Is Ignorance Bliss?
I suppose I should start off by saying that I am no expert in literary analysis. I am a Neuroscience major and pre-med. Your typical House M.D. wanna-be. So you will have to excuse me if my blog posts this semester are more on the scientific side. One thing that I do have some knowledge of is genetics and hereditary diseases. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call it a rudimentary one, but some knowledge all the same.
One of the sections in the NOVA special interested me more than others. Part 12- Finding Disease Genes- discusses the advances being made into finding particular genes, which when mutated, increase your chance for a certain disease. It reminded me of in class when we discussed this misinterpretation of the phrase “gene for…” something. It seems that this could be misleading. At a most basic description it functions like this: DNA(genes)->transcription->mRNA->translation->amino acid (AA1 +AA2…+AAn=protein). So what they mean is that for these hereditary diseases some people inherit a variation of a gene and that variation is pathogenic. A good example for this is Huntington’s Chorea. It is a horrible neurodegenerative disease that is rare within our population. There is a gene on the tip of chromosome 4 that does CODE FOR a protein called Huntingtin who’s function is not clearly understood . Mutations in this gene cause the amino acid sequence to be incorrect and this causes the protein to function improperly. Obviously this is a tragic condition. It is also a very well documented genetic one. In fact, the offspring of an afflicted patient have a 50% chance of getting it. The problem with the disease is that it usually doesn’t manifest until mid-life. So many people have children by the time its discovered, and now their children have a 50% chance of having the mutation. The point that I want to raise here is one raised by this documentary and by many popular movies such as Gattaca. Would you get tested for this genetic mutation if you knew that you have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease? What would a positive result do to your quality of life? I think that these questions are a matter of opinion and personality. Personally I would want to get tested for things like this before I decide to have children. In my opinion playing dice with your child’s future quality of life is very irresponsible. Yes, you might get some 20-30 good years with them, but I wouldn’t want to burden my child with having to make the same decision I would, having to find out at 30 years old that their brain will literally begin shrinking in a few years.
I should say that my opinion is only this strong on diseases that are especially devastating and have a high percentage of hereditability. Things such as alcoholism or obesity can be avoided, sometimes not easily, but they can be. Also, could this future, full of genetic omniscience, be one of discrimination? This obviously was a point raised in Gattaca, but it can be derived from the NOVA special. Would someone refuse to hire a Professor because they knew from his or her records that he or she will get Huntington’s? On average symptoms begin age 35-44, but it can occur later than that. I’m not sure that I have the best perspective on this issue. The only thing I’m at risk for is high blood pressure. It seems though, that we can guarantee that as we gain more knowledge everyone will face this one way or another.