There are many types of illnesses and conditions that seriously reduce quality of life and life span, yet time and time again people plan children when they know that there is a high risk of the genetic disease or condition being passed on to the child.
- A person with Cystic Fibrosis has a 50% chance of passing it on to a child, if the partner has an unexpressed gene for it and a 100% chance of passing on the unexpressed gene for it to children if the partner does not have the gene.
- A person with Marfan Syndrome has a 50% chance of passing it on to a child.
- A male with Hemophilia will pass the carrier gene on to all girl children, allowing them to have infected sons or carrier daughters.
- Muscular Dystrophy works the same way as hemophilia.
As well, there is some thought now that psychiatric disorders such as clinical depression, schizophrenia and bipolor disorder can be inherited. Genetic research is now being done to see whether there truly is a link.
Even if a link has not yet been proven, it does appear to run in families. I've talked to many people, on and off line, who have this or similar disorders and was not surprised to find that a parent had it, along with siblings and other close relations. Many times they feel it runs in their family, too, and they feel their children will probably suffer from it.
On women.com, which used to have a lively, fairly intelligent message base going before it got absorbed by iVillage and turned into stereotypical girlie tripe, there were several bipolar mothers who were having problems with their bipolar children, or worrying about problems later in life if their children were diagnosed. All these women had children on purpose, after being diagnosed, and with the knowledge that they would have a good chance of passing it onto their children. (Regardless of scientific validity, it was their belief and that's what's important.)
I asked these women how they could, in good conscience, pass along a debilitating condition that they were suffering from and hated. Across the board, the answers were selfish. The most striking was, "I deserve to be happy." I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that without being insulting, so I didn't, but I was very disturbed. As well, women were complaining that all 3, or all 4, or all 5 of their children had ADHD and they were concerned their latest pregnancy might produce a similar child. I was staggered. If all your children had serious personality disorders, why would you keep having children? When I asked, the answer was, again, a selfish one. "Because I want to," "Because I like having children," or "Because I like being a mother."
I can write off the lack of common sense or compassion in those with psychiatric conditions because, well... they have psychiatric conditions, but I wonder if this incredible selfishness is the same reason that those with purely physical conditions feel the need to take the risk that they will pass their suffering on to their children. In the future, perhaps even the near future, there will probably be a way to weed out those genes so that people who suffer from genetic diseases can safely have children, but we're not there yet. Until we are there, what do we do?
I say "we" because it is more than just a family problem, it is a societal problem. For those with physical disorders it's mainly a fiscal problem. We're doling out money for worse causes than medical treatment for sick children, so I'm not really complaining about that. For those with psychiatric disorders, should they be proven to be genetic, the problems are more widespread. Untreated, manic phase bipolar individuals can be dangerous to themselves and others. (I knew someone who went off his medication, started a bar fight, and last I heard is on the run with a charge of attempted murder against him.)
Should people with disorders like this be counseled against having children? Objectively, I'd say yes... it's the responsible, practical and compassionate thing to do. It's the ultimate act of selfishness to bring a child into the world that you know will die young after a short life of suffering, yet, who am I to tell someone, "You're not good enough to breed"?
Any ideas, or do we just sit tight and wait for medical science to come up with a way to weed out defective genes?