Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Preventing Personality

Genetic tests may soon be available to test for autism in an embryo or fetus. In theory, this would warn parents of their child's fate soon enough to prevent the whole affair by aborting the pregnancy or, through gene therapy, eliminate the trait but save the child. The concern in the article is that people with a kind of genius that their disorder enables them to have will be eliminated before they are given the chance to achieve. My concern is that autism and other psychological disorders are merely extreme forms of certain personalities. If we try to get rid of them genetically, we risk losing more than we bargain for - not just the individuals with unique potential, but each and every one of us with personality quirks that make us who we are. This is similar to my concern that we are drugging away our personalities with psychoactive drugs that should be reserved for more extreme cases.

Autism and it's cousin, Asperger's, are of particular concern to me because it has been shown that children with autism have 2 1/2 times as many engineers in their family as other children. Not to mention, I am frighteningly close to the profile of someone with Asperger's. Difficulty with transition stood out to me. My dad has used those exact words to describe me. My children are doomed. I really should just adopt.

Stepping away from the hypochondria for a moment, will parents really get so picky as to choose their child's personality? Like cybernetic implants, I don't see genetic manipulation of the pre-born becoming widespread for medically unnecessary cases. However, parents who can afford gene therapy may well be driven to do anything they can to improve their child's chances for success. They may, in their fervor, either create a wholing uninteresting person or someone whose personality is so extreme in one direction, they may create a disorder where one did not exist before. Autism, after all, has a mirror. It's called Williams syndrome. I don't think it's as simple as giving the kid all the good genes. There is give and take. How many skills can co-exist in one person before some of them start to suffer? If you start to mess with healthy genes, even if the process is perfect with no risk of causing an out and out genetic defect, you're going to have a lot of unforseen problems. Given the current state of gene therapy, I think we have a ways to go before we need to worry about casual gene therapy. May we learn from the mistakes we are making now with pharmaceuticals before that power is unleashed on the general public.