Should we be concerned about “complex genetic tests” being offered to parents ahead of in vitro fertilization (IVF, a popular fertility treatment that involves implanting embryos—read: babies—in a womb). And if so, why? Well, that depends on your worldview.
An editorial recently appeared in Nature.com titled, “The alarming rise of complex genetic testing in human embryo selection.” In this article, the author raises the alarm regarding
The emergence of companies that offer prospective parents complex genetic tests on embryos . . . The companies claim to be able to predict the risk of many common diseases — including those influenced by dozens or even hundreds of genes. People undergoing IVF are then offered the chance to select an embryo with a perceived low relative risk of developing such diseases.
In other words, these companies are offering parents tests that claim to be able to accurately provide “polygenic risk scores” for various conditions, including diabetes, certain types of heart disease, cancers, and autoimmune disorders. This is in addition to other “screens” provided that test embryos for more serious conditions and for “viability.” Based on this information, the parents can then “select” the most promising embryo. Think about what that means: real children, made in God’s image with eternal souls, have been created in a petri dish and are being studied and analyzed to see which child the parents should pick to continue growing! The others are discarded—a clinical way of saying “killed”—or frozen to perhaps be used another time.
Is such testing a good thing?
Is such testing a good thing? The author argues that bioethicists and scientists need to be having conversations about that:
The selection of embryos on the basis of these predictions is not yet supported by science. Moreover, the societal implications of using complex genetic tests to choose embryos has not yet been fully considered . . .
They could trigger the unnecessary destruction of viable embryos or induce women to undergo extra cycles of ovarian stimulation to collect more oocytes.
But we shouldn’t be concerned merely because the tests aren’t yet “supported by science” or because we can’t “fully consider” what might happen if we continue down the path of genetic testing (Though both of those are concerning, they aren’t the ultimate reason Christians should be against this kind of testing).
We should be concerned because we aren’t talking about dogs, monkeys, or daffodils—we’re talking about living human beings!
We should be concerned because we aren’t talking about dogs, monkeys, or daffodils—we’re talking about living human beings! Embryos, though small, are humans. They aren’t developing into humans. Each embryo is a person, with all the genetic information that makes that person unique already present. That embryo is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), fearfully and wonderfully knit together (Psalm 139:13–14) with whatever combination of DNA the Lord gave that child.
Now, in a fallen world we understand that genetic mistakes and predispositions to disease and various conditions are a reality. It’s a result of sin in our broken world and in no way negates how each human is knit together by the Creator himself. We are fully human, made in God’s image right from fertilization.
We should be horrified that such testing is continuing here and around the world, as children are losing their lives, sometimes as research “participants” and sometimes because of parents’ decisions after genetic counseling.
The Nature.com author notes the potential death of children due to this research by saying, “[These tests] could trigger the unnecessary destruction of viable embryos.” Such clinical wording, “viable embryos,” makes it sound as if we’re simply discussing a kidney or lung transplant. But we’re not. Embryos, “viable” or not, are each made in God’s image, and it isn’t our place as fallible, sinful humans to decide who lives and who dies. Sadly, we’re seeing people acting as their own god.
Get More Answers on Answers News
This item was discussed yesterday on Answers News with cohosts Rob Webb, Bodie Hodge, and Dr. Gabriela Haynes. Answers News is our twice-weekly news program filmed live before a studio audience and broadcast on my Facebook page and the Answers in Genesis Facebook page. We also covered the following topics:
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- Teachers forced to use transgender pronouns
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This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.