My article in today’s HeadlineBistro.
Yahoo News recently carried a story that reports from the proceedings of the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Stockholm, where a recent study was discussed linking in vitro fertilization (IVF) with an increased incidence in Down Syndrome.
The language in the story is a mess, and care must be taken to vet the verbal engineering contained therein so that the true moral and bioethical implications may be brought into sharp relief. The story may be read here.
First, a summation of the science involved. Investigators analyzed the DNA strands (chromosomes) produced by the divisions of human eggs and counted the chromosome numbers using a new technique (Array Comparative Genomic Hybridisation.) that is highly sensitive to not only differences in chromosome numbers, but also changes in the size and composition of the chromosomes.
Now, just a tiny bit of biology before the analysis.
Recall that all of the instructions for making a human body are contained within the DNA, and a normal human has 46 DNA chromosomes. There are 23 pairs of these chromosomes. One member of each pair comes from the sperm cell and one member of each pair from the egg cell. In persons with Down syndrome, there is an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome. For this reason, we describe the three copies of chromosome #21 as “Trisomy 21.”
During the development of the egg, or ovum, the chromosomes are replicated, so that there is twice the normal number. It isn’t important to get into all of the why’s here. Suffice it to say that before a sperm cell can successfully fertilize the egg, the egg must jettison its extra copies of the chromosomes, leaving one member of each pair to pair with their partner from the sperm. The jettisoned chromosomes are contained in little pods called “polar bodies.”
The study in question analyzed the number of chromosomes in the polar bodies to determine how successfully the DNA divided in the eggs. This was done after the fertilization of the eggs by the sperm. If all went according to plan, there should have been the same number of chromosomes in the polar bodies as in the eggs. If not, then unequal division is responsible.
To make a long story short, in a study of 34 women’s (average age of 40) polar bodies it was found that there was a significant incidence of chromosomal abnormality. It is being hypothesized that the powerful hormones given to women in order to stimulate release of several eggs may very well loosen the molecular glue that holds chromosome pairs together prior to cell division, and that is the factor responsible for the unequal distribution of chromosomes.
Now for the verbal engineering.
“After IVF hormone stimulation, fertilised eggs bore patterns of chromosome abnormalities that were quite distinct from abnormalities in eggs that had been harvested naturally,” said Alan Handyside, the research team’s leader.
The article continues:
The new test helps pinpoint healthy eggs and damaged eggs, enabling doctors to advise a woman whether it is worth the emotional and financial investment to try for a pregnancy, said Handyside.
… “But for another group we will be able to say, ‘actually it’s good news, only about half of your eggs were abnormal, so you have a good likelihood of getting pregnant.’ And at the same time we can screen and reduce the possibility of having a Down’s child.”
First, it should be noted that the popular literature is saturated with the term, “fertilized eggs.” This is another dehumanizing and developmentally misleading term. The truth is that there is no such thing as a fertilized egg, unless one is willing to claim that there are over 6 billion fertilized human eggs walking the planet today. The truth is that the act of fertilization brings about an immediate end to the sperm and egg cells as such, and causes a human embryo to come into existence. The human embryo in its single-celled stage is called a zygote, not a “fertilized egg.”
Next, note how the clinician will approach the woman in the third quote. Note how the woman will be told that half of her eggs were abnormal. This can only be ascertained by analyzing the polar bodies, which are jettisoned AFTER fertilization. Thus, what is being said is that half of the woman’s offspring are headed for the trash can in the lab. These aren’t defective eggs. These are handicapped humans in their earliest stages of development.
Welcome to Twenty-first Century eugenics, the intolerance of imperfection in other human beings. In fairness to the parents undergoing IVF, nobody aspires to conceiving children who will be handicapped. It certainly wasn’t the aspiration my wife and I shared nineteen years ago when we married. However, God saw fit to permit us the privilege of having a son with autism, and our lives were forever changed for the better in the process.
We’ve learned an invaluable lesson raising Joseph. He has no imperfections, only additional needs. His additional needs have placed demands on us that have uncovered every selfish and self-centered appetite in us and challenged us to grow. In a narcissistic and hedonistic culture such as ours, such demands are intolerable to most, and those making them are being dispatched with increasing ruthlessness and efficiency.
The eugenics of the early Twentieth Century did not begin with Hitler’s Third Reich. It began decades before in the medical community. At the culmination in 1945 of those terrible events the world vowed, “Never again!”
It is a distant echo that is ringing increasingly hollow.