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 screening is undesirable

GENERALLY

Animal studies show that early screening often produces wrong diagnoses

Sheldon Krimsky (Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University) and Ruth Hubbard (professor emerita of biology, Harvard University), “The business of research,” The Hastings Center Report, January-February 1995, p. 43

“At this point, there is no way to assess the accuracy of health predictions based on pre-implantation diagnoses. Animal studies are making clearer day by day that genetic predictions can be way off the mark. In fact, complete deletions of some genes that were thought to be essential for an animal’s survival have had no observable effects. Yet, human embryos said to harbor a ‘bad gene’ will be discarded and there will be no way to verify whether and to what extent the predictions may be wrong.”


It will erode privacy and stigmatize the vulnerable

Robert H. Blank (prof. of political science, Northern Illinois Univ.), “Ethics and Policy: Issues in Biomedical Technology” in Technology and Politics, ed. by Michael E. Kraft and Norman J. Vig, 1988, p. 243

“A complicating factor that heightens opposition to genetic intervention among some groups is the selective nature of genetic disease. The success of genetic screening efforts often depends on the ability to isolate those groups which are at high risk. In targeting these groups, however, problems of stigmatization, due process, and privacy result. The early experience with sickle cell screening, for instance, led to perceived and real threats to the black community and raised severe criticisms of screening efforts. As DNA probes are used to identify individuals at heightened risks for alcoholism, personality disorders, and so forth, the issue of stigmatization is bound to reemerge, thus making any attempts to screen most controversial.”


Eroding genetic privacy destroys individual rights

Jeff Lyon and Peter Gorner (staff writers, Chicago Tribune; co-winners, 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for reporting on genetic engineering), Altered Fates: The Promise of Gene Therapy, 1986, p. 48-49

“Experts predict that the ability of medicine to compile genetic profiles of people also will kindle sparks. Through computerized information bureaus, insurance companies and employers already are privy to private facts about our sex problems and family histories of epilepsy, heart disease, and mental illness. A list of genetic vulnerabilities could easily go into the computer too. ‘Why should the company you work for groom you to be its president if you’re going to get Alzheimer’s disease at 60?’ says Rifkin. ‘When screening become widespread, we’ll see a nightmare,’ he predicts. ‘It will reshape our whole concept of constitutional rights and the relationship of the individual to the culture.”


Genetic characteristics must not become the basis for discrimination

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Inside Information: Balancing interests in the use of personal genetics data, 2002, p. 14

“We share the assumption of our society that individual persons have the highest moral importance or value. This requires us to be sensitive to the special role that genetic identity has come to play in people’s lives. We therefore express the following key principle of respect for persons: Respect for persons affirms the equal value, dignity and moral rights of each individual. Each individual is entitled to lead a life in which genetic characteristics will not be the basis of unjust discrimination or unfair or inhuman treatment.”


Genetic counseling is intrinsically a eugenic activity

Michael Dorsey (Thurgood Marshall Fellow in Residence, Dartmouth College; member, Sierra Club board of directors), “The new eugenics,” World Watch, July-August 2002, p. 22

“Some biotech proponents support these technologies because people are free to choose them or not. The state is not involved. David King, editor of the London-based GenEthics News, calls this the emergence of laissez-faire eugenics. Patients are given ‘non-directive’ genetic counseling, or offered opportunities to subject themselves or their potential children to myriad genetic tests, for a host of illnesses. But as King notes, such counseling is ‘eugenic both in purpose and outcome, since the aim is clearly to reduce the number of births of children with congenital and genetic disorders.’ In a 1997 survey published in the Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy, researchers found that 13 percent of English geneticists, 50 percent of Eastern and Southern European geneticists, and 100 percent of Chinese and Indian geneticists agreed with the eugenic suggestion that ‘an important goal of genetic counseling is to reduce the number of deleterious genes in the population.’”


PRENATAL SCREENING

Genetic screening will lead to attempts to customize society by desired characteristics

Sheldon Krimsky (Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University) and Ruth Hubbard (professor emerita of biology, Harvard University), “The business of research,” The Hastings Center Report, January-February 1995, p. 43

“First, prospective parents who can afford it will be made to feel that they owe it to their future children, society, and themselves to test embryos for all possible genetic variants and select only those that measure up to some arbitrary standard. This would funnel personnel and scientific resources to one segment of the population and expand geneticization. In addition, the medical profession would need to set up hierarchies of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ conditions, so that tests would be performed to detect the unacceptable ones. Such distinctions constitute a form of discrimination that would have to be tested in the courts. Why should it be permissible to eliminate embryos (or indeed fetuses) predicted to develop Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, while forbidding the elimination of those predicted to be female or, for argument’s sake, gay? (We doubt that ‘gayness’ is a biological trait that can be predicted.) In either case, we will as a society accept it as our right to decide which of us is or is not fit to live in the world.”


Screening will create a black market in genetically health babies

George J. Annas (prof. of health law, Boston Univ. School of Medicine), in Genetic Engineering, ed. by William Dudley, 1990, p. 107

“As one example, the ability to completely screen embryos could lead to a market in ‘high-grade embryos’ that could be bought and sold. This could also be gestated by contract or surrogate mothers, and the resulting child delivered to the purchaser of the embryo. This could lead not only to putting a specific price on all human characteristics (such as height, intelligence, race, eye color, etc.), but also to viewing children as commodities that have no rights or interests of their own, but that exist to further the interests of parents and future societies.”


Prenatal screening may inhibit the search to cure genetic diseases

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Making Babies: reproductive decisions and genetic technologies, 2006, p. 33

“There is one further related argument: that the growth of prenatal screening in the absence of treatment is disease prevention through selection rather than by the development of cures. Indeed, some argued that the selective termination of affected pregnancies may serve to reduce interest in the development of treatments and appropriate services for those with serious genetic conditions.”


Pregnancy screening is a tool of eugenics

“Pre-screening pregnancies leads to eugenics,” Catholic Insight, June 2004, p. 36

“University of Victoria academic, Tanis Doe, Professor of Social Work, says the ‘widespread practice of pre-screening pregnant women and their offspring for genetic diseases has turned into a system for purging society of the disabled.’ Dr. Doe, who is deaf and confined to a wheelchair, states that women are ‘pressured to abort their pregnancy when fetal disability is diagnosed.’ At the same time ‘minimal support’ is provided to parents of children with disabilities. Dr. Doe reminded her audience that eugenics was practised in the U.K., Canada (Alberta), and the U.S. even before the rise of Hitler, and we are merely seeing the continuation of practices started decades ago. About 90% of parents in both Canada and the United States terminate a pregnancy when Down Syndrome has been diagnosed.”


Critics charge that fetal genetic screening promotes eugenics

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

“Some people see current practices in the screening and diagnosis of genetic conditions as reflecting eugenic beliefs because they feel the overall aim is to prevent the birth of disabled children. In addition, some feel that the provision of the services themselves convey a negative message about the social acceptability of genetic disorders and/or disability.”


Genetic screening is the new vanguard of eugenics

Michael Gerson (staff columnist; senior policy advisor to President George H. W. Bush, 2000-2006), “A Phony ‘War on Science,’” The Washington Post, May 7, 2008, p. A21

“Nazism largely discredited the old eugenics. But a new eugenics — the eugenics of genetic screening and abortion, the eugenics of genetic selection in the process of in vitro fertilization — is alive and well. Its advocates contend that the new eugenics is superior because it is voluntary instead of compulsory, and unrelated to race. But Levin responds: ‘Surely the most essential problem with the eugenics movement was not coercion or collectivism ... The deepest and most significant contention of the progressive eugenicists — the one that made all the others possible — was that science had shown the principle of human equality to be unfounded, a view that then allowed them to use the authority of science to undermine our egalitarianism and our regard for the weakest members of our society.’” [Ellipsis in original text]


Genetic options in child-making will destabilize family relationships

The President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, 2003, p. 55

“These questions of family dynamics could become even more complicated when preimplantation genetic screening is used to select embryos for some desirable traits. While current negative screening is guided by the standard of a healthy or disease-free baby, the goals of prospective positive use are in theory unlimited, governed only by the parents’ ideas of what they want in their child. Today, parents using PGD take responsibility for selecting for birth children who will not be chronically sick or severely disabled; in the future, they might also bear responsibility for picking and choosing which ‘advantages’ their children shall enjoy. Such an enlarged degree of parental control over the genetic endowments of their children cannot fail to alter the parent-child relationship. Selecting against disease merely relieves the parents of the fear of specific ailments afflicting their child; selecting for desired traits inevitably plants specific hopes and expectations as to how their child might excel. More than any child does now, the ‘better’ child may bear the burden of living up to the standards he was ‘designed’ to meet. The oppressive weight of his parents’ expectations — resting in this case on what they believe to be undeniable biological facts — may impinge upon the child’s freedom to make his own way in the world.”


ADULT WORKERS

Insurers will place too great a predictive value on genetic information

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Whose Hands on Your Genes? 2000, p. 38

“A further argument against the use of genetic tests in insurance is that tests will be incorrectly interpreted and given a predictive value that they do not merit. This would lead to unjustifiable decisions to exclude from the insurance pool those whose exclusion could not be defended on actuarial grounds.”


Screening will lead to workplace discrimination

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

“Some industrial physicians already reject certain job applicants because of mild diseases that have no effect on work performance. If employers could screen applicants, many might be rejected as genetically unsuitable for particular jobs — a person with a minor blood weakness, for instance, applying for work in a chemical lab.”


Discrimination by genetic tests erodes human freedom

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

Genetic screening: “It could lead to denying people employment, transferring them out of good jobs, and even dismissing them.”


Prejudice will be widespread

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. 174

“Despite their limited medical value, the genetic dossiers arising from mass screening of workers could, just like a factory worker’s hereditary skin color, be used to segregate genetically ‘desirable’ job applicants from genetically ‘undesirable’ one. History demonstrates that the most powerful groups in a society often attempt to justify their status by proclaiming the innate superiority of their race, class, or ethnic group. At the same time, victims of slavery, racial oppression, and poverty have often heard their plight rationalized by claims of their own supposed biological inferiority. The idea that one’s fate is somehow biologically determined by one’s genes can easily be exploited to add a veneer of scientific legitimacy to social injustices.”


Millions would face workplace discrimination

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

“This would amount to a genetic bias, confronting millions of healthy workers with the job problems that many handicapped people face now. In effect, all but the best physical specimens could be subject to subtle prejudices at any time.”


Results from genetic scans have been used to deny insurance to the vulnerable

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Whose Hands on Your Genes? 2000, p. 33

“There is some evidence of unjustifiable genetically-based discrimination in insurance, particularly in the United States. In one study, the relatives of persons with a genetically transmissible disease claimed to have been denied insurance cover even when it had been established that they themselves were not affected by the condition. This suggests that some insurance companies may be tempted to adopt sweeping exclusionary practices if not prevented from doing so.”


Screening cultivates a “blame the workers” mentality

Peter R. Wheale (senior lecturer, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business) and Ruth M. McNally (visiting fellow, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business), Genetic Engineering: Catastrophe or Utopia?, 1988, p. 257

“Genetic screening can be used to shift responsibility for work-related diseases onto the workers. This is especially risky for minorities who are already at a disadvantage in the job market. Occupational disease can be prevent by reducing workplace exposure for all workers, rather than by preemployment genetic screening for so-called susceptible individuals.”


It will tear away people’s control over their health and lives

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. 179-180

“[T]ests could also be used to hire or fire workers because of their inherited capacity to tolerate high levels of toxic chemicals, radioactivity, or other job hazards. Used in this fashion, new genetic knowledge could result in individuals having less, rather than more, control of their health and lives. And unscrupulous companies could save money by relying exclusively on genetically resistant workers instead of committing funds to clean up polluted workplaces.”


Screening risks creating a worker caste system

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. 171

“Taken to gloomy extremes, obsessive genetic screening of employees could one day even result in a Huxleyian hierarchical caste system of workers. The lowest rung of the ladder would be occupied by those whose genetic test results marked them as hypersusceptible workers, stigmatizing them as economic untouchables destined to be chronically unemployed. At the highest rungs would be workers whose test results established them as model employees whose genotypes — genetically resistant, in one way or another, to the environmental or psychological stresses of important occupational tasks — would guarantee them permanent, if monotonous, positions in the work force.”


Screening will demolish the insurance industry

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

“The debate between insurance companies and AIDS patients foreshadows the demands such companies will make when screening exists. Imagine a world in which millions are denied insurance because of their genetic profiles, and there is massive insurance fraud as adults get a screening, then bulk up on insurance without telling the insurer about known problems.”


Many reject the so-called “right not to know” about genetic information

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

“The right not to know does not find universal support. Critics of this concept argue that what is being asserted is a right to ignorance, a concept which may be more difficult to endorse. In particular, the argument is made that people cannot be expected to make autonomous choices about their future without having all the relevant information at their disposal and that declining to give them this information is indefensibly paternalistic. In this view, there is a presumption that knowledge is to be preferred to ignorance, particularly when matters of reproductive choice are involved.”

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