This week’s issue of Nature carries a feature article on the explosion of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in China. Because women are having children later in life, partly because of relaxation of the old one-child policy; because Chinese culture sees it as a duty to seek to bear healthy children; because some Chinese want to try to enable their kids to exploit some features of life–reproductive technology, specifically in vitro fertilization, is exploding, and embryos are selected for the absence of certain diseases. Embryos with genes that transmit such diseases have oblivion as their fate, but the Chinese hope that all children born there are born are free of the burdens of some truly bad diseases, and if they have those diseases, they won’t be born. Retinoblastoma. Huntington’s disease. Brittle-bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta). (Thatâ€™s the disease that Alec, the kid on the Shreiners Hospital for Children ads, has–you know, “we’ll send you this adowable wuv-to the wescue bwanket.” I love those ads.) Polycystic kidney. Short-rib polydactyly syndrome.
Deafness. Maybe the Chinese think that deaf people have no reason to live, kind of like Randy Newman’s short people.
The Asian gene that makes it hard to metabolize alcohol. Without that gene, it’s possible to drink at a business lunch. Important for career success.
The central government’s 5-year plan puts a high priority on using PGD to optimize the population. Not too many people object.
Folks in the West wonder why the US can’t get with the program the way the Chinese do.
Chinese physician-scientists speak of eliminating all 6000 known disease-causing genes from the population. “We just do them one-by-one until we get the whole set,” one Chinese geneticist is quoted as saying.
The article says further: “The Chinese word for eugenics, yousheng, is used explicitly as a positive in almost all conversations about PGD. Yousheng is about giving birth to children of better quality.”
The Chinese are also busily aborting babies with Down syndrome. In this case, of course, Down syndrome is identified by prenatal diagnosis, when not only fertilization has occurred, but there is a pregnancy. As in Iceland, as CBS recently reported. If you abort such a baby in China, “nobody scolds you,” they say. In Iceland, they “don’t look at abortion as murder.” They “look at it as a thing that we ended.” There are one or two Down syndrome births per year in Iceland, CBS reports Abortion after 16 weeks is legal there for a “fetal deformity,” like Down syndrome. The abortion rate in Iceland after a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis is “nearly 100 percent,” compared with an estimated 67 percent in the US, 77 percent in France, and 98 percent in Denmark, according to CBS. I didn’t see a rate for China in the Nature article. But they sold over a million Down syndrome diagnosis kits last year, it says.
Follow the links and read both articles in full.
And go back and read Mark McQuain’s fine post of this past Tuesday, August 15, and the Time magazine article to which he linked. The most telling statement of that article, in my opinion: “I worry that in our haste to make people healthy, we are in fact making the people we want.”
Precisely. Beyond the concern of killing unborn humans lies the conceit that we know what people we want. That those choices will always appear benign, or praiseworthy. That we don’t have to worry about being told what people we want. That the group of people doing the choosing won’t be very narrow indeed.
Perhaps it is time to start a society of free-range humans.