Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who is PNS for?

PreNatal Screening is the process in which many genetic abnormalities and birth defects can be detected before birth.  But when someone screens a fetus, who are they doing it for?

It seems like there are two obvious possible answers.  The first one is the baby, the other is for the mother or parents.  But neither are terribly satisfying answers.

Lets say for the sake of argument that Milly gets a prenatal screening on her fetus.  The test returns a positive hit for Down's syndrome, and for the sake of argument, its not a false positive.  If this is for the sake of the fetus, then the parents should now be either marshalling resources to take the best care they can for their baby, or terminate the preganacy to spare it suffering.

But how can an abortion be in the interest of the baby?  Its not like Down's syndrome is so debilitating that the baby cannot have a happy life. 

If the screening is for the parent's interest, then the preganacy should be terminated, and the parents can try again, which would save them a huge amount of money and medical resources that could be spent on other people.

If its for the interest of the baby, then shouldn't we mandate that all women have prenatal screenings, to ensure that the parents can marshal the resources needed for the disabled baby if it is disabled?

If its in the interest of the parents, then how could we possibly mandate such an invasive test?


  1. Are you sure this is a situation where you can clearly say that it's for the benefit of one or the other consistently?

    I'm sure that some parents are screening only to protect the health of their baby and to make sure that any fixable defects are treated to prevent any future problems that would otherwise have been preventable. And I'm well aware that plenty of people have chosen to abort after a positive screening for Down's Syndrome and the realization that they may not be able to adequately care either for or about a child with this condition.

    I don't think that this is something that can be mandated as I believe it's impossible to judge anyone's personal motivations.

  2. But if PNS is for the baby's benefit, then how can the parents justify aborting?

    I think it makes sense to say that PNS is for the parents almost exclusively, and not for the baby's benefit, even though thats what people say.

    Practically, we don't mandate it, but there is this huge social pressure for people to care for their babies in a particular way. If people don't get a PNS they're being irresponsible. Its a pretty regular test now.

  3. I agree with you Wayne; however,some can argue that these tests are for the babie's benefit because if a baby had to choose between being born with malformations/disabilities or coming back at another time, but healthy, then they would choose the latter of the two. When asked this question, most people would agree. First, and above pro-life and pro-abortion, we all have a right to the best quality of life possible. With that being said, thanks to technology we can now decide wether to bring children into this world and and a vital factor in this decision is wether the child will have a good quaity of life or not. This also depends on the extreme of the dissability of course. On the other hand, If the parents have the time, energy and resources, then who are we to judge them? so long as we are not spending our own tax money for their kid's medical and special education bills.

  4. Going back to Plato: "This then is the kind of medical and judicial provision for which you will legislate in your state. It will provide treatment for those of your citizens whose physical and psychological constitution is good; as for the others, it will leave the unhealthy to die, and those whose psychological constitution is incurably corrupt it will put to death. That seems to be the best thing for both the individual sufferer and for society." He further states: "we must look at our offspring from every angle to make sure we are not taken in by a lifeless phantom not worth the rearing."
    Plato seems harsh in his use of language, but the concept is there; don't bring weakness into the world and where it is found, get rid of it.

  5. Makes me wonder how far along we go with this train of logic though... Gattaca? Would we abort a child if through testing we determined his/her IQ would be less than average? Height/weight ratio less than satisfactory? Hair/eye color not desired? Is this a slippery slope?

  6. yes its a slippery slope, since it assumes all of these things are genetically determined, and clearly they arn't.

    And people's values and preferences vary wildly. So whereas one person may think XYZ are the epitome of qualities in a person, others will clearly disagree... So the likelihood of a monocultured humanity is virtually nil.

  7. On the point of genetic determinism, assume that the human genome is fully mapped and explored. From this we can pinpoint factors that lead to certain traits, such as hair color, eye color, probablities of every known disease (even cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's, etc). By looking at the genes they could even tell within a certain range of probability what height the offspring will attain; kids tend to be a bit taller than both parents if both parents are roughly the same height and they are raised in optimal conditions - nutrition. However, even if parents heights are similar (very tall father, very short mother for example), they may still take after one or the other's recessive genes, based on whichever gene becomes dominant in the pairing; I see examples of this in my own family where my 6'5" half-brother took after the tall maternal grandfather's genes and my 5'3" half-sister took after the paternal grandmother's short genes. Physical characteristics are very strongly determined by genetics. Controvertial as it may be, I don't think it is much of a leap to say that a person's potential is determined by genetics. A person's likelihood of suffering from a disease that has genetic factors (I'd argue all diseases do) is also determined by genes. Intelligence is also somewhat determined by genes; if you don't agree, consider that a banana is genetically different from a chimp is genetically different from a human. Each has a physical and mental potential determined by their genes. The banana is not going to be smarter than the chimp is not going to be smarter than the human, assuming the human doesn't have any problem with its potential; a problem with its potential in this case determined by its genes. True, the chimp is close to human in its potential for intelligence, but isn't quite there, the genes prohibit it reaching fully human intelligence. In the same way, a human with faulty genes will not have the same potential as a human with "normal" genes will not have the same potential as a human with exceptional genes. If physical characteristics influence intelligence (cranial capacity, brain folds, blood volume, lack of disease) and physical characteristics are influenced by genes, then it follows that genes influence potential for intelligence. Not determine, but influence. If that is the case, then as with Gattaca, the future of genetic engineering and decisions to abort or keep a child based upon the parents satisfaction with the genetic makeup becomes a very-real and slightly scary possibility. I don't disagree that parents will have different asthetic choices in hair, skin, eye color, physique, etc. But I don't think that parents would prefer a child to have less potential for genius, more succeptability to disease, a higher probability of obesity, etc. A mono-cultured humanity is unlikely, but the likelihood of genetically modified humans excelling over those who are not is rather high.

  8. *Not Similar (regarding Parent height)