Genetic Engineering and Consanguinamory

Well folks, another day, another great topic up for discussion at Kindred Spirits. This time it’s genetic engineering and it’s relevance to us as a community. After responding to the thread, I thought it deserved an article of it’s own because I hadn’t covered it yet and it’s something that could potentially be of great importance to us at some point in the future.

As we all know too well, one of the most commonly cited objections to the legalization of incest is the ‘mutant babies’ argument, namely that incest leads to disabilities and deformities in the resulting children. While most often this is not the case, and most babies born to consang parents are healthy, we must accept and acknowledge that we do bear greater risks than our regular counterparts. Therefore the choice to bear a child must be taken very carefully, ideally after genetic testing to ensure that we are fully aware of any genetic nasties which may be lurking unseen, and the risks of these abnormalities being expressed should a baby be conceived.

Like all parents, consang couples want their offspring to be as healthy as they can be, and this is where the subject of genetic engineering comes in. Now, I know that the thought of genetic engineering fills peoples heads with horrendous experiments gone wrong. It helps none that labs are creating corn crops which contain their own pesticide which kills bees, other vital insect life and field mice whilst contaminating the land, they’ve made bioluminescent pigs and cats, and even goats which produce spider silk, and probably MUCH more than that. Such things are true abominations, animal abuse, contamination of the food chain, and they make me question the sanity of those conducting these awful experiments.

However, with regards to our community, these things are far removed from the potential benefits which genetic engineering can have when the technology and science is used responsibly. Here, I am speaking of the type of genetic engineering which replaces a faulty gene with a healthy copy (one which already exists within the gene pool of the organism thus not introducing anything foreign) with the view to preventing serious and debilitating conditions which limit the quantity and quality of life. Used this way, genetic engineering should not create such a degree of moral or ethical quandry, and nor should it have significant impact on the evolution of our species.

Say we have a hypothetical brother and sister couple, they’re both young and healthy, but a genetic test reveals that they both carry arecessive ‘bad copy’ of a gene which could lead to a debilitating condition, but have a good dominant copy and so neither sibling is expressing the disease. If they chose to have a baby, there is a 25% chance that the child will express homozygous recessive ‘bad copy’ genes (meaning the child has the genetic disease), a 25% chance of homozygous healthy copy genes (the child doesn’t carry ANY copy of the bad genes), and a 50% chance of the child having heterozygous bad and healthy genes like the parents (recessive bad copy, but dominant healthy copy). So, all in all, a 75% chance that the baby will be okay, and a 25% chance that it will express the disease. Yes, I know this is a very simplistic example because many diseases are caused by more than one gene, but it’s sufficient that you get the general idea.

At this point, the couple have a choice, they could forego having children of their own and adopt one instead, she could use a sperm bank (which would make the pregnancy the same risk as for regulars), they could take their chances and hope that they get a favourable outcome, or they could ensure that their child will be healthy by using genetic engineering. If they go for this procedure, it would mean that an egg would be taken from her ovary, and he would need to provide a sperm sample. They would then choose a sperm with the ‘healthy copy’ gene to fertilize the egg, which would then be implanted into her uterus at the correct time in her monthly cycle. This would be the max that would need to be done to ensure that the baby is healthy without actually tampering with the gene pool. The child would be 100% genetically theirs, but without playing the genetic lottery. In essence, it would be a glorified test tube baby.

Morally, I see no problem in such a scenario. We’re not contaminating the gene pool with foreign genetic codes from other species, we’re not talking about designer babies and all the ethical considerations that brings, not least it’s potential impact on our evolution. We’re simply talking about disease prevention, and removing the ‘mutant babies’ argument from the table of our critics. The technology exists, and it can be used in this restricted and responsible way to prevent unnecessary suffering. It is not only our people that could benefit from it’s use, but also regulars who carry bad genes which can effect the health of their children. Remember, regular pregnancies aren’t risk free either. What about people with Huntingtons disease and stuff like that? Wouldn’t the lives of their kids be better off if they can guarantee that they’re are not going to suffer a serious degenerative condition? Of course.

It may not be such an issue right now because people object to genetic engineering for a wide range of reasons, including religious objections. However, at some point in the future, this technology will be roled out for wider medical use, and when it is, it should be used responsibly and it can be of great benefit to anyone who has concerns about the genetic health of their children. For us, it will knock ‘mutant babies’ straight off the table, further weakening the argument of our opponents. If used responsibly, this technology has the potential to do a lot of good in the world, for a lot of people. It is not a thing to be feared, it’s called progress, but like with many things, the more we know, the greater our responsibility to use such technology wisely.

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