In the UK, two couples, whose families have a history of breast cancer, will be the first to be assured that the children they have will never suffer from the ravages of that disease. This is because, after creating embryos through IVF, they will have each embryo tested for a defective BRCA1 gene, which raises the risk of cancer in adulthood. Once screened, only the unaffected embryos will be implanted. One can sympathize with the sentiments of these two couples. They have been devastated by this disease, most likely they have had to watch their family members suffer greatly as a result, only to have the cancer finally take over in the end. But is this the answer?
There are so many questions that arise from this situation. What will happen if their designed child develops some other disease or suffers some traumatic injury from which they may never fully recover? Will they, then, wish that that child had never been born in the first place? What if it turns out that the “cancer positive” embryo would not actually see the effects of the disease for a number of decades (if ever)? Didn’t they love and cherish their relatives before the cancer finally took their lives? Is the relief of a child’s future suffering worth never knowing and loving them at all?
This is where the future of reproductive technology is headed. Our culture is so afraid of suffering and disease that many advancements in science and technology that would be otherwise harmless and even beneficial to us are turned into instruments of evil. Take this genetic testing for pre-born infants for example – in and of itself it is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know about and prepare for possible health problems in the future. But when this is used to ensure that certain children are not allowed to be born it becomes a problem. We are increasingly moving away from being co-creators to becoming outright manufacturers of human life.
Yes, we should do what we can to comfort and heal those who are afflicted, but it should always be kept in line with preserving the dignity of all human life. Screening embryos for specific diseases in order to prevent the “defective” ones from being born crosses the line. Every child has a right to life, even if that life must endure tremendous hardships. Suffering in this life is inevitable, no amount of embryo screening will change that, but it is not the end of the world. Our response to the difficulties we face in life helps shape our character. Moreover, when we unite our sufferings to Christ on the cross they become the very instruments which lead to our sanctification.
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16:24-25)