Genetic Testing and Selection of Human Beings

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is now possible for many genetic disorders, including adult-onset cancer, late onset dementia and so called mild disorders like dental disorders. Selection of sperm is possible for sex and selection of sperm to avoid chromosomal disorders is on the horizon. The possibility of selecting characteristics in our offspring through selection of gametes raises new profound issues as this would radically increase the scope and acceptability of selection. There is community acceptance of some of these new applications but there remains division on others.

Is it desirable or permissible to use genetic selection: (1) to create “saviour siblings” to serve as stem cell donors for sick siblings; 2) selection against carriers, adult onset conditions, short stature; 3) Selecting for disability; 4) Sex selection using either sperm sorting or PGD.

Indeed, the most controversial area of genetics involves genes which are associated with non-disease states, such as psychological types, personality traits, intelligence and behaviour in general. This field is known as behavioural genetics - identifying complex genetic predispositions to aggression and criminal behaviour, alcoholism and addiction, anxiety, personality disorders, psychiatric diseases, homosexuality, maternal behaviour, memory and intelligence, neuroticism and novelty seeking. A genetic test (ACTN3) has recently been developed to distinguish potential for sprint or endurance events. This kind of research raises profound issues: should we do such research? How should the results be applied? Should couples be allowed to use genetic tests for non-disease states in reproductive decision making? What does genetics imply about free will and responsibility? What are the implications of such testing for confidentiality and privacy, especially in relation to insurance and employment?