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The Abortion Controversy Intensifies

Perhaps the most divisive moral issue in America is the practice of abortion on demand. The advance of genetic knowledge and the development of more sophisticated reproductive technologies will only add nuance and subtlety to an already complicated debate. Techniques have been developed to examine in vitro fertilized (IVF) eggs as early as the fourth cell division in order to identify so-called “defective” genes, such as the chromosomal structure of Down's syndrome. Prospective parents may soon be able to fertilize a dozen or so eggs in the laboratory, screen for the preferred genetic make-up, implant the desired zygote(s), and discard the rest. What will be the status of the discarded preembryos? Might they be considered abortions? By what criteria do we define “defective” when considering the future of a human being? Should prospective parents limit themselves to eliminating unhealthy  children, or should they go on to screen for desired genetic traits such as blue eyes or higher intelligence? If so, might this lead to a new form of eugenics, to selective breeding based upon personal preference and prevailing social values? What will become of human dignity in all this?"HUGO Statement on Patenting of DNA Sequences," HUGO Americas, 7986-D Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda MD 20814, USA. Report in Human Genome News, 6:6 (March-April 1995) 5.

The ethical question we face today is; by what criterion do we deem a genetically defective or undesirable fetus abortable? This was not addressed by Roe v. Wade in 1973. The present practice of abortion by choice prior to the third trimester places the choice with the pregnant woman (actually her doctor), but it does not provide distinctively ethical criteria for distinguishing better from worse choices.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters

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