.. gument in the Western societies is that parents who have large families want a mixture of sons and daughters, and most patients attending sex/gender selection clinics already have children of the same sex/gender and seek another of the opposite. Once a male child has been born, parents are less concerned about the sex/gender of any later siblings. Statham et al (1993) conducted a survey of British women and was asked in the early stages of pregnancy if they minded what the sex/gender of their baby would be. Fifty eight percent said no and among those who expressed a strong preference six percent wanted a boy and an equal percentage wanted a girl.
There was also only a hint of male bias in the minority sample of Afro-Caribbean and Asian women. Additionally over half of the women did not even want to know the sex/gender of their child before birth (Statham 1993). Furthermore, Caplan (1998) says that only a small subset of Western populations would try to ensure their babys sex/gender with an expensive and difficult procedure. He notes that a man must first produce a sperm sample, then his partner must submit to artificial insemination. For couples, whose only concern is the gender of their baby, the rigmarole might very well put them off. Caplan (1998) argues that sex selection to balance a family is ethically acceptable but that it wont be popular enough to change Mother Natures gender sorting.
Murray (1991) once noted that the trend towards more parental control over a childs characteristics will increase in the future, and that scientists working on the Human Genome Project soon will have methods of identifying disease-causing genes as well as the DNA that produces characteristics such as hair colour, height, athletic ability, and perhaps even behaviour. Most ethicists see no problem with parents trying to avoid a genetic disease in their offspring. Rothman (1998) does however argue that parents should leave the selection of non-disease traits to fate, although sex-selection techniques may be useful to limit the size of all-girl families where the parents might otherwise continue having babies until they get a son or of all-boy families intent on having a girl. Goldson (1999) notes that technology begins slowly and tentatively but becomes more efficient with time, and attitudes will probably change too. There will be a greater acceptance of family balancing, as it is always better to have a wanted child than an unwanted child.
Cloning is another area in which genetics can benefit reproductive needs. In particular it is helpful to a couple where the father is infertile and technically it could be possible to transfer the nucleus of a somatic cell from the father, into the egg cell of the mother (Appleyard 1999). There are distinctions to be made between the types of cloning, the main difference here is cloning embryos and cloning cells or cell lines Single cells may be taken from embryos, foetuses, or even from adults and may be grown in culture. These can divide many times, each cell being the identical clone to the original. These cells are useful for study but cannot be grown into an embryo.
Embryos grown in vitro may be divided into two or more separate embryos. Where this happens twins will result. This process has an in-built limit and so the prospect of infinitely reproducing identical embryos is not possible by cloning embryos (Harris 1998). Dawkins (1998) points out that therapeutically, the idea of cloning is important because, cloned individuals would share the same immune characteristics as each other. Possibilities arise in issues such as cloning an individual at the embryo stage so that one clone could be used as a cell tissue and organ bank for the other (Hamilton 1998). The BMA (1998) point out that few issues linked to genetics has caused as much public outcry and fear as cloning. Especially after the news of the breakthrough with cloning sheep in Edinburgh and both national and international media heralded the inevitable and imminent use of the technique on humans. Most of the reports focused on the nightmare scenarios and the BMA (1998) suggest that this is unfortunate since the benefits that could arise from this research into cloning, have by contrast, been given little attention.
One other area of concern is the possible control and use of genetic information for social purposes, an area that can have a massive impact on family life. Due to the Human Genome Project, many human genes have already been cloned, making it possible in some cases to determine if a person has a defective gene that will make them sick later in life. Russo and Cove (1995) point out that genetic screening, based on the accumulated basic knowledge of many scientists, has two different aspects. On the one hand, molecular techniques can be used to screen couples who may both carry a defective gene For example, for cystic fibrosis sufferers, and to council them so they can decide whether or not they wish to have children. However, on the other hand, genetic screening can be used to discriminate against those who have a defective gene.
For example, if they wish to obtain life, health, or other insurance. Employment issues can also have a huge impact on the whole family (Knoppers 1998). According to the British Medical Association (1998), few potential uses of genetic information have caused as much controversy as those in the social sphere and in particular, its use by insurance companies. For this reason, it is often assumed that any non-medical use of genetic information is always unacceptable, inequitable, and discriminatory. The simple belief that all medical uses of information are good and all non-medical uses are bad is a fallacy (BSM 1998). In reality, information may be appropriately used or misused in either sphere, and all potential uses of genetic information need to be objectively assessed and monitored (Appleyard 1999). Nevertheless, an example of misuse can be clearly seen when in February 1997, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) decided that anyone applying for life insurance must reveal the results of any genetic test that he or she had taken.
Many of the insurance companies proposed to ignore the results unless the application was for insurance cover over 100,000, linked to a new mortgage for example (ABI 1997). This may well have repercussions for a large family who need larger accommodation, who would therefore, would be likely to be more than 100,000. Instantly this familys standard of living has been reduced, due to having to live in accommodation unsuitable to the families needs. Just one of the reasons to put people off having a genetic test that could benefit them. Appleyard (1999) explains further that in the wider implications, the genetic diagnosis of future conditions may lead to a nightmare for insurance companies and their customers.
If DNA tests for a wide range of diseases are demanded by insurance companies, then inevitably, a large number of people are going to find themselves uninsurable or with cripplingly high premiums (Appleyard 1999) This policy by the IBA was due to run until March 1999, and is presently still under review with the government. It was originally designed to gauge the demand for cover among those with hereditary illnesses. Nevertheless, according to Burley (1998) critics fear that it is the first step towards creating an insurance underclass, with people unable to get cover because of their genetic makeup. The IBA launched a web-site in October 1999 to help elevate the public concern surrounding this area. Mary Francis, the Associations Director General, said: this web-site is the latest example of the insurance industrys wish to be open and objective about the way it uses genetic test results. This is understandably an area of considerable public interest, and insurance companies have based their approach on independent scientific advice (IBA 1999). With the present knowledge of genetics, scientists, politicians, media and society as a whole face certain dilemmas. By cloning and sequencing human genes, it is possible to make medical products or to cure by gene therapy.
By cloning and sequencing the very same genes, it is possible to advise potential carriers of defective genes. By cloning and sequencing the very same genes, it is possible to discriminate, stigmatise, and make those who have the bad luck to carry defective genes poorer. It is not possible to do scientific research, which will only lead to benefits, (Appleyard, 1999) The moral obligation is to inform of possible ways that scientific knowledge can be used or misused. Decisions over how scientific knowledge is used are independent of knowledge and should be taken independently, (Russo & Cove 1995). The BMA (1998) also suggest that health professional, scientists, policy-makers and the media all have a responsibility to ensure that debate about important ethical issues is not clouded by misplaced optimism or anxiety.
Genetics offers great hope to many thousands of people but also has the potential to cause great harm. Ensuring, as far a possible, that the benefits are realised and the harms are avoided is not solely the task of the health professionals These are matters for society as a whole and all citizens should be positively encouraged to participate in the debate. Without the support of the public, firmly based on open dialogue, public scrutiny, and effective regulation, many of the potential benefits arising from our understanding of genetics will be lost. WORD COUNT 3,741. Bibliography References Appleyard, B (1999) Brave New Worlds: Genetics and the Human Experience. London: Harper Collins Publishers. Association of British Insurers.
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