December 7, 2012

Today’s Hot Topic: Would You Sequence Your Baby’s Genome?


With DNA science becoming more advanced and accessible, parents may have to decide how much genetic info they really want.

By Whitney C. Harris


Would you sequence your baby’s genome? It sounds like a question from some futuristic sci-fi thriller, but it’s slowly becoming a reality for present day parents according to this recent NPR feature by Rob Stein.

Whole genome sequencing–the process of uncovering the entire DNA makeup of a living creature as early as in utero–just might become the next major decision that expectant parents need to make on the journey through pregnancy, as the procedure is becoming more common and less costly. Beyond the ethical quandaries that come with knowing just about all of an unborn baby’s characteristics such as eye color or chances for being diabetic (does the idea of picking and choosing babies make anyone else cringe?), the implications for managing disease are huge. But not every parent will want to take advantage of this potential wealth of information…and information overload.

Stein’s report considers a Virginia woman who gave birth to a premature baby who developed breathing problems. The mother opted for genetic testing but asked doctors to only focus on the problem at hand–and not on all the other potential genetic abnormalities that could lead to other diagnoses down the road.

I have to applaud the mom. At a time when parents seem already overwhelmed and overwrought with information and choices to make, knowing every possible sickness your child could develop based on his or her genetic material would mean further anxiety and confusion for families. I’m all about preventative medicine and would like to prevent human suffering as much as possible, but detailing the inner-workings of our DNA can also be detrimental to leading a normal life full of ups and downs, unknowns and surprises, real emotions and real-life risk. I prefer the idea of future generations experiencing the kind of childhood we enjoyed: discovering our strengths and weakness for ourselves and living in the present.

Maybe I’m nostalgic, but until the science is fully tested and its medical benefits outweigh its emotional and mental health drawbacks, I’d opt out of sequencing my baby’s genome. I often imagine what kind of childhood I want for my baby–one filled with testing boundaries and self-discovery, not calculating risk and making highly measured choices.

Would you want to know what information hides in your unborn child’s genome? Why or why not? Comment below and let us know.

Whitney C. Harris is Deputy Editor of New York Family. She can be reached at wharris@manhattanmedia.com

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