The New Atlantis, Summer 2003

Eugenics—Sacred and Profane
Christine Rosen


"A recent working paper by the President’s Council on Bioethics noted that “as genomic knowledge increases and more genes are identified that correlate with diseases, the applications for preimplantation genetic diagnosis will likely increase greatly,” including for medical conditions such as cancer, mental illness, or asthma, and non-medical traits such as temperament or height. “While currently a small practice,” the Council working paper declares, “PGD is a momentous development. It represents the first fusion of genomics and assisted reproduction—effectively opening the door to the genetic shaping of offspring.”

In one sense, of course, PGD 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 one they do not want. It will change the overriding purpose of IVF, which began as a treatment for infertility but now aims, as one prominent fertility expert has said, “to help prospective parents realize their own dreams of having a disease-free legacy.” Over time, PGD will be used not simply to spare the birth of “doomed children,” who would be born with diseases that kill in the first few years of life, but to avoid the birth of children with a higher chance of getting certain illnesses later in life. And it will do so, as one ethicist described, “only by picking and choosing embryos like consumer goods—producing many, discarding most, and desiring only the chosen few.”


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