The ethics of genetics

No, I’m not going to attempt to untangle the entirety of the ethical issues surrounding advancements in our knowledge of genetics. That would require more time, space and skills than I have at my disposal. These are simply a few thoughts…

I have found the chapters on DNA and genetics extremely interesting – and thought provoking. The OU included a short section on ethics when it comes to IVF treatment and genetic diseases.

Advances in our knowledge in this area may, one day, lead to cures for congenital illnesses and diseases, or even prevent them altogether – and this, surely, is not something that many people could be opposed to. Is it? Stem cell research has massive potential to save countless lives and prevent untold suffering – and yet some people find a way to be opposed to it. This baffles me.

A clump of cells is not a life. It is a potential life. I know that many will argue with me; and that’s fine. They are as entitled to their opinions as I am to mine. But to use a philosophical or religious belief to stop the kind of research that could – literally – change the world is, to my mind, a criminal act of arrogance.

Do human beings have a “right to life”? I’m not sure. It’s purely a human construct, you see. Society, however, does have an obligation to look after the people who are here now, and to try and improve the lot of those who are suffering. Developing new methods to combat disease and illness is a large part of that.

Now for the controversy

Following on from the debate about humans’ “right to life” is the modern notion that everyone has a “right” to have a child.

I sympathise enormously with couples who are unable to have a child of their own. It must be deeply upsetting. I do not think that IVF treatment should be publicly funded. I’m not even sure that IVF treatment for reasons of infertility is a good thing. My reasons are fairly simple; I’m a fairly simple kinda girl.

This world is becoming crowded – should we really be adding to the global burden of overpopulation? This may seem a facile argument, and anyone who thinks this may be right. However, it’s an undeniable truth on a global scale.

More pertinently, though: there are many, many, tragically many unwanted or orphaned children in this world who want and need a good, loving home. The desire to procreate is entirely selfish (no, it is!); and never more so than when manifested in the choices of people who cannot have their own children. If being a parent is so important – and of course it is to those who want it – why does it matter where that child came from?

And in terms of cost: infertility is not (usually) a disease. It’s not something that needs to be “cured”. There are myriad health issues that desperately need funding – life-saving funding – and I do not believe that fertility treatment should be one of them.

Contrary to popular belief, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) doesn’t run a “postcode lottery”. It’s not that simple; choices for drug and treatment funding are based on many more variables than cost alone. (More often than not it’s because a drug is experimental; or has shown no real benefits. But that’s a blog post for another time.) In an age which seems to almost fetishise motherhood, fertility treatment is offered on the NHS for anyone who wants it – and that, to me, seems deeply unfair when the NHS is struggling under the weight of those who need help urgently.

And no: if I was unable to have children and wanted to have children, I wouldn’t have IVF treatment. I would adopt.

I am pro-choice. I am pro-choice in almost every walk of life – I believe that, armed with as many facts and as much information as possible (from all sides of a debate), people should be free to make whatever choices they want, as long as they are prepared to accept the consequences and bear the burden, financial or emotional.

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