Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: IVF, Breast Cancer and Eugenics

Thursday, May 11, 2006

IVF, Breast Cancer and Eugenics

A recent article from The Guardian explains how a policy change could allow women in the UK to screen out embryos that carry a potential gene that makes them susceptible to breast cancer. The article reads from a point of view that breast cancer could be wiped out.

That is sure a nice thought. Obviously, the idea of a cure for breast cancer is an overwhelming good thought. No one would argue differently.

But it seems that the foundational issue at stake here goes much deeper. Of course no mother would want her daughter to be born with the disease of breast cancer. But let's be honest and ask, would a mother want her daughter to be born with an IQ that is 20 points less than anyone in her class? Or for that matter, to be less athletic or coordinated? Those seem like potentially silly questions, until you realize that only a day later, the question was raised if parents had a "medical obligation" to comply with such a procedure and, this is the kicker, that the process should "not stop at just breast cancer." When you start hearing things like "medical obligation", then you will soon start hearing things like "moral responsibility." So, where does the process stop? And what is our real moral responsibility?

I am torn on the surface of this issue because it seems to make such good sense. Almost a no-brainer. If you can avoid a child having to suffer, then you do it, especially if you are the mother of the child. But, we must be aware of where the path is clearly going. The word is commonly referred to as "Eugenics" and this policy, even if started on an obviously good premise, lands us smack dab in the middle of it. Eugenics means to create healthier, more intelligent people through various forms of reproductive intervention. The issue obviously brings all kinds of ethical problems, as the process stated above involves the killing of one embryo in respect for the superior gene nature of another. Josephine Qintavalle of the lobby group Comment on Reproductive Ethics in the article is quoted saying, "medicine is about caring, not about killing. The right approach is about learning more about the cancer and curing it."

I am interested to hear your comments on this particular topic, so please leave me your remarks. Be blessed.


Blogger Barry said...

For one thing, breast cancer is not a death sentence. Yes, women (and men) do die of breast cancer every year, but not all of them - and more and more are surviving all the time. Which means if an embroyo that may be predisposed to breast cancer is born, he or she won't have to worry about the possibilities of developing the disease for many decades. Medical science by then will push down the cancer mortality rate even further by then than it is now.

Meanwhile, the embryos that are screeneed never...well, you get the picture.

May 11, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

An embryo is a human being. Why stop with embyros? Should we exterminate all toddlers with the genetic predisposition?

Even if breast cancer had 100% mortality rate (which it doesn't), and even if people who got breast cancer were destined to tremendous suffering over a long drawn-out period of time, killing the embyro would be sinful.

We do not have the right to take a human life in order to spare it from suffering. One of the great errors of our age is to automatically equate suffering with evil. We fail to see the good in it, the hand of God. I'm not saying God is the author of disease and pain. But He utilizes it every single day to accomplish His purposes.

Our goal is not to remove suffering. Our goal is to care for those who suffer, to help them see God's grace in the midst of it, to alleviate it however possible, of course, but not to the point of exterminating a human life.

A very nice little book on the subject by hospital chaplain, Rev.Richard Eyer, is "Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering."

May 11, 2006 1:09 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...


Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that allowing medical science to continue to work on more effective cures is the correct process.

Pastor Scott,

A point that I did not address in my post is the natural progression for this line of thinking to lead to infanticide. That word strikes terror in almost everyone's mind and it seems impossible to think of such a thing happening, especially in the US. But, there are already societies and cultures who practice this as a means of intervention and we have a prominent professor and philosopher at Princeton University, who is teaching students, who supports and writes in defense of infanticide.

Part of the defense of his position, and this goes back to my previous post on remaining consistent, is that there is no difference between the abortion process that kills the living embryo and the taking the life of a newborn baby. A quote from the Bold Defense of Infanticide says, "To the dismay of popular abortion advocates, Singer rejects birth as a relevant dividing line between person and nonperson, agreeing with pro-life advocates that there is no ontologically significant difference between the fetus and a newborn. True, there are differences of size, location, dependency, and development, but these are morally irrelevant. “The liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right.”

So, in that regard, at least he is remaining consistent. Nevertheless, it is a subject that we can't just ignore.

May 11, 2006 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Rexwilder said...

To decide how to respond to this issue, you have to decide where you stand on embryo/fetus/life begins. If you believe as Pastor Scott and the Beast does that an embryo is a human being (since Pastor Scott says it right out and the Beast states "that there is no difference between the abortion process that kills the living embryo and the taking the life of a newborn baby" which presupposes that answer), the answer is clear...we don't allow people to go around killing people with breast cancer, and this would be no different. If you don't believe the embryo is a human being yet and it simply a bodily function at that point and has no rights, then by all means, do what you will. It would be similar to removing a cancerous mole from your body in that case. However, I think a lot of people are somewhere in the middle, i.e. they aren't willing to say an embryo is a human being subject to all of "our" rights, but they do believe the embryo is "something" to be respected...and that makes determining when it would be okay to make that type of decision a very vague/personal issue (is it okay if it can be shown the embryo has no brain stem? has only one eye? is/will be a girl? will painfully and violently die within days after the mother gives birth? will kill the mother as the child born?....and on and on). If one does not believe absolutes apply (no matter whether the absolute is 1. an embryo is a human being or 2. an embryo is nothing..both of which make this question pretty easy...if the embryo is a human being apply the same rules as we apply to everyone else, if the embryo is nothing, who cares), these are difficult issues.

May 11, 2006 6:25 PM  
Blogger jbruno said...

It is interesting how the words scientific and liberal are used interchangeably in 2006.

The "embryos" used by scientists in stem cell research are actually "blastocysts," balls of undifferentiated cells. NIH has an entire textbook in pdf form on their website describing in detail what stem cells are and where they come from.

Genetic research falls under the title "euphenics" nowadays, making the field distinct from the Nazi overtones of "eugenics." Some may call it a simple renaming, some not.

I think people forget just how much pressure researchers are put under from moral advisory boards and such, and forget that they too are human beings and wish to seek alleviation of human suffering while answering the call of science.

Scientific progress is a living, breathing entity on its own. If we allow Christian moral tenents to direct a government decision, we risk breaching the church/state separation, falling behind in the world, and losing the chance to discover the truth about how life functions.

Morality will never provide that answer. Slow, careful research can.

Education is the key. Without it we all speak blindly. I think it is time for Americans to stop being fearful and become more educated.

May 11, 2006 9:37 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...


Thanks for your comments. I'm not quite sure if you read my entire post before you commented. You say that "The "embryos" used by scientists in stem cell research are actually "blastocysts," balls of undifferentiated cells."

My post is in reference to a policy change that would allow fully developed embryos to be selected based on their genetic makeup and then implanted into the female. There is nothing "blastocystic" about that. The issue is dealing with the actual birth of children, not just research. Besides, even a blastocyst is still a fertilized egg.

Secondly, you mention the different term for Eugenics, but make no mistake, whether for a good cause such as breast cancer or for more troublesome reasons, the process of reproductive intervention to create a child based on genetic makeup and doing away with the other "flawed" emybyos is the heart of Eugenics. This is not theorized research with this article I have quoted in my post, this is the real deal.

And I'm not following you with your "it is time for Americans to stop being fearful" line.

Thanks again for commenting, I welcome your views.

May 11, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This is rather off topic, but I thought I'd comment. I listened to your music and it's good. I'm all for Christian music, I just wish there were more heavy bands out there. Perhaps I just don't know them yet. Either way, nice work.

May 14, 2006 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Paul, in South Park said...

Please excuse my rather simplistic approach to the subject of abortion and abortion-related topics. I am not of the mental capacity of the many learned folks I read here. But, when will it be time to take a straightforward look at what these issues really are and how people on both sides should be described:

Anti-abortion = Pro-life
Pro-abortion = Pro-death

What does choice have to do with murder?

Secondly, as for the often-used "separation of church and state", I believe the thinking should be reversed in matters of human life...the "state" has no business in what IS a "church" matter.

Wake up America! We are dealing with God,s creation...

May 16, 2006 7:33 PM  

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