Arthur Caplan, writing at MSNBC.com, reacts to a report by the Associated Press that genetic testing is leading to the birth of fewer and fewer children with Down syndrome and other genetic diseases in the United States. An excerpt:
On a trip to Ireland a few years ago, I was struck by a number of faces among the crowds. They were children with the tell-tale look of Down syndrome.
What struck me was the realization that I hardly ever see these young faces out on the street in the United States.
… Reducing the burden of disease is obviously a good thing. But genetic testing of parents, and, as is now happening with increasing frequency, embryos, raises some difficult ethical challenges as well.
… As some families with a Down syndrome child have noted, fewer kids with Down may mean fewer public programs, fewer resources in schools and for housing and less political clout. If some genetic diseases begin to fade away, will society’s willingness to provide support for the diminishing numbers of those born with such diseases fade as well? And are we headed to a time when parents who choose not to be genetically tested find themselves condemned as morally irresponsible parents?
Caplan is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.