Ethical & Social Issues of Genetic Screening (Edexcel International A Level Biology)

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Naomi H

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Ethical & Social Issues of Genetic Screening

  • Some circumstances, e.g. in a pregnancy where there is a family history of a genetic disorder, may require individuals to determine if they have a particular allele present in their genome; this can be determined by genetic screening
  • As genetic screening can leave future parents with many questions, genetic counsellors are available to help
    • Counsellors can be seen before screening has occurred; they may discuss the following with the prospective parents
      • The probability of the couple having a child with a genetic disorder
      • Termination of the pregnancy
      • Therapeutic treatments possible for the child
      • Financial implications of having the child
      • Effect on existing siblings
      • Ethical issues
    • After screening the counsellors will read the results and explain them to the future parents
  • Each use of genetic screening brings potential concerns that should be considered; these concerns will differ depending on someone's religious, moral, and social position, e.g.
    • Belief that God is in control may mean that a pregnancy will be continued no matter what genetic screening might show
    • Belief that embryos are potential human beings from conception would mean that the discarding of embryos after embryo screening or the abortion of a foetus at any stage would be considered impossible
    • Belief that abortion is only acceptable up to a certain stage of pregnancy may mean that screening techniques that are carried out later in pregnancy can't lead to termination
    • Some may feel that it is unethical to bring a child into the world who will struggle with health issues, or who they will be unable to care for properly; this may mean that abortion is considered to be the most ethical option
    • Processes that involve screening embryos could allow for embryos to be selected on the basis of factors other than genetic health, e.g. sex or intelligence; many are concerned about the potential future of 'designer babies'
    • Some cultures may have different traditions around genetic disorders, e.g. with abortion considered to be more acceptable by some cultures than others
    • Positive screening results for non life-threatening conditions, e.g. Down syndrome, can lead to the abortion of foetuses that could have gone on to live full and happy lives; some feel that such conditions are being eradicated from society
    • An embryo or unborn baby has no ability to give consent or make decisions about its future; some believe that they are deserving of full human rights while others do not

Exam Tip

Make sure that you are able to give a balance of arguments from different ethical viewpoints; you may have personal views on some the issues covered, but you should avoid sticking to only one side of any argument.

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Naomi H

Author: Naomi H

Naomi graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in Biological Sciences. She has 8 years of classroom experience teaching Key Stage 3 up to A-Level biology, and is currently a tutor and A-Level examiner. Naomi especially enjoys creating resources that enable students to build a solid understanding of subject content, while also connecting their knowledge with biology’s exciting, real-world applications.

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