New Brunswick Canada
The year is 2050. Inside the fertility clinic,
Melissa peers at a computer screen. She is thoughtful.
After all, choosing a child is a serious matter, not
something to be done in haste. The screen shows the
image of a smiling teenage girl whom Melissa and her
husband, Curtis, have already named Alice. Both the
image and the information printed beside it tell a great
deal about the person Alice will become, both
physically and mentally.
Alice has not been born. The future teenager is yet an embryo,safely stored
at -320 degrees Fahrenheit with dozens of other embryos in a nearby room.
The genetic characteristics of each embryo were scanned and fed into the
computer to help the parents select which one would be implanted in
Since Melissa and Curtis want a girl, the male embryos are rejected. The
parents next examine the remaining embryos for such characteristics as
health prospects, appearance, and temperament. Finally Melissa and
Curtis make their choice. Nine months later they rejoice in the birth of the
daughter of their choosing a real, living Alice.
THIS story is condensed from an account written by Lee Silver, a professor
of molecular biology at Princeton University, New Jersey, U.S.A. It is a
projection of what he believes may occur in the decades ahead. He based
his ideas on existing research and technology. Already, human embryos
can be screened for certain genetic disorders. And it has been over 20
years since the first test-tube baby was born. Having been conceived in a
petri dish, she was the first human conceived outside her mother’s womb.
The fact that Dr. Silver names the child Alice may remind us of the
well-known fantasy Alice in Wonderland. Indeed, the future to which many
are looking is a land of wonders. An editorial in the prestigious magazine
Nature stated: "The growing power of molecular genetics confronts us with
future prospects of being able to change the nature of our species."
This is a brief look at some developments in biotechnology,
focusing particularly on the prospects for "improving" humanity. Will the
work being done in the laboratories today affect your life or that of your
children? Many believe that it will.
Alice...Through The Looking Lab
Today the news is bright and clear
there's cautious laughter everywhere,
and family hearts are pressed to tears.
The time has almost come;
The blinding lights on high above
shine on whites and rubber gloves,
and from the gene pool beyond love
a tiny heartbeat cheers them on.
The machines run, the tension screams
and every corner breathes with beings
with pulsing hearts and faith filled dreams.
The waters break and spill;
The room is filled with surging pain
and when the new day lays awake
a new spirit crys and shakes
and the hearts soar with the thrill.
The years go by, they're choice and long
right through the nusery through the throngs
the cocktail youngster moves along.
And up the science scale
the youngster runs and lives and sings
the world now sees these better things
the college bell of praises rings,
and the papers brag the tale.
This story sounds perfect doesn't it? Yet I remain concerned when mankind starts
manipulating human life, I find it totally scary!
The glowing reports of what is being done and what may be done in the years
ahead make it easy to overlook the present limitations and the potential
problems of the new technologies. To illustrate, let us return to the subject of
babies. Genetic screening is already a common practice. The most widely used
method dates back to the 1960’s. A doctor injects a needle into the womb of a
pregnant woman and extracts a sample of amniotic fluid, which surrounds the
fetus. The fluid can then be tested to see if the fetus has any of the dozens of
genetic disorders, including Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. This procedure
is usually performed after the 16th week of pregnancy. A more recent procedure
reveals details of the embryo’s genetic makeup between the sixth and tenth
weeks of pregnancy.
These procedures enable doctors to identify many disorders, but only about 15
percent of them can be corrected. When tests reveal a genetic problem or give
an ambiguous result, many parents are faced with an agonizing
decision should the fetus be aborted, or should the child be brought to birth?
The UNESCO Courier comments: "Despite the proliferation of DNA
tests, each patented and profit-yielding, genetics has so far failed to fulfill its
vaunted promises of gene therapy. Doctors are screening for conditions and
disorders which they cannot treat. So abortion is often presented as treatment."
Of course, as biotechnology becomes more effective, doctors expect to have
far greater powers to detect and correct the genetic defects that either cause or
predispose humans to various diseases. In addition, scientists hope that
eventually they will be able to transfer artificial chromosomes into a human
embryo to offer protection against such diseases as Parkinson’s, AIDS,
diabetes, and prostate and breast cancer. A child would thus be born with a
strengthened immune system. There is also the prospect of future drugs that
will "enhance" the developing embryo, perhaps by manipulating genes to boost
intelligence or improve memory.
Though even the most optimistic scientists realize that it will be a long time
before parents may be able to choose the kind of child they want from a catalog,
to many people the prospect of bearing the child of one’s dreams is immensely
appealing. Some argue that it would be irresponsible not to use technology to
eliminate genetic disorders. After all, they reason, if there is nothing wrong with
sending your child to the best schools and the best doctors, why not try to have
the best baby possible?
I guess I'm old and a skeptic, but these things seem to be too good to be true!
The role of poetry is to utter the un-utterable; to open up
spaces of consciousness and resistance; to language oppressions; to