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Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by HazelGod, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. HazelGod

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    We want to give your child the best possible start. Believe me, we have enough imperfection built in already. Your child doesn't need any more additional burdens. Keep in mind, this child is still you...simply the best of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result.


    A British couple have used an enhanced in vitro fertilization procedure to become pregnant with a child guaranteed not to develop the breast cancer that has decimated the female relatives of the man's family. They were advised that children conceived naturally would have a 50-75% likelihood of developing the same breast cancer.

    Of eleven embryos successfully fertilized in the lab, five were identified that lacked the genetic marker for the disease, and two were implanted into the woman's uterus.

    The subject of eugenics is always a sticky wicket in public discussions. Personally, I'm in favor of such procedures and would like to see more research efforts focused along these avenues. As one of the fundamental goals of scientific medicine is the improvement of the human condition, this strikes me as the ultimate form of preventive care.

    It will be interesting to see how this is accepted and backed in terms of research time and money, as it flies directly in the face of the western pharmaceutical industry's traditional approach to treating the symptoms (at enormous and ongoing costs to patients) rather than eliminating root causes.

     
  2. Lex

    Lex
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    I wonder how many people will get the movie reference? I Love me some Ethan Hawke (since the days of Reality Bites), not to mention Jude Law. WOOOF!

    My only concern with this research is the eventual ability to rid ourselves of any "undesirable trait." Who exactly defines what is "desirable"? Terminal illnesses, notwithstanding, there is a LOT of gray area here, as you have noted.

    I dread the day when we find the genetic markers for queer traits and some attempt to rid their potential children of them.
     
  3. Pendlum

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    There is a difference in screening versus engineering children. That being said, some might say this is just one step closer to that. I'm kind of torn on this subject though. Religious nuts will have riots about this (And a lot of the normal ones will probably dislike it). I mean on one hand, you will have a healthy child, but what if you can't get those perfect genes? Not only does that say something about yourself, you know what will probably happen to your child in the future. That's a huge emotional toll in my opinion. Then there is the whole issue of destroying the embryos if they don't meet your standards. People will love that one.

    Now this may seem sort of off topic, but there was an episode of Law & Order: SVU that dealt with this kind of. Not cancer, but a "gay gene." Now this is fiction, and I don't think it is possible, but it does bring up the subject of what people will want to have. There are people out there who will still have a kid despite something like, an albino trait (I don't know how that really works, but just for the sake of argument I guess). But we all know that there are plenty of not reasonable people out there...

    Yeah, touchy subject anyway. It's all on how we run with it and take it, and I'm hard pressed to trust people to take it well or do it right.
     
  4. D_Tintagel_Demondong

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    How do I procure one of these customized babies? I want a burgundy one that will match my car.

    The human race is becoming homogenized--at least physically. Isn't this degree of genetic engineering illegal in the US?
     
  5. Pendlum

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    It's not "engineering", it's screening. Also Hazel said it was a British couple. And the site is UK site.
     
  6. HazelGod

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    I actually spent a good bit of time pondering this notion before I posted the article, and decided that I'd very much like to see what some of the folks here have to say about it.

    Not that I spend great amounts of time researching, but my understanding of current research is that homosexuality is thought
    likely to be hormonally influenced development that occurs in utero, as opposed to a purely genetic trait passed from the parents.

    Of course, the possibility hasn't been ruled out that gay people were genetically predisposed to respond to such hormonal influence in a way that results in their homosexual persuasion. Lex, you've mentioned the identical twin studies in the past, and that certainly a fascinating body of research.

    So the question remains...do we as a people revile this technology for fear it might be misapplied to the detriment of specific groups, despite the obvious good it can provide us as a species?
     
  7. Lex

    Lex
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    Only in terms of semantics. Again, "undesirable" is relative and based on the known genetic markers at any given point in time.
     
  8. Lex

    Lex
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    I don't. I think it is our responsibility to advance research in a way that is both ethical and beneficial to the masses. I have concerns about potential misuse, but not to the level where I would stop the research/practice.
     
  9. HazelGod

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    While true, I believe the point Pendulum was making is that the current processes do not actively tamper with the embryos in any way...it's a passive procedure that involves selecting only existing embryos that carry (or lack) markers for desired (or undesired) traits.

    Hence my choice of quote in the OP.
     
  10. Lex

    Lex
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    Point duly noted.
     
  11. Pendlum

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    Bingo. But I completely agree with you Lex, about what really is "desirable" and "undesirable." Somethings are obvious, like something similar to tay sachs disease (which incidentally is screened, but through the parents). But others aren't, and that is the part that worries and scares me.
     
  12. D_Tintagel_Demondong

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    Semantics, again. Genetic engineering is the direct manipulation of an organisms genes. Screening, however, will phylogenically change the gene pool. I firmly believe that this will result in a boring, homogenius society.

    I was just making that point that the Americans need not worry about a brave new world... for now. For example, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation that would prohibit businesses from using genetic test results to make employment decisions, deny health coverage or raise insurance premiums.

    The subject of stem cell research and embryonic testing has been put on the political back burner for now, but I can see it becoming a major campaign issue a few months from now.

    I'm not opposed to genetic screening, but I am worried that screening for diseases and disorders could lead to screening of other undesirable traits or genetic discrimination.
     
    #12 D_Tintagel_Demondong, Jun 29, 2008
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2008
  13. dong20

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    I think that's inevitable, and I don't think it would stop (or even start) there. My concern about parents applying ill informed or superficial 'enhancements' (superficial being a subjective term I'll concede) applied to their offspring is far outweighed by my concern about some procedures becoming institutionalised, much like vaccines were decades ago.

    I appreciate vaccination is a rather poor analogy when taken at face value, although parents who 'opt out' (and many do, for a variety of reasons) can find themselves under intense pressure to conform, labeled irresponsible and selfish. After all, how could any 'responsible parent' refuse a 'treatment' that could prevent their child from being predisposed to <insert undersired condition here> ... my point being that it's not a massive leap, is it?

    I'm pretty much in agreement with HG, but human nature being what it is, it's hard to see that movie is other than prophetic, to some degree and for a generation or two at least - until the unexpected consequences kick in. I say that because humans are seldom so smart as we like to consider ourselves, and ability to effect a change does not equate to understanding the broader consequences of said change.

    To me, that possible eventuality - the effective creation of a genetic 'underclass' or, depending on one's perspectve, 'elite' was the real message conveyed by messrs Hawke and Law. One of my personal favourites as it happens.
     
  14. EagleCowboy

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    We need to be careful with engineering humans or the human race could end up in a dead end with no possibility for reversal or ascension like the Asgard. :biggrin1:
     
  15. ManlyBanisters

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    Has no one considered the possibility that by throwing out the 'bad' genes that 'we' may be throwing away a bunch of other stuff too?

    Do we actually know enough about genetics to be able to say that we are only getting rid of stuf that is harmful to the human race? What if the genes that indicate a strong possibility of breast cancer also happen to coincide with the genes that give a person a much lower chance of another form of cancer?

    Anyone who has ever read my posts concerning embryo research will know I'm against screening because I believe human beings are being discarded - that's my belief, I don't pretend to have scientific back up. But that's not even the toss I am arguing here. Yes, the above posters have a valid point about what will be seen as 'desireable' and what will not - but my point is that we don't even know (forgive the crude pun) if we are throwing out the baby with the bath water. What if we completely breed / select / engineer out a certain trait that seems undesrieable only to find that it is vital?

    I think we are running before we can walk here. I think we need to know a lot more about how genes work and how they are interrelated before we start deciding what we can 'weed out'.
     
  16. Guy-jin

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    No genes are being "thrown away" here, though.

    There is a difference between genetic engineering and genetic screening. A very large difference, in fact.

    And yes, in this case, we do know enough to be able to say we are only getting rid of stuff that is harmful. We know very specifically what the mutation that causes this kind of familial breast cancer is.

    This is not quite gattaca, but it's very close. This is also not the first time an embryo has been screened for a specific trait. In the past, an embryo has been chosen for IVF with a specific HLA type so that he could be a bone marrow donor for his sister, who had a terminal disease if she couldn't receive a compatible bone marrow transplant. There were ethical implications there as well, but at the end of the day, his having that HLA type resulted in saving his sister's life.

    Given that IVF is legal, I don't see a problem with screening out mutations we know cause a fatal disease 100% of the time.

    Designer babies are coming, though. Let's not pretend otherwise. Eugenics is an issue we're definitely going to have to tackle again in the future, given what we can do with genetic manipulation now.
     
  17. dong20

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    I agree. and that was pretty much what I meant by us not being 'smart' enough to fully understand the consequences of some of our actions. Of course we may never fully understand, and while that alone shouldn't be a bar to applying what understanding we have, as best we're able - it should give us pause when dealing with such fundementals.

    I suppose, like many things, it's a tricky balance. I agree with Guy-Jin, there's a difference between screening and 'engineering'.
     
  18. HazelGod

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    This is actually my single greatest misgiving with such use of our understanding of the genome...the fact that it isn't yet complete.

    Perhaps in the case of this specific genetic marker for breast cancer, our understanding of the physiology is near 100%...such is most certainly not the case for other conditions. Good intentions as paving stones and all that.

    I believe that the monetisation of western medicine will help ensure a very slow, gradual adoption rate as it has with virtually every other medical breakthrough in the past several decades. Only those who initially can afford it will benefit from the early trials, which will enable us to observe the effects for generations. Probably.
     
  19. Viking_UK

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    Trait sreening and selection is genetic engineering and has been done for centuries outside the lab using non-scientific techniques. That's how the various breeds of dog, cat, horse, cow etc came about. This is just taking that a step further and speeds up the process because we don't have to wait for the foetus to grow up before deciding its genes are only fit for the scrapheap.

    If we weed out all "undesirable" traits, we will end up with a homogenised, bland population. OK, it won't happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking it to exremes, what you'll end up with then is a large number of almost identical people with all the same failings and susceptibilities. Now, isn't that more commonly known as in-bred? That's what's happened to most pedigree animals. Their ancestors have all been selected for specific traits and their populations are pretty much identical in health problems, neuroses etc. I'm not saying that that is what's going to happen to humanity, but it's a possibility.

    Yes, being able to screen for certain traits may be an advantage to humanity as a whole, but not to the foetus which will be scrapped because it has a 45% of not being perfect. Where do we draw the line? Is it OK to select against colourblindness, red hair? And, more importantly, who decides what to select for? Doctors? Parents? Governments? What "desirable" genes will be weeded out incidentally and lost before we know that we might need them? Studies are showing that the descendents of people who survived plague may have some degree of resistance to HIV infection. Many of those who survived plague infection did so because of their genetics. It's something which isn't immediately obvious and isn't understood as yet, but what if it's a gene that's linked so, say, a gene which predisposes to breast cancer?

    It's never as simple as it looks, and even when we do know more about the human genome, we still won't know everything, and it's something that's probably best not screwed around with until you know what you're doing.
     
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