Gene therapy

Is it right to select the genetic make-up of your unborn child? Most people certainly don’t like the idea, with visions of SF dystopian futures like Gattaca or the eugenics of the early 20th century surfacing in their minds. Considering in this anniversary year of the discovery of DNA respectable scientists including James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix (or man who ripped of his female colleague’s work depending what you read) have remarked that eugenics has had a bad press because of people like Hitler. Some of them think some forms of genetic screening and d children – is a good idea.

However today’s news concerning a genetically chosen bay specifically designed to be able to donate stem cells to his older brother is another matter. This couple seem keen to have more children but have had their new baby screened in order to have a child who will be able to donate material which may alleviate or even cure his desperately ill brother. Personally I can’t see a huge problem here – this isn’t the ‘designer baby’ of the scare tactics employed by ill-informed tabloid journalists. If a sibling were to be donating blood cells, bone marrow or organs to another family member we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Selecting genes for appearance or mental enhancement I am not sure about, but I have no objection to today’s news.

Shame the couple had to go to the US to have the therapy as it is banned in the UK. Considering many US scientists have moved to the UK to conduct research because in Bush’s America the fundamentalist Christians have stymied much genetic research this is a real shame. As a lifelong SF fan and a keen reader of scientific material I am more than familiar with the possible down sides and the advantages of hi-tech scientific and medical breakthroughs. However, I think what I am saying is each of these cases has to be judged individually. As one ethicist on Question Time remarked, people create life everyday and often for rather more dubioous reasons – no-one questions them if there is a good reason for creating new life.