Baby in a Box?
The rise of technology and research in the 21st century has brought about advances in biology and medicine, specifically in genetics. Anyone who has read the excellent cautionary tale Bloodline, by James Rollins, will wonder about the balance among morality, fate, and science, as well as how far science should go. American Thinker decided to go beyond Bloodline's fascinating adventure story to explore the narrative of genetics by interviewing some experts as well as the author, James Rollins.
Is there danger in genetic scientific research? Dr. Carol Greider is a Nobel Prize-winner in medicine and the director of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University. She told American Thinker, "From the scientific side, genetics will help us make predictions about disease and finding potential treatments. The goal is to integrate what we know within society. A literate society is very important. Disease will be treated so that people will be able to live longer, creating a healthier lifespan. However, the potential limit to human life, which is about a hundred years, will not change in our or our children's lifetime. I am very interested in how genetics plays a role in disease management in order to have individuals not suffer during their lifespan. For example, the medical consequences of my research have helped in age-related degenerative diseases. Following our curiosity in how cells work, we have gained insight into these diseases and have an opportunity to treat them. We must understand that the information itself is not inherently good or bad; it's what people choose to do with that information. The downside is the ethical issues."
Rollins, who has a veterinary degree, considers himself a scientist and biologist as well as an author. He agrees with Dr. Greider about humanity and ponders, "Can science be immoral? Does it test our morality? Does it put the blinders on and not look at morality? Take for example the act to stop abortions based on sex. I find it odd that here in the U.S. we even have to legislate it. I would hope we would be so enlightened that we would not have to make that choice. It is natural not to abort based on a child's sex."
Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) has authored the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, better known as PRENDA. This bill would have banned sex-selection abortions, which has escalated because of the advancement in genetics and technology that now allows expectant couples to learn the gender of their unborn child. Congressman Franks told American Thinker, "Children's issues have been my life. Can we at least understand that it is wrong to kill based on sex or race? Taking the life of little girls simply for the fact they are girls or vice-versa is tragic. People are against sex-selection abortion, even ones who do not have pro-life leanings. We have to be careful of where we go. We have to look at the bigger picture. In this age of hyper-scientific research, we know just enough that we should be terrified of this. There are thousands of abortions in this country because of gender. PRENDA gives a dose of reality."
A relevant quote from Bloodline: "It unlocks the full power of DNA and places the blueprints of life into our hands[.] ... In the end, G-d will no longer evolve man -- we will." Will the human race have a complete say over the type of child born? In the 1950s, parents were unable to ascertain the sex of their child. Today it is possible. In the future, will parents choose to abort because of the color of the child's eyes or hair? Rollins warns that it is not far off when "after collecting a fetus' DNA, it will be possible to map out the entire genetics of the baby. Everything about the baby will be determined.
Rollins ponders, "How close are we to that genetic possibility where we can pick and choose the exact type of child we want? Or worse, alter the DNA to change the genetic engineering of the child?" Congressman Franks calls that "the designer baby." Arthur Caplan, the division head of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, says that within five to ten years, there will be more accurate testing of a fetus. Instead of amniocentesis, used in prenatal diagnosis -- which could cause a spontaneous abortion, hit the baby with a needle, or infect the mother -- there will be a simple blood test to find out about the baby's DNA. Caplan cautions that this will create huge implications for abortions since the blood testing will be a routine procedure.
Currently, he does not believe that abortions based on sex are the fault of genetic testing, but rather a sexism issue. However, Caplan told American Thinker, "I don't have to abort if I can make all the babies in a dish. I will just choose the embryo that has more of the traits I want. There will be 'babies on demand.' There will be perfect artificial incubators that will grow 'a baby in a box,' to optimize its health. Will a baby be made in a body or in an artificial environment? Furthermore, DNA will be taken from you and your husband to get an idea of what type of babies will be produced. So Mr. X will not be chosen because of the risk that great babies will not be produced."
Bloodline allows the reader to gain insight and think about the need to balance morality and science exploration, especially concerning genetics. As Caplan told American Thinker, "Genetic testing is good, but limits need to be drawn around only testing for diseases -- not the sex, the make-up, or the traits of our children. Today we argue about abortion; tomorrow we will argue about how we design our children."