As more people become aware of what medical procedures are taking place in the world, it is only natural that there will always be controversy. Lives are full of choices, and no matter what you choose there are always people who do not think that your choice was the right one to make. As more medical procedures become available there will always be the question as to whether or not it is ethical.

What is genetic screening? Genetic screenings are defined as “systematic searches for persons with a specific genotype” or as “tests to identify persons who have an inherited predisposition to a certain phenotype or who are at risk of producing offspring with inherited diseases or disorders”.  As more and more people, begin to take an interest in the field of human genetics it is obvious that new discoveries will be made, whether it is good news or bad. With the amount of research that has been going into research regarding phenotypes and genotypes, there is no question as to whether or not there will be major improvements to our lives in the near future. With new technological advances, there is no doubt, as to whether or not we are pushing some kinds of limits. This is where the ethical controversy begins.

How does genetic screening work? It is a test that works by identifying an individual that has a genetic disorder. It directly examines the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule alone. In a gene tests a sample of a patient’s DNA is tested for mutated sequences. The sample that they test can be taken from any tissue in the human body, including blood. In other types of gene tests researchers begin by designing short pieces of DNA that are referred to as probes, whose sequences are complementary to the mutated sequences. These probes will try to find their complement amongst the three billion base pairs of an individual’s genome. If the mutated sequence is at hand in the patience genome, the probe will bind to it and pin the mutation. Another type of DNA testing involves comparing a sequence of DNA of a mutated patient to that of a normal version of the gene.

There are many uses of genetic screenings, which can take place to help against infertility, miscarriage, stillbirths, neonatal deaths, multiple malformations, retardation in growth and development, mental illness, and mental retardation. Not only can genetic screening pinpoint these problems, it can be used to identify carriers of recessive destructive genes as well.  There are also many different types of genetic testing, such as, prenatal genetic testing, neonatal genetic screening tests, and carrier screening tests, forensic testing, and susceptibility screening.

Prenatal screening is done on a mother’s fetus to see if there are any risks, or problems with the baby. Using genetic screening will allow parents to have some idea as to how there child will be, however if there is a problem that they have found due to prenatal screening, they may feel the need to abort the pregnancy because they feel that they could not handle a child with mutated genes. Neonatal genetic testing is done on all infants to determine rare disabilities or chemical disorders like, sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Some new test such as HIV, heart disease and cystic fibrosis are also done. Carrier screening tests are done to determine whether an individual is a carrier of a certain disease. An example of this is sickle cell tests are done on blacks to determine if they are a carrier of the disease. Forensics is the newest field to use genetic screening it is used to discover a genetic linkage between suspects and evidence discovered in criminal investigations. Test results have been presented as proof of innocence or guilt in court cases, and jury verdicts have been based on this type of genetic evidence. However, critics note that forensic laboratories often test just once, unlike research laboratories, which test many times, and that mistakes can be made. Finally, susceptibility testing is used in many workplaces to see if their employees are susceptible to different toxins in the work place and could have devastating effects later on in life.

All of these procedures can e used to help people in a positive way, although there are many people who do not see this, and feel as though it is unethical. First off, by having a genetic procedure done you will be able to tell if there is something genetically wrong with you. Consider the fact that you or someone close to you was told that they have something wrong with them; this would cause fear to strike in not only the person it affects but also those close to them. In addition, genetic testing will not be able to determine the severity of the problem; it will just tell you that you have it. Many religious groups feel that genetic screening is a very bad idea because they feel that you should not alter the course of your life, everything happens for a reason. They feel that if you have the burden of a genetic mutation, its all God’s way because he is the one that chooses the course of our lives. Many Christians feel that they cannot go against what God has laid out for them.

The majority of researchers and ethicists agree on the importance of diagnosing a disease such as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which strikes soon after birth and produces a short, viciously painful life characterized by severe retardation, violence and self-mutilation. If people find this information out from genetic testing, is it natural for them to abort the birth of the child. How do we know what to limit ourselves too? If you find out that your child is going to have Down syndrome, is there any reason to abort that birth? We already know that many people survive with Down syndrome, so would aborting that birth be any different from aborting the birth of a child that is male, when the parents were really hoping for a girl? The importance of the debate about what constitutes a disease is underscored by the two extensive questions that underlay the current debate, who decides whether testing is done; and what happens to that information? Clearly genetic screening is going to be done no matter what, ethical or not. The difficulty is how are we going to use it and what social limit will we set on it? There is an apparent inconsistency between the reality of genetic variability and the democratic ideal that all citizens are created equal. If each person is as equal as the next, then why do we even need genetic screening?

Many people also fear a number of other ethical problems with genetic screening such as genetic discrimination. Some people may feel that people with genetic flaws, which may not show up as dysfunctions, may be denied life insurance. This is because the insurance companies know there is a flaw in your genes and do not think that they should insure you because something is quite likely happen to you.  Another problem would be differential treatment, which means that employers could hire only those people whose genes indicate that they are resistant to the health hazards of the work place, which is a cheaper alternative to making the work place safe for all. Eugenics is also a problem when dealing with genetic screening. Social or political pressure could be applied to people to make childbearing decisions based on genetic information. Mating between those with valued genes may be encouraged while mating between two people with dangerous recessive traits may be prohibited. Women carrying fetuses with genetic abnormalities possibly will be encouraged to abort. The last main ethical problem with genetic screening would be genetic determinism, which is the belief that behavioral and personality characteristics, such as intellect or criminal behavior, are mostly a function of genes.

Although many people feel that genetic screening is a bad thing, there are also those who think that it is a great idea. As more tests and studies become available, it is no surprise that new procedures will be available. Although not all new technologies will work to our advantage, many of them will and we need to take that risk so that in the future things will be different. Many people say that technological advances are unnatural, but then again all technology is unnatural. This means that we as humans have been carrying out “unnatural” procedures since the begging of time. If we are given the ability to find the information that genetic screening does, why not use it to our advantage.

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