For further comment on this topic see our editorial on page 12 of this issue.
A revolution is underway. Its long-range effects promise to be more dramatic than those of the Copernican, Industrial, and Darwinian revolutions. The combined results of research and application in genetics, brain physiology, pharmacology, and psychology present us with the prospects of fundamental changes in human values, functioning, and relationships.
The human engineering revolution refers to the modification of human beings through genetic, physiological, or psychological intervention. Human engineering could begin at four points: before conception; at conception; prenatally; postnatally.
Prior to conception, controlling the number of births may be exercised through contraception or sterilization. When used with genetic screening, either of these procedures may also serve as quality control techniques. If genetic screening suggests that a baby might be defective, parents can choose whether or not to keep the child and whether they should try to reproduce at all. Such selective reproduction will affect the human gene pool and the occurrence of genetic defects.
Approximately 250,000 defective births occur annually in the United States, about 20 per cent of known genetic causes. More than 2,000 genetically distinct defects have been identified. The annual cost of institutionalizing people with Downs syndrome is $1.7 billion. About 5 million couples now need genetic counseling. Today, it’s the couple’s decision to risk having defective children. Tomorrow, it may be the government’s. Famine, overpopulation, and the cost of institutions may change who decides who can procreate.
Couples may end up childless if they are ...1
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