Breeding out albinism?

On a 60 Minutes episode aired on October 26 there was a segment about the advances of genetic testing.

The segment called Breeding Out Disease, featured a scientist, Dr. Mark Hughes who is a pioneer in reproductive genetics. He has invented a procedure called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). This procedure screens for disorders that are either born of mutated genes or inherited from the parents.

This is done by removing a number of embryos, fertilizing them, then testing each for a disease. The diseased embryos are discarded and the healthy embryos are re-implanted into the mother.

The doctor claimed he could test for and weed out Alzheimer’s, cancer, Hunter syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, and a host of other deadly traits. This can be done as long as there is only one gene causing the potential problem. The cost of this is around $16,000.

I have always asked the question, “Who decides if a trait is a disease and should be eradicated?” Is alopecia a harmful disease, or a cosmetic inconvenience? How short is too short? What about the different intelligences?

Is it really safe to assume that your child is guaranteed 100% that it won’t get these illnesses? Every person that ever was is born with several bad genes. Genes also work together and in harmony with other genes. When you breed something out, you most likely breed something in.

As I watched this I of course wondered about the implications for future generations of people with albinism. Will we be exterminated? Will we be spoken of in once-upon-a-time terms like the old plagues of Europe?

This debate has been going on for a long time. And now that the human genome has been mapped it is indeed a brave new world.

To see the segment in its entirety click here.


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