New genetic selection techniques will facilitate eugenics

The genetic selection of human embryos is reaching new levels of sophistication and depravity with the development of a technique called ‘polygenic screening’, based on statistical scores. Eugenics, which is breeding out the ‘defective’, is deepening its grip on our societies.

The new method is a step above current screening processes that can detect conditions like Down Syndrome.

Last year, the embryo of baby girl Aurea was chosen over other embryos who had more chance of developing certain medical conditions in the future, using a “polygenic risk score”.

The screening of human embryos artificially created in laboratory through IVF is quite common.

Tests are offered for genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down Syndrome, and only the unaffected embryos are implanted in the womb, while the other are destroyed.

When similar screening tests are performed during pregnancies, they generally lead to abortion.

This is a clear form of human selection on the basis of health characteristics, also known as eugenics.

So far, those tests were focusing on diseases caused by a single gene, but some conditions are triggered by the interaction of many genes.

A new technique based on “polygenic risk scores” (PRS), which has been employed for the first time with success, tests the presence of many genes.

In simple words, the new test analyses the gene-sequency of an individual and estimates the probability that some conditions will develop later in life.

As the link between some genes and certain medical conditions is only probabilistic, these new techniques are based on statistical data and they have only become possible in very recent years with the development of large databases of genetic information.

As it develops, preimplantation genetic testing is likely to be able to predict not only health, but also other characteristics related to our genes, such as intelligence, psychological traits, personality types, learning disabilities, height, etc.

Commissioning couples, but also single individuals, will be able to pick any physical or psychological trait linked to genetic and to ‘order’ their ideal child. In a society where choice is everything, who will stop them?

This is one further step down an extremely unethical path that aims at eliminating imperfect human beings. It is immoral not only because it destroys humans at embryonic stage, but also because it perpetuates the false assumption that some lives are not worth living when they have certain unwanted characteristics.

The defenders of these techniques are quite honest about the eugenicist nature of genetic selection.

Oxford university philosopher Julian Savulescu proposes a “welfarist model” of polygenic scores that select for traits associated with well-being.

He writes: “[Tests] to select against genetic conditions … such as Down Syndrome, are common and are even publicly funded, implying not only assent, but active support for allowing prospective parents to select against these conditions. Selection on the basis of polygenetic scores, if it is well correlated and causally linked to a welfare threshold with important bearing on the future’s child well-being is ethically equivalent to these. Indeed, allowing selection on the basis of only some genetic conditions may be discriminatory. It would be consistent with an anti-eugenic stance to reject all form of selection.”

Savulescu has no problem with eugenics, as long as “there is no broad social goal or coercion employed”.

Do we really need to wait until it becomes imposed by the state before we realise how immoral eugenic?

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