The War on ‘Defective’ Children

colson2In the 1998 film Gattaca, the hero says that he will never know what possessed his mother to put her faith in God instead of a geneticist. That’s because, in this science-fiction film, he lives in a world where prospective parents can screen their would-be children for “defects” before they are implanted in the womb. In this world, “defects” aren’t limited to life-threatening conditions; they also include things like near-sightedness. In the world of Gattaca, people who weren’t screened before birth form a permanent underclass called “in-valids.” Since the film’s release, the biotech industry and their paid shills have insisted that Gattaca is fiction and that nothing like that could happen in real life. Well, something like it just did. In May, Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority authorized a London clinic to screen for a condition called “squint.” Squint causes the affected eye to look inwards or outwards instead of straight ahead. Squint can be treated various ways: eyeglasses, temporary patches, eye drops and, in the most severe cases, surgery. The Authority’s ruling was in response to a businessman who has this condition and his wife, who “[wanted] to ensure they do not have a severely cross-eyed child.” The clinic will employ a technique known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Previously, PGD had been limited to cases involving “life-shortening conditions such as cystic fibrosis and fatal blood disorders.” Then the uses of PGD began to expand. Doctors have used it to screen for genetic evidence of possible adult diseases like cancer and early-onset Alzheimer’s. Now, they’re using it for cosmetic imperfections. As David King of Human Genetics Alert said: “We moved from preventing children who will die young to those who might become ill in middle age. And now we discard those who will live as long as the rest of us but are cosmetically imperfect.” The man who will perform the test agrees. Gedis Grudzinskas predicts that the use of embryo screening for “severe cosmetic defects” will increase because of the ruling. By “severe” he means anything that might cause a family “severe distress,” like the wrong hair color, which could lead to “bullying” and “even suicide.” Anybody who is surprised by this story simply hasn’t been paying attention. As I’ve previously told BreakPoint listeners, genetic testing has turned people with Down syndrome into an endangered species. Actually, they might survive if they weren’t human: If they were wolves or ferrets, someone might actually care that they were being eliminated. If we’re willing to do this to children who can be seen on a sonogram, why would you think that we wouldn’t target people who can’t be? Especially when you factor in the cost of treating the conditions being tested for. As David King said, “philosophers love to deride the idea of a slippery slope.” But then we look around us and we are ten feet further down the hill than the last time we looked. The only question is now: Are we ready to put real limits on the uses of genetic testing? Look around us today, and the world looks a lot like it did in that movie Gattaca. Frightening at the time—and frightening today.  
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For Further Reading and Information
The Wrong Way of Looking at Things,” News & Star, 15 May 2007. “Cosmetic Abortion an Ugly Science,” Washington Times, 19 May 2007. “British Children with 'Squint' Eyes Now Are Targets of Embryo Testing,” Baptist Press, 14 May 2007. Roberto Rivera, “Distress that Kills,”, 24 May 2007. Regis Nicoll, “The Rhetoric of Choice Reigns: Carhart Decision Compromising Women's Health?,” BreakPoint Online, 27 April 2007. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060803, “The Eliminators: Eugenics by Default.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 070326, “A Tale of Two Babies: When Children Are Less than Human.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060407, “Deadly Exports: Better for All the World?” BreakPoint Commentary No. 061130, “Betraying the Least of These: The Church and Infanticide.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060315, “The Real Point: Jason McElwain and Respect for Life.”


Chuck Colson


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