Scientists playing God?

We have been discussing the idea of ‘playing God’ and the following article from 2006 may be of interest.

Last week British scientists announced a revolutionary screening process for inherited diseases in embryos. It will be quicker and more accurate than the existing method and it will detect thousands more genetic defects than previously possible.

About 200 heritable conditions can be detected by pre-implantation diagnosis in IVF treatment so that only healthy embryos are implanted in the mother or frozen; the new technique — pre-implantation genetic haplotyping — will be able to detect nearly 6,000 diseases and conditions. As one of the British pioneers said, this changes everything. One could almost call it godlike.

What it means is that thousands of parents who are at known risk of passing on terrible disabilities and diseases will now be able to have only healthy babies. This is the best news I have heard for years.

Those who don’t know about it can perhaps hardly imagine the drawn out suffering of Huntington’s disease or Duchenne muscular dystrophy or Prader-Willi syndrome or Fragile X, both for the people affected and for their families, until death puts an end to it.

Nature is astonishingly cruel. Science, by contrast, has the power of mercy. One can only be dazzled by the inventiveness and compassion of the scientists involved in this screening breakthrough — “in action”, as Hamlet said, “how like an angel!” Admittedly genetic screening means that embryos carrying disabilities and diseases will be discarded. It is a stretch, however, to use the word destroyed, or even killed, as the test is done on embryos that are only three days old. And what is appealing about this early screening is that it offers the hope that, in the foreseeable future, abortion and late abortion will be less frequently used in dealing with serious defects and disabilities.

It will be easier and better in every way to get rid of a tiny collection of cells. This is indeed playing God, as all the usual campaigners were quick to point out last week. But what on earth is wrong with humans playing God? I am all for it, especially as God doesn’t seem to be doing it. Besides, whatever we may think about playing God and defying nature, we are doing it already and even though we don’t necessarily recognise it, we approve of it.

Read the rest here.

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