Sunday, June 14, 2009

Solutions to Designer Babies - Part 1

The controversies behind designer babies have been presented, and indeed, the most important thing now is to come up with the solutions.

In my opinion, one solution could be restricting PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to couples who have the possibility of conceiving embryos with ‘dangerous’ genes, such as down syndrome. This would be allowed for this group of people as these ‘dangerous’ genes have an enormous impact on the child’s life and health. However, couples who wish to use PGD technologies to insert desirable genes or alter their child’s gender would be disallowed. This is because the insertion of genes or gender alteration holds heavier social and moral consequences – the creation of a genetically superior race amongst the rich people, social inequality, gender stereotypes and the moral values involved with ‘playing god’. Availability of the technology to a wider portion of society means that there would be greater and more dire consequences involved. By only allowing PGD to rectify diseases, a win-win situation can be created – PGD achieves the goal of improving the lives of humankind, and at the same time, humankind will not be faced with the more dire consequences as mentioned above.

However, this solution – restricting PGD to removing potentially harmful genes, has its own negative points. Of course, a compromise, or a win-win situation can be achieved, but there are many undefined grey areas. For example, down syndrome is a disease that impacts an individual’s life greatly, as he/she is unable to participate in society and often have short life spans. However, in the case of ailments such as colour blindness or eczema, there have been many affected individuals throughout the course of history that have led an equally fulfilling life. Different ailments and diseases have very different impacts on the individual involved. Moreover, if couples applying for PGD were to be screened as such, depending on a case-to-case basis, everyone would have different takes on the severity of the disease and therefore have varying judgements on whether or not the couple is eligible. Some may view colour blindness as harmful and rule in favour of PGD, while others may view it more lightly and rule against PGD. As such, since it is impossible for a single person or institution to make the decision on eligibility, there would be many prevailing and differing opinions, resulting in a system of unfairness. Thus, there is a definite grey area here – what are the diseases considered severe enough to remove via PGD? Since this is so subjective, how can we keep things fair?

Additionally, those couples who have been denied PGD, and compelled into living with undesirable genes could feel that they have been cheated of a privilege someone else has been given.

Moving on to the second solution, I would propose that governments allow research facilities to continue with their research on PGD and gene therapy, but disallow its use in medical institutions at the moment. It is only after the technology has been sufficiently developed and humans have gained a further understanding that we should consider making it available to the general public. Some may say that this is futile, as the research going on seems to be useless if it is not used, or that since it is a matter of time before the technology is made available, why not sooner than later? In my opinion, human race has never before experienced PGD or its consequences – we cannot blindly jump headfirst into it because it appears to have many benefits. At the moment, scientists and researchers see many possibilities in the technology, such as altering IQ, and these issues are definitely controversial. However, I feel it is only wise that we wait for these technologies to be developed first, and after the facts have been established, discuss the possibilities of allowing it. Right now, much of what we know is unreliable speculation. When solid hard facts have been established, good governmental policies can then be created to counter the possible negative effects of the PGD being available to the entire population.

Of course, though this second solution provides the government with the benefit of retrospect and with clear facts to deal with, it is not without its own consequences. The second solution proposes that research be allowed first, and the PGD allowed only when there is sufficient research. Once again, as mentioned earlier, it is difficult to define the grey areas, in this case - determining exactly when research is considered sufficient.

This, moreover, is especially since one research possibility may lead to another. This second solution was established to counter the ‘speculations’ human beings are facing regarding PGD, and to establish hard facts. However, in research there is always the ‘unknown’ factor and it could be futile for humans to chase after establishing all these ‘unknowns’. Thus, it may be doubly hard to determine exactly when research is sufficient, and when the PGD technology can be offered as medical treatments to the public.

Lastly, this second solution involves restricting the medical use of PGD and allowing only the research sector to delve further – thus the entire development of PGD lies in the research sector. This may lead to slow development, as there is no time guarantee in research. It can take a month, but it may also take 10 years.

(To be continued by Clarissa)

Cherise

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