RONZONE: Genetic testing



Raquel Ronzone

It is both our modern-day crystal ball and Pandora’s Box, and we cradle it in our hands without a clear-cut outline of its ramifications. Enabled by the diligence and effort of scientists, genetics has given us the opportunity to gaze at a sketch of our own futures and those of our employees and unborn and newborn children.

Once entirely inconceivable, this foresight, though vague and even inaccurate in some cases, is a current reality that is single-handedly changing the social and political landscape of the world. Public discourse on health care, medical insurance, patient confidentiality, civil liberties, employment practices, disability rights, abortion and the consumerist mentality rampant in the United States begins anew, fueled by the progress made in scientific facilities.

According to Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, genetic testing is the analysis of DNA, chromosomes, or gene products that provide specific information about inherited variations in the genes or chromosomes of an individual. It aims to pinpoint the abnormalities and alterations on a genetic level that could indicate a person’s likelihood or increased risk of developing a life-altering or fatal disease or disorder over time.

Proponents optimistically assert that such practices allow for earlier treatment, specialized care that could lessen or negate the effects of harmful medical conditions and awareness to the people who are responsible for the well-being or dependent on the efficiency of others. To pregnant women and their loved ones, genetic testing offers a glimpse of the expected qualities of their unborn children; to businesses and hiring institutions, it offers details about the potential characteristics – and therefore the rationale maintains, the productivity – of employees.

Placing such information in human hands, opponents realistically add, paves a road on which favoritism, alienation, judgment, manipulation, inequality, degradation of life and other societal ills thrive.

In May 2008, The New York Times reported that members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill that would prohibit discrimination by health insurers and employers based on the information that people carry in their genes. Though this bill passed with little opposition, the idea of drafting legislationaddressing the issue was once unpopular because of its perceived irrelevance. The mapping of the human genome and the discovery of genetic variants responsible for diabetes, heart disease, various cancers and obesity in society’s youngest or even unborn members, however, has necessitated such legal input.

The practice of genetic testing is not detrimental in itself. Rather, the actions based on those results lure the worst from humankind, thus justifying a serious discussion of the consequences of this popular service.

In 1996, Newsweek reported that 6-year-old David Stephenson’s diagnosis with “fragile X,” a condition associated with mental disabilties and autism, led the Stephenson’s insurance company to cancel coverage – for the entire family of six.

In 2007, The New York Times reported that 90 percent of women who learn they are carrying a baby with the extra 21st chromosome that causes Down syndrome choose an abortion. Furthermore, fertile couples are increasingly resorting to in vitro fertilization in order to gain more control over the genetic makeup of their children.

In 2006, Slate reported that 42 percent of U.S. clinics offering preimplantation genetic diagnosis, a procedure that screens embryos for risk factors and implants only embryos with the desired genetic makeup, have performed non-medical sex selection.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, his clinics have done PGD for about 2,000 couples, and “85 to 90 percent of those couples have done it simply for gender selection.” For the more than three million children born through in vitro fertilization, half a million are rejected.

Society must not allow dialogue about genetic testing to remain in the seclusion of homes, medical or fertility clinics and employment offices. It must not allow the discriminatory actions taken because of it to continue. The federal government has confronted the practice of these tests and their implications, a wise, preemptive move to reprimand insurance companies and hiring businesses from genetic favoritism, but in a tragic and eerie twist on consumerism, parents, informed by genetic testing, are abandoning healthy offspring until they create a human being they deem valuable.

It is imperative that we close this Pandora’s Box before our crystal ball gets any darker.


Raquel Ronzone is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].