"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The brave new world looms ever closer

The debate over embryonic stem-cell research is already being overtaken by events. One hears periodic reports that it delivers far less than promised even as other, less ethically objectionable techniques yield results. But we now face something still more deadly: prenatal genetic diagnosis, or "PGD" for short. You might ask how anybody can object to mere "diagnosis." You'll see.

Last week NPR did a two-part radio report on PGD. The first, whose transcript is available here, was a story about the Magliocco's, a Connecticut couple whose first child died within weeks of birth from a rare genetic disorder. Wanting more children, but not children like that, they went in for PGD. Essentially, it involves producing an array of embryos by IVF, finding out which have the defect, eliminating them, implanting one healthy one in the mother's womb, and freezing the rest for thawing when convenient.

Read the segment for further details of what's involved. I strongly suspect this couple are cafeteria Catholics, given their name and location. Figures.

The second segment was an interview with Eric Cohen, director of the Bioethics and American Democracy program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I heard it all on the radio, but you can't get the transcript on the NPR website, just a podcast. I'll sum up his wise words.

First, PGD is a case of "eliminating the disease by eliminating the patient." That's Cohen's phrase; I couldn't have put it better myself. Second, PGD is now used by some couples for gender selection and, in one case, by a deaf couple to produce a deaf child. Eventually, Cohen speculated, PGD could be used to select genetically for children with all and only the qualities desired by their parents. Children produced to order like commodities. The way Dell builds people's computers, I would add.

I am revolted by all of this. But it will march on, inexorably. As it does so, those who heed the voice of the Catholic Church will find themselves an ever-shrinking minority. Perhaps the "ecclesial movements" will be the only way for faithful laity to provide the mutual support needed to maintain the light in the encroaching darkness.
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