It has been over a decade since Dr. Perry Phillips, obstetrician and gynecologist, announced “the beginning of the end of genetic disease.” With the advancement of medicine, the end of genetic disease has become a possibility, as Phillips refers to the future implications of Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). Through PGD, carriers of a genetic disease can select a healthy embryo before pregnancy even begins. So what is so bad about PGD if it can reduce diseases? The main argument against the procedure is that the ability to select one’s child could lead to a slippery slope, in which certain unfavorable traits would be weeded out, even though they might not affect the quality of life. Though this is a valid concern, PGD as of now is limited to screening life-threatening diseases or those diseases severely affecting the daily quality of life. As long as it remains this way, embryos should be able to go through genetic testing, as the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
PGD’s procedure is based upon in-vitro fertilization. Eggs are first fertilized within a dish and after three days, a single cell from each eight-celled embryo is tested for one or several genetic abnormalities using Polymerase Chain Reaction or Florescence in situ hybridization. Defective embryos are discarded while three healthy ones are implanted into the woman’s womb because it is not guaranteed that any of them will develop into fetuses. Any left over embryos are either discarded or frozen indeterminately.
PGD can diagnose three major groups of disease: sex linked disorders such as Rett syndrome, single gene defects like cystic fibrosis, and chromosomal disorders or an anueploidy. Other major disorders that are tested for include: achondroplasia, Alzheimer’s, hemophilia A and B, Huntington disease, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell disease, and Tay Sachs disease. Many of these diseases are fatal once symptoms develop. Though some like Huntington and Alzheimer’s develop in later years, they can be painful and slow acting. Patients can live many years, but suffer all the while as there is no effective means currently of treating many of these diseases.
Annually in the United States, more than 70,000 babies are born with a severe genetic disease. However, PGD can detect the majority of these diseases before pregnancy begins. If PGD became widespread, the incidence of genetic disease could be significantly reduced.
Furthermore, PGD would prevent unnecessary suffering by preventing the births of children affected by an incurable genetic disease. I believe it is negligent if two people know they are carriers for a certain genetic disease and do not use PGD in procuring offspring. I think it is equal to openly sentencing their child to a painful death, especially if they carry an allele for a fatal disease. It should be the parents’ responsibility to care enough to prevent any suffering related to a diagnosable genetic disease.
PGD also prevents unnecessary abortions. With the advent of PGD, couples can find out about any disorders before pregnancy begins rather than waiting after 12-weeks and discovering it through amniocentesis. If any disorder is discovered then, the fetus is much more developed and it becomes more difficult for couples to choose to abort. I believe that it is worth discarding extra few day old embryos produced by PGD if it means preventing an abortion at the 12-week stage. I believe that at a more developed stage the value of life is higher because more senses have developed. Also I think it is better to discard embryos that would have grown to suffer throughout their lives, than to let them live less quality lives mainly because I think it is worse for the child to have to endure a long painful life than to be killed prematurely before he senses any pain.
Not only are there moral and physical benefits to using PGD, but there are also economical advantages as well. Widespread genetic testing would lead to decreased genetic diseases, and in turn a fall in costs for the medical system. The treatment of some genetic diseases can cost up to millions of dollars over the lifetime of an individual. For example, lifetime care for cystic fibrosis costs around $2 million. If around 70,000 new babies are afflicted with equally expensive genetic diseases each year, that means that around $140 billion more expenses each year to cover the costs for each person’s lifetime. PGD could help decrease that amount drastically by reducing the number of births of those afflicted with a genetic disease.
Though many fear the creation of a slippery slope, it is unlikely that PGD will ever be used on such a large scale needed to create one. PGD is still quite expensive, ranging from $3,500 to $10,000 and thus is usually used by only those couples wary about passing known diseases that they are carriers for. In these cases, PGD can better the lives of the future children by preventing suffering because of disease and unnecessary abortions. PGD can also reduce the amount spent on healthcare and help the parents to not feel guilty for passing a genetic disease to their children. For screening out life-threatening diseases and other ones that severely hinder the quality of life, such as those that prevent mobility, eating a variety of foods, and performing basic daily tasks by limiting a person to bedrest, genetic testing should be allowed. PGD can truly help to lessen the pain and suffering brought by genetic disease if not bring “the end” to it.