Silence is Deadly Business in Genetic Testing

Prenatal genetic testing has reached a new low. On Thursday, June 8, 2001, researchers announced that the first baby was born who had been screened for a disease he may never contract. Doctors at Chicago's Reproductive Genetics Institute performed preimplantation genetic diagnosis on eighteen embryos whose father carried the gene for Li-Fraumeni syndrome, an inherited predisposition to many forms of cancer because of a mutation in a tumor-suppressing gene called P53. Eleven embryos were found to be have the gene, seven were determined to be normal. Two normal embryos were implanted in the mother's uterus. One baby boy was born.

The report was silent about what happened to the other embryos. What we do know is that at least one died after implantation. The other embryos are either being kept in cold storage, were used in research, or were destroyed because they did not measure up to what their parents and doctors thought was a life worth living. Human beings were brought into existence intentionally and were destroyed because they were not good enough for those who brought them into the world.

The parents of the new-born baby boy have been deluded by the new technopians--those who think that technology will usher in a world free of disease, death, and problems. These parents doubtless believe that by using prenatal genetic diagnosis and embryo selection, they have dodged the cancer bullet for their child. Yet, that is wishful thinking. While some cancers may be caused by the mutant gene, there are many other forms of cancer which are not. Furthermore, cancer is not always lethal. In fact, the father, who is 38 years old, is a cancer survivor. And even though some forms of cancer may be avoided by not having the P53 gene, there are many forms of cancer which are not due to that particular mutation. Prenatal genetic diagnosis did not lead to health, it actually led to the death of their other offspring. So, the life of one child was purchased by the death of seventeen. Seventeen offspring were prevented from having the opportunity to live that the father himself enjoyed.

Using prenatal genetic diagnosis and embryo selection to deal with illnesses for which there is no treatment or cure is a high-tech example of a very old practice known as eugenics. "Eu" means "good," and "genics" has to do with genetics, the blueprint of life. Americans practiced eugenics at the turn of the 20th century. At that time the only way to prevent the birth of so-called "defectives," "imbeciles," and "feebleminded," was to sterilize those who might pass on their disease to their offspring. Mandatory eugenic sterilizations increased from just over 3,000 in 1907 to over 21,000 in 1937. When German scientists saw our "success" with eugenics, they lamented the fact that it was illegal in their own country. When Hitler came to power, eugenics not only became acceptable, but required. To be truly successful in keeping the undesirables from mating, however, they had to be killed. We know the rest of that gruesome story. After the atrocities of Nazism, American eugenics went underground. Today, eugenics is raising its ugly head with a vengeance and comes dressed in a white lab coat. But is it really kinder and gentler? Not by a long shot.

Instead of keeping people from reproducing, the new eugenics allows reproduction but mandates the destruction of the offspring who do not meet the quality standards of the new eugenicists. Because human embryos cannot gain standing in court, they cannot plead their own cause, as did many of the mentally retarded in the earlier eugenics movement. Because they are such young members of the human family, their destruction is defended by the technopians.

If children who have the P53 gene are destroyed today, who is next? Those with a propensity for diabetes? Those who might be more prone to Alzheimer's? Or, what about those who have the gene for male pattern baldness? Since every human being carries some defective or anomalous genes, where does this madness stop? Perhaps we should learn the lessons history teaches. Eugenic selection is a heinous assault on human dignity. We cannot permit the destruction of our tiniest kin. After all, who knows who will be the next victim of the eugenicists scorn?

They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

--Pastor Martin Niemoeller, penned from a Nazi concentration camp