Some parents are intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism
Darshak M. Sanghavi:
Wanting to have children who follow in one’s footsteps is an understandable desire. But a coming article in the journal Fertility and Sterility offers a fascinating glimpse into how far some parents may go to ensure that their children stay in their world — by intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism.
The article reviews the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., a process in which embryos are created in a test tube and their DNA is analyzed before being transferred to a woman’s uterus. In this manner, embryos destined to have, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease can be excluded, and only healthy embryos implanted.
Yet Susannah A. Baruch and colleagues at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University recently surveyed 190 American P.G.D. clinics, and found that 3 percent reported having intentionally used P.G.D. “to select an embryo for the presence of a disability.”
In other words, some parents had the painful and expensive fertility procedure for the express purpose of having children with a defective gene. It turns out that some mothers and fathers don’t view certain genetic conditions as disabilities but as a way to enter into a rich, shared culture.
It’s tempting to see this practice as an alarming trend; for example, the online magazine Slate called it “the deliberate crippling of children.”
But a desire for children with genetic defects isn’t new. In 2002, for example, The Washington Post Magazine profiled Candace A. McCullough and Sharon M. Duchesneau, a lesbian and deaf couple from Maryland who both attended Gallaudet University and set out to have a deaf child by intentionally soliciting a deaf sperm donor.
“A hearing baby would be a blessing,” Ms. Duchesneau was quoted as saying. “A deaf baby would be a special blessing.”
Born five years ago on Thanksgiving Day, the couple’s son, Gauvin, was mostly deaf, and his parents chose to withhold any hearing aids.
Controlling a child’s genetic makeup, even to preserve what some would consider a disease, is the latest tactic of parents in an increasingly globalized society where identity seems besieged and in need of aggressive preservation. Traditionally, cultures were perpetuated through assortative mating, with intermarriage among the like-minded and the like-appearing.
Modern technology has been adopted for this purpose; for example, a quick Web search reveals specialized dating services for almost any religious or ethnic subgroup. Viewed in this context, the use of P.G.D. to select for deafness may be merely another ritual to ensure that one’s children carry on a cultural bloodline.
To breed a better human - we have the technology
Should parents be allowed to choose whether their child has a genetic disease?
the trouble with the insane is that they don't know they're crazy