Prenatal genetic testing, selective abortion, diagnostic screening–as medicines and technology rapidly advance, it is now possible to predict an individual’s physical health base on his or her genetic makeup. However, as such valuable information serves to define one’s health, it becomes pertinent information to insurance companies, hospitals, prospective parents, and more. Thus, this issue raises ethical problems that are heatedly debated; the current public health policies must be amended to reflect the concerns people have expressed on that the practice of genetic screenings. Some of the issues involved include the invasion of privacy, disruption of individual rights, and practice of abortions.
Genetic testing has displayed the potential for several target groups. Newborns are tested to identify genetic disorders that can be treated early in life, and individuals with a specific family-related disease can be diagnosed early for preparation. Carrier testing is used as a part of premarital counseling to calculate possible offspring’s risk for specific genetic conditions, and prenatal testing can detect a fetus’s possible chromosomal disorders. It has been mostly used for salutary purposes: individuals can make more healthy life choices if they know they are at an increased risk for any genetic diseases. However, these are sensitive information that may be devastating when irresponsible parties take ahold of. On the basis of these genetic testings, individuals may be denied employment due to their risk of becoming debilitated and requiring costly health insurance. Even though these individuals may have the right to sue that employer under the guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1995, many are still subjected to such unjust. Furthermore, “[i]t was realised that insurance companies could require testing and either refuse healthcare coverage, decrease benefits, or increase premiums” (Fulda et al.). These individuals lose their rights to healthcare; in fact, 22% of individuals in different genetic support groups felt that they had been refused health insurance. These individuals’ privacies are invaded and used against them–they are reaped of their socioeconomic benefits purely based on something uncontrollable written in their chromosomes.
Aside from just economical reasonings, individuals who carry genetic diseases such as the Huntington’s disease may have their rights and social status disrupted. Huntington’s disease is “an inherited neurodegenerative disease” (Hammond) that does not become apparent until much later in life. Knowing that these “cognitive and behavioral changes” (Hammond) brought by Huntington’s Disease is inevitable, would the government and the society treat these individuals completely equal as everyone else? “In the early to mid 1900s individuals in the US who were continually ill or mentally retarded were involuntarily sterilised” (Fulda et al.) In the 1970s, it was mandatory for the African American population to test for the sickle cell anemia disease. There were consequences issued to people with genetic disorders, whether these diseases were apparent or not. Today, genetic discrimination continues. People still sneer in disgust when they see an individual with Down Syndrome or physically observable disorders. If it is made known that an individual has a genetic disease and will inevitably be physically or mentally disordered in the future, there would be much apprehension in viewing the changes in the interactions between the individual and his or her family, friends, and society. This leads to a new kind of discrimination among the human kind; people are being ostracized in their environment for something that is out of their control yet again.
Prenatal genetic testing has become a commonality. It is a method used to determine whether the fetus will develop any disastrous genetic diseases later in life. However, it also leads to selective abortion and raises other ethical issues. The technology developed allows a complete genetic screen for a fetus at 8 weeks old. However, in cases where pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis, 90% of them choose to have an abortion because they don’t have the emotional stamina, resources, or family support (Harmon) for the child. In this case, it is debatable whether an abortion should be conducted because the child might have a genetic disorder. Many thoughtful scholars argued about this topic, citing that the choice should lay in the parents’ hands, or that these births should not be prevented by men. As Amy Harmon has mentioned in her article, the development of the technology for genetic screening that resulted in abortions “may also be heralding a broader cultural skirmish over where to draw the line between preventing disability and accepting human diversity.” Both sides of the issue has compelling reasonings and moral values to support their arguments; this may be one of the biggest dilemmas in the technologically advanced 21st century.
Although genetic screenings are helpful in many cases, it seems that the technique also emphasizes the disabilities an individual may develop, which sometimes results in the condemnation of the matter by the society, invaded privacy, and socioeconomic disadvantages. It may be helpful to serve as a preventive measure, but the knowledge from the testings should be used with caution. However useful the technology may be, humankind should tread with care.
References and Footnotes:
Fulda, K. G., and K. Lykens. “Abstract.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 25 Aug. 0005. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.
Hammond, K. “The Behavioral Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease.” HOPES. Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education, at Stanford, 26 June 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
Harmon, Amy. “Prenatal Test Puts Down Syndrome in Hard Focus.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 May 2007. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.
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