Matters Of Debate | Issue 17

Matters Of Debate | Issue 17

That in-utero genetic screening should be made compulsory

This column is written by the Otago University Debating Society, which meets for social debating every Tuesday at 6pm in the Commerce Building

Affirmative, by By Squealer the Pig

The decision to enter or continue parenthood is, for most, a serious and deliberate process and there are many factors that affect this decision. It often means recognising the reality of sacrifices that are going to have to be made financially, socially, and personally in order to raise their child in a loving, caring environment. Mandatory genetic screening, the capacity for the genes of a foetus to be tested for any potential defects or genetic disorders would give parents the preemptive ability to change or to adjust these considerations appropriately. Since the raising of a child with a genetic disorder of any kind often means investment of time, money, and energy beyond that of a normal child.

We don't stand for the introduction of eugenic abortion and factory babies. Under most current practices, parents are offered the option of having the genes of their foetus tested for certain genetic diseases; this would be an extension of the services that are already being offered. This is a positive for those parents who carry some sort of dormant or active gene for a specific disease like Parkinson's or Huntington’s and want to assurance of its absence or presence in their child's DNA.

At the core of this debate are the parents. By creating a system that enables parents to test the DNA of their children they're able to make as rational a decision as possible, and we all benefit from this. Because on a wide scale what we can expect to see is significantly more parents who are going to be better equipped and better prepared for raising their children - based on what adjustments may be required or services that may need to be accessed accordingly.  

But there's another good that is generated from the implementation of anything that's compulsory: funding. The Health sector: mental health, disability, service providers should see a big boost to their funding as increased demand for those services to be provided and are implemented to a higher standard. 

At the end of the day no harm can actually be generated as a result of this - it's always going to be an act in the best interest of parents and actually for what is going to be a non-issue for most parents the reassurance is always preferable.

Negative, by Old Major

In this debate we must respect the autonomy and privacy of individuals, but we must also value those individuals’ non-consenting unborn children. The affirmative side wants to say that because there are so many practical benefits to in-utero genetic screening, making it compulsory should be supported. However, this argument is about more than just practicality. We must be careful when we talk about the precedents we set, the sort of culture we create around children, and the lives we want them to live.

There are ethical and moral concerns to discuss when we think of genetic-screening, let alone making it compulsory. The issue with making something compulsory is that it's non-negotiable. Parents should be given the ability to make a decision whether or not they want to have their child's DNA screened. It's true that for most parents, there might be no need or concern. But when parents aren't given the ability to opt-out and parent the way they choose, it’s problematic. For some families, genetic screening is a necessary option available and they benefit greatly. However, it is not something that a state or any government should ever enforce on people. Parents deserve the right and opportunity to be introduced to parenthood, and not have the identity and perception of their baby determined by what their genes say. 

The worth of a potential future child’s life may be decided on based on the result of a screening. There is underlying social pressure for parents of children with disability to abort. While the affirmative may argue that eugenics are not what they’re after - that doesn’t mean that social expectations and inequalities are going to disappear overnight. Even if they choose to keep the child, making genetic screening compulsory may force parents to view and identify disabled children by their disabilities and not as people. All children deserve the right to be seen as people, whose identities extend beyond their appearances or disabilities and that's not something that we should diminish or change.

Screening should be the choice of the parents involved. Anything involving the testing of a pregnant person should be optional, not mandatory. 

This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2016.
Posted 12:48pm Sunday 31st July 2016 by Otago University Debating Society.