Dropping Some Science, Literally (Or, How Genome Sequencing is Freaking Me Out)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When I read this story about gender selection — choosing the sex of your baby — I was disturbed. The fact that it’s an actual industry, a multimillion-dollar one, is horrifying.

Then this week I read about whole genome sequencing for newborns — which is essentially deciphering a person’s full genetic code or DNA blueprint. With this sequencing, doctors could detect babies “prone to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart attacks or cancer.”

First I was all, Whoa. Science. 

And then I heard about this sequencing being done on fetuses in the womb.

Now I’m thinking, Oh dear.

“Parents could elect for termination of the pregnancy in connection with the diagnosis of a particular disease,” says Dr. Jay Shendure, a researcher at the University of Washington. “In other circumstances, there may be opportunities [for] treatment of the fetus during pregnancy, as well as for treatment after birth.”

We are venturing into some scary territory. How far away are we from checking out the genome for hair and eye color combos? Again, scary territory.

Maybe it’s our incredible need to know everything. Over the weekend, there was this fascinating story on my show (CBS Sunday Morning, for you newbies) called, “Your genetic crystal ball.

It was all about the thousand-plus genetic tests available now, for everything from balding to Alzheimer’s, and asks the question: Would you really want to know what might kill you? Would you take a genetic tests that showed if you had an increased risk for getting a dreadful or incurable disease?

While I understand why someone might want to know (to prepare themselves and loved ones, get early treatment, gather pertinent information), but for me the burden of knowing — especially for an incurable disease — would be too much.

What about you — would you want to know? What about genetic testing for your child?

Whoa … science, right?

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