Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Did You Give Your Kid Cancer?

I read an interesting article at Slate today about the testing of embryos for the breast cancer gene in the U.K. What looks on the face of it like a great tool for early disease detection raises the possiblity of leasing to parents be blamed for "causing" a child to develop problems later in life.

Read the whole article, but here's a taste:

Before this kind of embryo test (known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD), parents weren't held responsible for a bad roll of the genetic dice. If you had a 50 percent chance of passing along a disease, and your child got it, that was a tragedy, not your fault. But with the advent of PGD, the equation has changed. Now you can eliminate your risk of transmitting the bad gene—and if you don't take that precaution, you're "inflicting" the consequences. In this way, today's embryo-screening option becomes tomorrow's obligation.

At some point this type of testing will be widely available. But it won't be cheap. How will this affect us long term? Will people be less likely to have kids if they can't afford the testing? Will kids who grow up to develop cancer be able to sue their parents? What am I saying? Of course they will. Lawyers will make sure of that.


  1. Here's the thing, though. If I was having PGD to test for a genetic problem that was "incompatible with life" and that is why most people do PGD at this point, I'd still have a kid I knew was viable but at risk of developing a serious disease down the road.

    I say "most" because those with the $$$ *coughJuliaRobertscough* are using it to choose the sex of their babies. I am not in favor of this, although I don't know where you're going to draw the ethical line with PGD.

    You bring up an interesting point, though. I never thought about it that way.

  2. You say you would have the baby knowing that it would have a higher (then normal) risk of developing a disease, and I applaud you for that. I wonder though, once this process becomes standard, if you would be in the minority. I'd put my money on "people are selfish".

    Heck, I see this testing become mandatory (some day, in the far-flung future) if the government ever ran our healthcare system, under the guise of managing costs. Crazy? I hope so, but I have just that little faith in government bureaucracy.