The first baby in the UK tested before conception for a genetic form of breast cancer has been born. For some time now, we have been predicting that it will become the norm to attempt to use our growing understanding of DNA and genetics to control the genes our children inherit. Instead of just leaving it to nature and the genetic lottery of life, we believe that parents will make important decisions on behalf of their unborn children.
If there are genetic diseases in your family ancestry, why would you not take the opportunity to break the chain of inheritance? Do you really want to pass on Alheizemers, cancer and other horrific diseases to your children? There is a natural fear of the unknown here, but those people who oppose all forms of genetic modification (GM) are missing the fact that we’ve done this all along. My mother took me around to a friend’s house as a child precisely because that child had chicken pox, and my mother wanted me to catch it. That was a (primitive, but effective) way of modifying me. One of the reasons, for example, that non European people are more prone to getting AIDS is because their ancestors were not exposed to the Black Death plague a few centuries ago. Those of us descended from the survivors of the Plague have different genetics and a closed genetic receptor that makes us less susceptible (although not immune) to AIDS.
So, this type of GM adaptation is both natural and normal in human history. The fact that we are now beginning to understand it, and can programme it is an advance, not a danger.
Read the full BBC report of how this family, with a history of breast cancer in their 20s and a foetus which showed an 80% probability of having the cancer creating altered BRCA1 gene, went ahead and altered the gene in their unborn baby. It was successful, and this form of breast cancer is now firmly in their history.
Not everyone agrees, and there will be abuse of this technology. But, I for one, am all for it.
It does raise an interesting issue in about 24 years time, though. When this girl grows up and starts dating and falls in love, will her parents insist on a genetic screening of her potential husband? I mean, what’s the point of spending all this money to remove breast cancer from the family tree when you allow it back in again through a husband who is a carrier? Is this the beginning of new forms of class distinction – between Human Being 1.0 and HB 2.0? Now, there’s a thought…