extent illusory.”


Genetic screening does not seek racial improvement

Ruth Schwartz Cowan (professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania), “Medical Genetics Is Not Eugenics,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 16, 2008, p. 1

“Technological systems are built to achieve certain goals; those goals get hard-wired, as it were, into the components of the system. The chief goal of the eugenicists, ‘improvement of the race,’ was never one of the goals of genetic screening — and it did not become one, even after genomic research had identified the locations of dozens of disease-causing mutations. The founders of eugenics differed about which race they had in mind: Some meant ‘the white race,’ some ‘the German race,’ some ‘the Mexican race,’ and some, even, ‘the human race.’ The founders of medical genetics, however, made deliberate efforts to separate themselves from what James Neel called ‘the parlous intellectual state’ of eugenic research and practice because they thought it politically and scientifically correct to do so. From the very beginning, the founders of medical genetics — people like Neel, Fritz Fuchs, Michael Kaback, and Robert Guthrie — viewed their basic project as the relief of human suffering, not improvement of the race. Relief of suffering might, in their view, also improve the health of races or populations or societies, but improving the health and well-being of individuals was always their primary goal.”


By and large, genetic screening is a positive force in human lives

Ruth Schwartz Cowan (professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania), “Medical Genetics Is Not Eugenics,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 16, 2008, p. 1

“Genetic screening increases reproductive choice, and it also provides hope, hope that many parents never had before — hope of having, not a perfect child, but a child who, at least at the start of life, is free of devastating disease or overwhelming disability. Screening has become a routine practice in many different countries, and in many different social circumstances, for precisely these good reasons. Negative consequences, for individuals or for the ethnic communities to which they belong or for the national societies of which they are citizens, have been rare. Surely, then, the time has come for prospective parents to stop feeling guilty about participating in screening, and for historians, social scientists, and journalists to stop warning about its hidden eugenic evils. Those evils do not exist — and continuing to insist that they do is an attempt to further a political agenda by making good people feel unnecessarily guilty about their fundamentally wise and moral behavior.”


CHILDHOOD and PRENATAL

New genetic diagnosis techniques vastly increase human power over the genome

Stephen L. Baird (technology education teacher at Bayside Middle School, Virginia Beach, Virginia; adjunct faculty member at Old Dominion University), “Designer babies: eugenics repackaged or consumer options?” The Technology Teacher, April 2007, p. 14

“In one sense PGD [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] poses no new eugenic dangers. Genetic screening using amniocentesis has allowed parents to test the fitness of potential offspring for years. But PGD is poised to increase this power significantly: It will allow parents to choose the child they want, not simply reject the ones they do not want. It will change the overriding purpose of IVF [in vitro fertilization], from a treatment for fertility to being able to pick and choose embryos like consumer goods — producing many, discarding most, and desiring only the chosen few.”


Early childhood and prenatal screening would pinpoint diseases and tendencies

John Leo (staff columnist), “Genetic Advances, Ethical Risks,” U.S. News and World Report, September 25, 1989. p. 59

“One day it should be possible to take a clump of tissue from a baby or an embryo and screen it for all likely diseases. Risks of major diseases, plus tendencies toward other disorders and conditions, such as alcoholism and manic depression, could be measured fairly accurately.”


Prenatal screening does not necessarily promote abortion, but it useful in its own right

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Making Babies: reproductive decisions and genetic technologies, 2006, p. 31

“We note that, even among those pregnant women who would not consider a termination of pregnancy for any reason, many choose to proceed with prenatal fetal diagnosis. If their baby is found to have a health problem, the prior knowledge of their child’s condition can be helpful for practical as well as emotional reasons. For example, this may allow appropriate arrangements to be made for delivery and neonatal care. The high uptake of prenatal screening gives some indication of the widespread public support for it, and for diagnosis.”


Prenatal genetic screening does not promote eugenics

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Choosing the Future: Genetics and Reproductive Decision-Making, 2004, p. 7

“However, others contend that in genetic testing and counselling, the emphasis is on providing information and allowing people to make choices about the tests they have and other courses of action they may wish to follow. On this basis, it is claimed that recent developments are not eugenic but instead reflect changing attitudes about choice and the right of individuals to make decisions they believe are best for them and their families.”


Reproductive screening does not undermine motherhood

Ruth Schwartz Cowan (professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania), “Medical Genetics Is Not Eugenics,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 16, 2008, p. 1

“Contrary to what some disability activists assume, many people support widening the rights of disabled children and adults while simultaneously believing that abortion for fetal indications is morally wise. Reproductive feminists have also claimed that what they call selective abortion violates the essential morality of motherhood, turning the ideal of nurturing care into the ideal of quality control. The legions of feminists (as well as the legions of women who are not feminists) who have sought — and even sued to get — prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome are not likely to agree with them. Such women are, indeed, rejecting some traditional ideas about motherhood, particularly the notion that the ideal mother is willing to sacrifice herself for her children. By choosing prenatal diagnosis and the possibility of abortion, such women are asserting that they would prefer not to sacrifice themselves to caring for a chronically dependent, suffering child, and that there are other significant social roles that they hope to play in the course of their lives — spouse, employee, friend, athlete — that would be very difficult or impossible to combine with such care. Many of these women have put off childbearing to complete their educations or build employment resumes, which means that they are at increased risk of bearing a child with Down syndrome. Reproductive feminists and abortion opponents have also argued against genetic screening on the grounds that it increases the frequency of abortion — but it is unlikely that women (and men, for that matter) who know they are carriers of single-gene mutations will see it quite the same way. Were it not for prenatal diagnosis, these people might terminate all the pregnancies they carried or caused to be carried. The physicians who created thalassemia-screening programs on Cyprus would not agree either; they knew how often the parents of their patients were terminating pregnancies.”


Parents do not have a duty to maximize the genetic traits of their children

Robert Sparrow (Senior Lecturer, Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, at the University of Melbourne, in Melbourne, Australia), “Procreative Beneficence, Obligation, and Eugenics,” Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol. 3, No. 3 (December 2007), p. 44

“It is trivially true that if parents believe an embryo has some feature that will benefit it then they have a reason to choose this embryo. However, it does not follow from this — and is in fact highly unlikely — that parents do something wrong if they do not select the best child possible.”


It’s okay if parents fail to arrange for a genetically perfect child

Robert Sparrow (Senior Lecturer, Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, at the University of Melbourne, in Melbourne, Australia), “Procreative Beneficence, Obligation, and Eugenics,” Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol. 3, No. 3 (December 2007), p. 45

“If parents fail to choose the best child, the child they do choose is not thereby any worse off, as this child would not have existed except for their parents’ choice to bring it into the world. Parents who fail to do what’s best for their children are therefore engaged in ‘harmless wrongdoing.’”


We do not generally demand parents do everything possible on behalf of their children

Robert Sparrow (Senior Lecturer, Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, at the University of Melbourne, in Melbourne, Australia), “Procreative Beneficence, Obligation, and Eugenics,” Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol. 3, No. 3 (December 2007), p. 47

“Even the best parents typically fail to do everything they think would be best for their children let alone everything that is in fact best for their children. Parents often not unreasonably choose to put their own interests ahead of those of their children in relation to at least some of their decisions. In order to secure the best life possible for their children, parents would be obligated to spend all of their disposable income on their children’s education and upbringing. In order to maximise the opportunities available to their children, parents would have to teach them as many of the ‘world’ languages (English, Mandarin, Hindi, and Spanish) as possible. These are impossibly high expectations of parents and we do not criticise parents who fail to meet them.”


ADULT WORKERS

Workplace monitoring can help the whole population

David Suzuki (prof. of zoology, Univ. of British Columbia) and Peter Knudtson (biologist and nature journalist), Genethics: The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values, 1989, p. 169-170

“By documenting DNA damage in human workers directly or indirectly, genetic monitoring tests can serve as early-warning systems to protect the genetic health of the entire population of workers, rather than to dictate the occupational fate of a few. If genetic tests can reliably identify workers who are genetically more at risk for developing serious occupational illnesses and if these tests are used in an ethical manner, everyone stands to benefit.”


Screening can make predictions on vulnerability to disabling conditions

Eve and Albert Stwertka (physicians and college instructors), Genetic Engineering, revised edition, 1989, p. 119

“Many optimistic predictions have appeared in the medical journals on the use of genetic engineering to determine the likelihood of a person developing diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or psychological disorders.”


Genetic information is just as valid as other medical history information for insurers

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Whose Hands on Your Genes? 2000, p. 35

“Insurers have argued that genetic information is no different from any other medical information in this context, and that they should be allowed to use the results of genetic tests in order to assess the nature of the risk which they are being asked to underwrite. In this view, to exclude genetic information would be arbitrarily to single out one source of information while allowing access to information which is of similar, or even greater predictive value. A simple question as to the cause of parental death may be of far greater predictive value than the result of a genetic test which discloses, say, a 15% greater risk of developing a fatal condition. Allowing insurers to access results of genetic tests can also benefit those people with a family history of a genetic condition, but with a normal genetic test result, to obtain insurance at standard rates.”


AIDS screening shows that genetic testing would bypass those most at risk

Henry Waxman (U.S. Representative, California), “For Confidentiality in AIDS Testing,” The New York Times, February 10, 1987, p. A-35

“The certain result of this mixed federal policy is that all voluntary programs will fail. The only volunteers for a test, which might cost an individual everything, would be those who have no reason to fear the outcome and those who are already sick and may need the test results to qualify for the little health care that is now available.”


There is little evidence that genetic screening has increased discrimination

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Making Babies: reproductive decisions and genetic technologies, 2006, p. 34

“Over the last 40 years in which prenatal screening programmes have developed, there has been little indication that discrimination against those with genetic disorders has increased. There has been growing public awareness of the issues and the passage of legislation against discrimination on grounds of disability. Considerable steps have been taken to improve opportunities for participation for those with a wide range of genetic disorders. While much may remain to be done, it is difficult to argue that prenatal screening programmes have undermined the efforts to improve social support for those with genetic disorders.”


Blood tests for genetic flaws are as justifiable as any other examination

Eric Posner (Kirkland and Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School), “The Puzzling Consensus in Favor of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act,” Slate, May 4, 2008. Online: www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/convictions/archive/2008/05/04/the-puzzling-consensus-in-favor-of-the-genetic-information-nondiscrimination-act.aspx, accessed May 4, 2008

“If the insurance company should be able to deny insurance to a person visibly dying from a disease, then it should be able to deny insurance to a non-visibly dying person on the basis of a blood test. There is no morally relevant distinction between looking at the person’s outer shell and looking at his blood under a microscope. Suppose, now, that a person’s risk type is based not on a simple blood test that determines whether he is infected with a particular disease, but on a genetic test that determines whether he has a greater than normal susceptibility to a particular disease. Should the insurance company be permitted to offer the cheap insurance policy only to people who obtain a doctor’s certification that a genetic test shows that they belong to the low-risk group? If you think that insurers should be able to discriminate on the basis of visible markers and on the basis of simple doctors’ tests for the presence of dangerous diseases, then you should think they should be able to discriminate on the basis of genetic tests. There is no morally relevant distinction between looking at a person’s blood for the evidence of infection and looking at his DNA for evidence of susceptibility to a disease. Or at least none that I can find.”


If the results of screening are misused, then forbid the misuse, not the screening itself

Eric Posner (Kirkland and Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School), “The Puzzling Consensus in Favor of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act,” Slate, May 4, 2008. Online: www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/convictions/archive/2008/05/04/the-puzzling-consensus-in-favor-of-the-genetic-information-nondiscrimination-act.aspx, accessed May 4, 2008

“The only argument in favor of banning genetic discrimination is that employers and others “misuse” genetic information. If this is true, then misuse of genetic information should be banned, not the proper use of genetic information for the purpose of assigning people to different risk pools. And if genetic information can help determine whether a person is suitable for a particular job, perhaps one that is dangerous for some types of people but not others, then it should not be considered misuse for employers to make hiring and job assignment decisions on the basis of that information — no more than taking into account that person’s visible physical abilities such as strength.”


A right not to know about genetic test results has been recognized

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Whose Hands on Your Genes? 2000, p. 19

“Does the individual have a right not to know genetic information about himself or herself? Such a right has attracted strong support in the debate on the ethics of genetics, and indeed it has been recognised in international declarations and conventions. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997), for example, provides in Article 5 for the protection of the right to decide whether or not to be informed of the results of any genetic test. Similarly the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (1997) states in Article 10(2) that the wishes of those who do not wish to be informed of information collected about their health should be observed.”


The principle of patient autonomy justifies the right not to know

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Whose Hands on Your Genes? 2000, p. 19

“The argument in favour of a right not to know is based on the autonomy of the individual. The desire not to know whether one is at a genetic risk of developing a particular condition may be a strong one, and it may be that the individual concerned feels that genetic knowledge would bring with it an unacceptable degree of anxiety about the future, particularly where there is no treatment available for a particular condition. If a person has decided that it will be better not to know, for example, that he or she has a heightened chance of developing a life-threatening disease, then that decision must be respected, even if the person in question could do something to avert the onset of the disease. This is because, in general, we reject paternalism in the medical context.”

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