The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction.
With a title that is sure to catch a reader's eye, this book draws us in to think of a world in which sexual intercourse will no longer serve a role in reproduction. In this book, Stanford University law professor Henry Greely examines a putative world in which sperm and egg cells could be made from skin cells to produce embryos that would be genetically screened before given a chance to develop fully. In his writing, Greely coins the term "easy preimplantation genetic diagnosis" (EPGD) and predicts that this will be a standard tool used in producing offspring in the relatively near future.
Based on our current knowledge of genetics and stem cells, and the rate at which we have acquired such knowledge, Greely outlines what is needed with regard to scientific advancements and predicts that a world as portrayed in the movie Gattaca or read about in Brave New World is merely twenty to forty years away. He describes a future in which children can be born from parents who never existed, gay and lesbian couples can have biological offspring together, disease-causing mutations could be wiped out in a generation, individuals could have offspring with themselves, and parents could discard embryos based on the lack of desired traits.
In predicting this future world, Greely writes so that the topic is accessible to a broad audience. He begins by giving "a nonscientist guide" to readers so they can understand the scientific foundation that will allow EPGD to become a reality. He then discusses what will be needed by way of scientific advancement to make EPGD an affordable reality. As one digests the advancements that will be needed, one begins to see the benefits and complications of such a world. In the third part of his book, Greely walks the reader through several implications for society of genetically screening embryos in order to select for certain traits.
I find it interesting that the author begins his book by discrediting his authority. He admits that he "last took a biology course at the age of fifteen" and concedes that his book "gives a nonscientist a guide," as he is a lawyer not a scientist.
The first six chapters of the book make an attempt to give the reader an overview of the pertinent science relating to genetically diagnosing embryos. There were only a couple of times I cringed as I read through those early chapters. There were several errors/over-simplifications, and I was disappointed that the author touches only briefly on epigenetics (a mere page and a half). However, the first part of the book is not intended for scientists, and it does provide an interesting example of how someone with little to no scientific background can work toward an understanding of the field. The author does a nice job of explaining scientific concepts in a manner that nonscientists will likely be able to grasp.
Greely provides many examples of scientific advancements in the past and relevant legal cases with regard to human rights. In doing so, Greely gives his audience the tools to begin to wrestle with some of the important questions. Have the scientific and legal communities really examined the trajectory we are on? Do we want to live in a world in which we have parents genetically selecting which offspring should be given a chance at life? How do we educate those without a scientific background so they can make informed decisions when it comes to utilizing genetic diagnosis? What future injustices are we setting up? Who gets to say what traits are allowable, and which ones should be selected against? Can we, and should we, implement regulations of such a technology? Whom do we permit to enforce laws?
Ideally, the book will motivate Christian readers to think about where we want to go with the plausible scientific advances now on the horizon. We need to participate in ongoing discussions pertaining to genetic testing and stem-cell-related advances. However, we need to be aware not only of the subject matter but also of our audience. For example, the author points out that he is unwilling to engage in conversations with people who cite biblical references to argue that utilizing genetics to select embryos and choosing genetic traits for offspring is wrong. Greely clearly states that he is a consequentialist when it comes to ethical dilemmas and expresses that it is "surprisingly difficult" to find religious positions pertaining to EPGD, claiming he could not readily find a central authority figure who addresses the technologies on the horizon. As Christians, this should give us pause. Hopefully, we will contemplate and discuss what role Christians will/should play in answering these questions. Ideally, we can all participate in this discussion in a respectful and informed manner.
Choosing to have a child is a major decision many wrestle with. Imagine now a world in which we have to wrestle with what traits we want that child to have. In The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, Greely calls us to learn as much as we can before this technology fully exists, so that we can be equipped to make informed decisions.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Y. Heeg, Associate Professor of Biology, Northwestern College, Orange City, IA 51041.
by Henry T. Greely. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. 381 pages. Hardcover; $35.00. ISBN: 0674728963.
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|Author:||Greely, Henry T.|
|Publication:||Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2016|
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