A little while back I put up a post about progress in DNA screening and what it might mean for arguments about needing access to the medical history of the people we get our gametes from. With that in mind I wanted to put up a quick link to this story. (For a more popular press version of the same story, try this link. If you want to go the other direction, here’s the source journal article.)
The gist of these stories is that it is now possible to provide preconception screening for 448 severe recessive childhood diseases. (That’s the number from the abstract. I don’t know why the press says 580.) That’s notable for two reasons, I think.
First, anyone doing ART with third-party gametes or anyone providing third-party gametes (sperm and egg banks) can screen the gametes for those diseases. (One story says the cost might be around $400, which isn’t chicken-feed but also isn’t that much in the grand scheme of ART.) This would be a far more reliable indicator than even the best family medical history. While this might raise ethical issues (see, e.g. Gattaca) it’s an important development in what ART can offer.
Second, any individuals thinking of reproducing without ART can have themselves screened in order to understand the possible risks of reproduction. Here, too, the screening would be more useful than having even complete family medical histories. (I wanted to stress complete because for so many people who are being raised by the people who provided the gametes for their creation, family medical histories are incomplete. I, for example, know that I had a grandmother who died quite young but I do not know what she died of, nor is there anyone I can ask.)
And here, too, the knowledge the screening provides brings with it difficult questions. Some Orthodox Jewish communities have devised dating programs that take genetic composition into account. (Here’s an personal account of the choices one might be faced with.)
This isn’t the future anymore. It is the present. While individuals may choose whether or not to be screened, it is easy to imagine that this type of screening, for better or for worse, will increasingly be the norm.