January 6, 2015
The San Francisco Chronicle, January 3, 2015, published a front page story headlined “Ethical issues rise in knowing babies’ genome.” It begins without much ironic awareness: “By sequencing the billions of chemical letters in a cell’s DNA, which make up the human genome, scientists may be able to better estimate the risk of a person developing cancer, heart, biochemical and metabolic diseases.” The second paragraph explains that “… while a majority of parents surveyed in a new study said they would be interested in having some – or all – of their newborn’s genome sequenced, some researchers raise ethical questions about how much families should know about the results.”
Left unstated anywhere in the article was the fact that the “billions of chemical letters in a cell’s DNA” are already present in the first cell of the human body, at the moment of conception, when the entire human body has only one cell. That level of developmental complexity, from fertilization, the first instant of a human’s life, should suggest the existence of a being whose elective destruction is a morally consequential act – even in its earliest stages of development. Yet clinicians kill countless “excess” and otherwise unwanted human embryos every year.
Nor does the story mention the eventually practical possibility of harvesting a cell from an unborn baby’s body, possibly a cell circulating outside his or her body, for genetic analysis. How many parents would want that information? How many would abort a baby who failed to pass genomic muster? It’s already happening with in vitro embryos. How long until babies in the womb will face the same peril?