Friday, May 11, 2012

Can Cystic Fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, Sickle-Cell Anemia be Prevented?

The medical establishment's response to inherited autosomal recessive disorders like sickle-cell anemia, tay-sachs, cystic fibrosis is, understandably, one of finding ways to relieve the suffering of the victims, or to possibly prevent them from being born in the first place.  Thus, the genetic testing of embryos, and fetuses is the preferred treatment.  However, these kinds of disorders are not at their core medical so much as they are a function of longstanding societal taboos.

When two people  come together from societies that are geographically and genetically distant from one another, the odds of producing a child with cystic fibrosis or any other of the many disorders defined as "autosomal recessive," are next to zero.   The reason is a concept called "genetic distance," which corresponds to some degree with the geographical distance between  diverse populations.  In short, the term refers to the familial closeness or distance of any two people, with the greater genetic distance signifying that the two will share fewer of the same disorder-triggering recessive genes.

Medical knowledge of recessive genes, the disorders caused by them, and the risks of inbreeding have been known for decades.    But what hasn't existed until now is the social freedom to choose one's spouse outside a narrow community of potential partners.   Given the rich tapestry of American society, drawing immigrants from all over the world, the twenty first century offers the potential for physical health and mental vigor beyond anything our society has yet known.  But we must first be willing to step outside our genetic  neighborhood.  One of the Nazis many miscalculations was a belief that so-called racial inbreeding would lead to superior human beings.  Fortunately for their descendants, the Aryan experiment was brought to an abrupt halt with their World War II defeat.