Genetics

Genetic Screening Issues



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If we as a society decide to engage in genetic screening, we have to decide which traits are desirable and which are not. Most can agree that anything that kills a child at or near birth, costing the world a life as well as blighting the parent’s hopes, is undesirable. However, few such traits persist, since they tend to reduce the share in future generations of the genes of parents who carry them. Among the less immediately catastrophic defects, almost no one with Down’s Syndrome has children; almost none of those with very low IQ reproduce. To a degree these traits eliminate themselves.

So should we screen to remove mental illness, thus avoiding giving life to those who may, in the worst case, suffer (and cause pain) their whole lives? That eliminates, among others, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Guy de Maupassant, and on and on. Surely each of these persons made major contributions to our common culture. We need our great artists, even if they are disturbed.

These great writers were geniuses though. Let us eliminate the less intelligent. They are only a drain on society anyway. Except, if we remove all the “sub-normal”, we create a new below average, don’t we? Who would want to be want to be demoted to the new stupid.

We should breed for the best adapted children perhaps, just as we try to raise our children to be adapted to their world. Therefore, if global warming is a reality, we should breed for heat tolerant children, which seems to mean skinny ones (to shed heat), with dark skin that need not be protected from the sun with heavy clothing.

Or, perhaps, humanity will move toward the poles to escape increasing heat, and our children will need to tolerate darkness. Do not let anyone with seasonal affective disorder breed. Or perhaps life on earth will become so challenging that only those who breed quite young will get to contribute to the genetic pool. Let us breed for early menarche.

Or the prognosticators could be wrong again. Perhaps global cooling is our fate, and we need to screen for cold adaptation.

Alternatively, surprise, the world will continue much as it is, and we should breed children to conform to the current social norms for appearance, behavior, and education.

All of that is speculation. The fact is that most genes are neutral, or at worst two-faced, like the mutation for sickle cell. It is bad to have two genes for sickle cell, but in some areas it’s good to have one, because an unpaired sickle cell gene conveys partial resistance to malaria. If inheritance is a sort of lottery, and it is, then there are places where it is better to have two sickle cell carrying parents than none. Alternatively, it is best to live where there is no malaria, and where there is medicine.

We cannot know which genes to attempt to remove from the gene pool, because we cannot know which genes will be best adapted in the future. Therefore, we should breed for maximum variability, so our race will stand the best chance of survival. We should also breed for maximum tolerance, if such a thing is possible, so that people of all sorts of inheritance will grow up to reach their fullest genetic potential, whatever that may be.









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