20 years ago genetic testing wasn’t available meaning parents would have to face the complications and challenges that come with having a child with a genetically inherited disease. However, with new medical technology advances, parents can now undergo genetic screening to determine if a couple’s combined DNA carries genes that could cause rare diseases or birth defects.
Currently, testing is only recommended to those with a family history of hereditary diseases as mass screening of all couples for such diseases would prove costly, however, as time progresses the cost of testing is only set to decrease, meaning routine screening could become more affordable. With this in mind, what are the advantages and disadvantages of genetic screening and what do we need to consider going forward?
Advantages of Genetic Screening
Allows an informed decision – Genetic screening can help those who suffer from hereditary diseases or are determined to be potential carriers make an informed decision on having their own children.
Reassurance – a certain amount of reassurance can be found should results return with a positive outcome.
Financial – There are clear economic advantages to genetic screening. The lifelong costs involved in treating a person with a hereditary disease can be incredibly high and far outweighs the cost to screen for diseases.
Preparation – Genetic screening offers the opportunity for parents to prepare for hereditary diseases that might affect their children.
Disadvantages We Must Consider
Not 100% guarantee – Genetic screening does not test for all possible genetic diseases or disorders, therefore a healthy child is not a 100% guarantee.
Guilt of being a carrier – should one parent find they are a carrier of a genetically inherited disease there is bound to infer a certain amount of guilt. The psychological effects of this could be damaging to a carrier, as well as the damage caused should the partnership break up due to the results.
The risk of “designer babies” – as genetic screening advances, especially with embryonic screening and pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS), so too does the option of gender selection, hair and eye colour and essentially the ability to create a “designer” baby.
Being branded “undesirable” - There is also the danger of those with genetic abnormalities or diseases being dismissed or viewed as less desirable.
Whatever the view going forward, it can certainly be agreed that as technology advances the options available to those at risk of inherited diseases today, compared to twenty years ago, allows them to make better and more informed decisions about their health and the health of future generations.