Recently, the International Herald Tribune published an article describing the initiatives of Complete Genomics, a firm in Silicon Valley that has performed significant research on genomic sequencing technology.
Complete Genomics aims to lower the cost of human genome sequencing in order to make this service more readily available to the general population. On the company’s website, Dr. Reid predicted that the cost for gene sequencing could one day be as low as that of a blood test.
I believe that the impact on the medical community of whole human genome sequencing at a cost comparable to a comprehensive blood test will be profound, and it will raise a host of public policy issues (privacy, security, disclosure, reimbursement, interpretation, counseling, etc.), all important topics for future discussions.
Yes, and there is another vital issue that will be impacted by the potential widespread availability of genomic testing: bioethics.
I would like to make it clear that I completely support scientific advancement and research that does not injure human life from conception to natural death. I am frequently amazed by what science can do in assisting people with serious diseases. We are lucky to live in a time where many illnesses are understood and treated, though there is still a lot of work to be done.
My concern with this news on gene sequencing is that too much information can cause great damage when it comes to medical testing and the diagnosis of genetic disorders. How many people, after going through genetic testing, may find out that they are “at risk” for certain genetic disorders and thus choose to euthanize themselves? Furthermore, how many mothers, after finding out that their unborn child has a genetic anomaly, will choose to abort their child?
We have already seen a rise in the number of abortions of female children since parents became able to know the sex of their child. This phenomenon will repeat itself if access to gene sequencing becomes commonplace- only it will be worse, because then the medical community will thoroughly defend the parents’ ‘choice’ on the grounds that the child’s quality of life would be lower, and that the child would have some life-threatening illness.
It can seem inconsistent on God’s behalf to give us access to so much information, and yet to also ask that we respect human life under all circumstances. However, the inconsistency is really within the medical community. God gives us information to help us, not to hurt us. In the same way, doctors and scientific researchers have a duty to help others and protect their lives.
Let us suppose, for example, that a mother has just recently found out that her baby has a genetic defect. Under such conditions, what can the doctor do? He can either advise her to abort her child, which would likely leave her with scars of suffering and guilt…or he could offer her resources to better prepare for the arrival of her newborn child. The woman could educate herself on the genetic disease, talk to families who have experienced raising children with genetic disease, and maybe even immerse herself in prayer (or companionship with friends and family) to develop the strength to accept the uncertainty that awaits her, and her child.
Also, let us not forget that genetic testing could help us perform surgeries in the womb, before the child is born, in order to replace a defective gene. As long as such surgeries pose no harm to the child, they would be ethically approvable and could even cure the child of his genetic anomaly. Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, a pro-life pediatrician and geneticist, always dreamed that one day a cure for Down’s Syndrome would be discovered. Given the rapid development taking place in the scientific field, let us hope that workers in the medical and scientific community orient their efforts towards initiatives that respect all human life.