Genetic engineering is slowly becoming one of the more routine procedures in medical technology nowadays, especially in the field of genetic research and applying it in ways that seek to enhance living conditions for people. This could also be said in the field of genetic screening for prospective offspring, such as the preimplantation genetic diagnosis or PGD that is to be discussed in this paper.
Its intention could be said as noble – it seeks to find out beforehand whether or not a couple with both family histories of certain diseases could have a child without carrying the disease, or if they are at risk, manipulate the genetic material of an embryo until a “perfect” child is made. This technology also gives rise to the possibility of “made to order” babies according to specifications of the parents. But what does this mean to the author, and how does it affect the author? This paper attempts to delve into this question and its implications in a world that is constantly and continuously changing in so many ways.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis: The Definition Science has indeed come a long way from trying to find a cure for illnesses into finding ways to make lives even better for people in the modern world. This has been known to extend into the medical profession, where doctors nowadays could better help ease the suffering most people have due to illnesses that seemed almost impossible to find cures of, or have better medicines to take care of the various symptoms before the illnesses take its toll.
This is made possible through extensive studies and research, new clues to understand some of the illnesses better as well, which actually contributes to the overall advance of medicine in dealing with such illnesses. It is also due to this research that scientists and doctors alike have also been at the forefront of recognizing and creating techniques that would ensure that the illnesses could be detected and acted upon before it becomes any worse. It forms the premise for one of the newer medical techniques which are made available today for would-be parents.
Called as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, it is a technique which was devised in 1990 as a means for parents to determine if they could pass on certain congenital diseases to their unborn child especially more so if they have family histories of those said diseases. Harper and Doshi (2004) state that the PGD, as these techniques are known, involve the biopsy of the still early stage embryo in order to determine if their unborn child could contract the disease – in case of high risk parents with family histories of such diseases.
This is done through in vitro fertilization, and a cell or 2 would be extracted to be genetically analyzed by an embryologist. The woman could also If the embryos are found to be relatively free of any genetic or chromosomal defect, they are implanted within the womb of the mother and it will relatively grow to a healthy baby within her womb naturally. It is proving to be a better alternative than traditional prenatal diagnostic tests such as chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis.
In such prenatal diagnostic tests, once the baby is found to be genetically or chromosomally defective, the parents are left with the choice of either keeping the baby or not. Aside from this kind of moral strain, traditional prenatal diagnostic tests carry with it a lot of risks such as miscarriage, infection, bleeding and amniotic sac rupture, with the maternal age also important in determining how the child would fare as well (Blackburn 2007).
Then there are several religious, social and cultural implications to consider if a couple would decide to have or not to have some kind of prenatal diagnostic test, because of the possibility of them having to give up their unborn child if they opt to once they find out that their baby is tested positive for such a disease (Orshan 2007). The PGD could be carried out in different ways: through polar body biopsy, blastomere biopsy and blastocyst biopsy (Orshan 2007).
Figure 1: Details of how the embryo biopsy is performed. Because the fate of the unborn is considered “decided” before it could be possibly considered as already a living organism, the PGD is considered the morally safer alternative for couples who are at odds with having to deal with aborting their unborn child that was screened through some prenatal diagnostic tests.
Also, the PGD allows for determining other serious genetic or chromosomal disorders which could not be detected by CVS or amniocentesis. CVS and amniocentesis are also not foolproof – there are some incidences of error, and coupled with the many complications that could arise from just performing a procedure, it is an increasingly riskier approach in determining whether or not the baby should be born or aborted. The PGD is also still considered not a 100% foolproof test.
It is because of the level of technical skill that an embryologist must have in order to perform the delicate embryo autopsy, and other techniques involved with the PGD also have other risks involved, such as the inability in determining other diseases aside from what it was “designed” for, false positives, false negatives, and the possibility that an embryo could be lost during specific procedures in the embryo biopsy performed by the embryologist (Orshan 2007).