So, want to go to a job interview where the only question is, “Would you please give us a drop of your blood?” It’s sooner than you think:
A recent series of articles at Time magazine’s website discussed the potential and pitfalls of a new technology called “whole-genome sequencing” or WGS. WGS can analyze a person’s entire genome and identity genetic risk factors for diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
WGS isn’t new—it’s been around for a decade. Remember the Human Genome Project? Same idea. But the millions of dollars that process used to cost and the ten years it took to complete has been reduced to about $7,500 today. And you can get the results in a few weeks. So, in the not-too-distant future anyone with curiosity and a credit card will be able to have his or his children’s genome mapped.
And then what? Well, that’s the real question. Reading the pieces in Time I was struck by how much life was imitating art.
For starters, the rationale being offered was let’s do what’s best for our children. That’s naive at best, and willful self-deception at worst. While this may lead to a better genetic diagnosis, there’s very little, if any, actual healing going on here. Why? Because no one’s talking about repairing genetic damage. That’s far beyond our capabilities. For example, when geneticists recently announced that they had successfully removed the extra copy of chromosome 21 in cell cultures derived from a person with Down syndrome, they explicitly denied that this “would lead to a treatment for Down syndrome.”
So what WGS promises—or threatens, depending on your point of view—is to “detect an increased risk not just of childhood diseases but also of disorders that may not manifest for decades, if at all.”
Let’s be honest: the pre-diagnosis we already employ does not lead to healing, but to elimination. What happens to unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome? Some 92 percent of them are aborted. And WGS offers pre-diagnosis of conditions that may not manifest for decades, if at all.
Please read the entire article here.
The article links this to the film Gattaca. The article also claims the movie is one of the best science fiction films in the last twenty-five years, which I’ll debate, but let’s focus on the message of the article.
Science fiction is coming true. We can touch the future. We can read genetics and predict what diseases we may have in coming years. We can see what our children will look like. We can… make sure only the best babies survive.
Because, let’s face it: our sinful human nature always finds the best way to be selfish with every technology. That’s all that the sinful nature desires, after all. We will take the gifts given us and find some way to make it good for us, and who cares about anything else? If I can convince myself it’s for a “good reason,” why wouldn’t I do my own thing?
“See, I wouldn’t want my child to suffer pain. So if he’s going to be born with a handicap, it’s just better if he never experiences pain. I’ll terminate this pregnancy, and the next one will go better.” Nevermind that the handicap was a large nose that would make him “ugly.”
If we want our science fiction to be realistic, we have to understand that sinful human nature will get away with whatever it can. Any new magical technology may offer huge benefits to life. (I, for one, enjoy the internet!) But we also need to recognize the darker side of any technology. (Have you seen what’s on the internet? No, better you don’t. Just don’t Google it, OK?)
And in the meantime, pray this technology that lets us predict our children’s lives finds good use — ways to predict, repair, or prepare for difficult lives.