Genetics & Health Symposium: Down Syndrome

Our last project before our semester final was to pick a disease or disorder that interests you, and find out ALL you can about it with the caveat that you must be able to discern where the exact gene that causes the mutation is located.  My partner Michelle and I decided to choose Down Syndrome because this syndrome is huge, affecting many people in America. However, Down Syndrome is not a single gene…Down Syndrome is the presence of a whole extra chromosome! To find out more, check out our voice thread and feel free to leave feedback!


Cracking the Code

In watching Cracking The Code of Life, I learned all about two companies competing to see who could map out the whole human genome first. One was known as the Human Genome Project, and their mission (funded by the government!!) was to crack the code of our genome and through doing so, also understand genetic issues like diseases and disorders. The other group was known as Celera and was a private business striving to complete Human DNA in order to ensure fame and also a monetary increase being that this company planned to sell their information to future researchers.

In class, we questioned as to whether or this was ethically sensible, selling genetic information for a fee as opposed to leaving the information open for research that would benefit humanity as a whole. While I do not think to be money hungry is ethically sound, I also understand the need for an incentive. Money drives many people, and driven people make discoveries, so if money is needed to motivate people to find cures and solutions, then bring on the money!

Also in class, we discussed the ethics behind being able to determine if your unborn baby will be born healthy (disease and disorder free), and whether or not an unhealthy baby warrants an abortion. I feel as though if I knew my baby would live a short life in pain due to a disease like Tay-Sachs, I would terminate the pregnancy. I also feel as though if someone knew their baby would be born needing care that they cannot afford, terminating the pregnancy is verifiable.

However, I do not believe knowing this information would be good for humanity because I worry that fetus genetic information could be a slippery slope. What starts with Tay-Sachs (a disease where a baby is normal until about 3 to 6 months and then begins to showcase horrible symptoms and sequentially does not live past infancy), could be used to genetically create the perfect child, like in the movie Gattaca. Down Syndrome can be detected while the infant is still in the womb, and studies show that due to these tests, there has been a sharp decrease in the birth of babies with Down Syndrome. Therefore I wonder if other genetic traits can be detected, would these babies also be aborted? If so, the human race as a whole could face slowly decreasing genetic diversity which opens a whole new can of worms itself!!

But let’s get back to the movie Cracking the Code of Life, which I really enjoyed! I love discussing genetics and the ethical questions we all must ponder when discussing new technology. Yes, being able to detect diseases that would make your unborn baby’s life horrible and painful would be beneficial. Also thinking of the amazing advances that could lead to cures for other awful diseases, makes me really want to support issues like this. Yet at the same, genetic diversity is extremely important (hello natural selection?!) and if you have seen Gattaca, you know that once people can start planning and create their babies, the end game is not pretty.

I recommend everyone watch this movie! And when you are finished, ask yourself what do you believe.