Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Forbidden Cure for Cystic Fibrosis

Sarah Murnaghan suffers from cystic fibrosis

The ongoing plight of ten year old Sarah Murnaghan --  who in less than a month has endured two lung transplants, operations on her diaphragm and trachea, and pneumonia --  is heartbreaking.  What makes the child's prognosis grim is the fact that she is also suffering from end-stage cystic fibrosis.  I wish this beautiful little girl, a future devoid of the pain and discomfort she now suffers. But regardless of what I hope for, and what others petition and plead to God for, premature death will be waiting in the wings.

  While no miracle cure exists for present-day sufferers, there is a way to eradicate cystic fibrosis for future generations.
This disorder found among people of Northern European origin, is triggered by a child's inheritance of matching recessive genes from both parents. Thus, quite simply, the solution revolves around the width of the net we cast in finding a mate. This concept is called  "genetic distance," which corresponds with the geographical distance between  diverse population groups.  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 other disorders defined as "autosomal recessive," like sickle-cell anemia or Tay-Sachs, are next to zero.

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 ignore taboos against choosing one's spouse outside a narrowly-defined ethnic 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.

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