One Wrong Letter
“One defective letter out of 3 billion and no way to fix it,” is the phrase used to describe Tay-Sachs disease in the 3rd episode of NOVA’s Cracking the Code of Life. I got pretty upset while watching this segment because the family’s story was just so sad. My flow of thought went something like this, “That poor baby, those poor parents, what a terrible disease, of course we should fix this mutation if we could.” I think everyone can agree that the ability to remedy Tay-Sachs would save many families a lifetime of heartache. However, as I began to read Brave New World, my feelings got a little complicated. If scientists have the ability to correct a genetic mutation to cure a fatal disease, what else can they do? Will we live in a Gattaca themed world where parents pick and choose the abilities and looks of their infants? Parents hope for a healthy baby. However, what will they begin to hope for in a world where you can manually “fix” an unhealthy baby? Baby blue eyes? A small nose? The possibilities are endless. Parents would begin designing their children like one would design the perfect car. If technology allowed us to have a perfect kid, of course we would jump at it. The thought is pretty scary. As Gattaca shows, that kind of world is not necessarily the perfect place to live.
Even though the vision of a genetically engineered future is scary, Tay-Sachs disease is scarier. To have a child, take care of it and love it for four years, and then he or she is gone is a nightmare. But some people live this nightmare. The chance to give a child the hope of life and to give parents the joy of watching their child grow up is something that many scientists are working tirelessly for day in and day out. I think that a child deserves the chance to live a life free of genetic diseases, even if that child is handpicked by his or her parents in the process.