Stanford University law professor Hank Greely has written a book he’s calling “The End of Sex.”
But he doesn’t mean all sex.
Just the intercourse that produces babies.
In the next 20 to 40 years, he predicts, most babies – at least those whose parents have good health insurance – will be conceived through in vitro fertilization so the embryos can undergo genetic testing.
This may sound like science fiction, but it’s already happening to a limited degree. And Greely, an expert in reproductive ethics and law, says it’s time now to talk about the ethical and moral questions raised by the availability of this technology.
He’ll discuss these ideas Wednesday in talks at Davidson College and UNC Charlotte.
As DNA analysis becomes more efficient and less expensive, he said more parents will choose it.
Today, preimplantation genetic diagnosis is used primarily to avoid having children with serious hereditary diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease or cystic fibrosis.
It has also been used to produce children who would make a good donor match for a sick sibling.
But it could also be used to choose a child’s gender, the color of hair or eyes, or aptitude for math or music.
“I think it will be attractive to a lot of parents, and to a lot of health care insurers,” said Greely, 60, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences. Severe diseases cost a lot of money and produce a lot of pain. Avoiding them will become a bigger part of future discussions, he predicts.
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis was first done in 1990, and about 9,000 U.S. couples had their embryos tested this way last year, he said. In the test, one cell is plucked from a 3-day-old embryo, and its DNA is tested before the parents choose which one (or ones) should be implanted into the mother’s uterus.
Greely will also talk about the practice of getting one’s entire DNA analyzed. Ten years ago, such a test would have cost $500 million. Now, it’s about $4,000.
Today, most people who get total body DNA tests are trying to find out if they are genetically predisposed to a certain disease.
But such tests could uncover hundreds of potential problems. And again, that raises a lot of questions.
Would you want to know the results? How accurate will they be? Who will have time to explain all the issues such tests could raise? Will the information be protected?
“My hope is that by thinking about these things in advance, we can improve the way the future rolls out,” Greely said. “My hope is to avoid catastrophes.”
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less