In a recent conversation with a friend of ours who is a doctor, we discussed the apparent increase of "rare diseases" that seem to be the "plague" of our modern world. This doctor is a prestigious nenatologist with over 30 years of experience, someonoe who knows what he is talking about. He expressed his concern, mentioning the fact that the hospital where he works has tripled its pediatric oncology medical team over the course of the last twenty years given that the incidence of childhood cancer, especially leukemia, is on the rise. According to this doctor, on average a case of leukemia is diagnosed "once a month and sometimes once a week." The conversation would definitely have proved most interesting, had it not been interrupted. I must admit, I had several more questions on my list for him.
A couple of weeks after this disconcerting conversation, I came across an article that was quite unsettling. The piece was taken from the weekly publication New Scientist and announced that the first test tube baby with “3 parents”, Abrahim Hassan, was now five months old. The technique used is a modified version of in vitro fertilization and combines healthy mitochondria from the egg of a donor with the DNA from the nuclei of the other two parents (from the egg and sperm). The motive was to obtain a child free from Leigh syndrome, a serious disorder that affects the nervous system, originating in the DNA mutations found in his mother’s mitochondria.
As soon as I had finished reading the article, I wrote a message to our doctor friend, saying, “I came across this article on the Internet and it reminded me of our recent conversation, in which you commented on the considerable increase of childhood cancer over the course of the last twenty years. Has anyone ever done research to see whether or not these children with cancer were born using assisted reproductive technology? Are these two factors related? Because I’m sure that sooner or later we will have to pay the price for this rebellion against God…”
He immediately wrote back, responding, “Hello Sister! There are a great deal of barbarities taking place in the area of genetic manipulation. And many remain for the most part unknown. The worst is yet to come. (…) As far as in vitro fertilization is concerned, I am unaware as to whether or not these children have a higher risk of cancer. What I do know is that children born through in vitro fertilization have a higher risk of metabolic disorders. In their appearance at the moment of birth, they seem perfectly normal, but as they start to grow the symptoms begin to appear, especially the neurological deficits. Many of these are what are referred to as ‘rare diseases’, given their low incidence and can only be treated using medical care at an exorbitant cost and prove to be, of course, incurable.”
In regards to this topic, Nicolás Jouve de la Barreda, Dean of the Genetics Department at the University of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), comments the fact that, “There is a growing concern for the increase in cases of newborns proceeding from in vitro fertilization, who show a low birth weight and are 3 to 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with certain childhood syndromes and diseases.” In the same article, he shows his concern for the case we discussed earlier: “Manufacturing embryos from three different gametes is a new technology that implies increased manipulation of gametes and embryos and there is nothing that ensures [its positive outcome] nor is there any way of knowing the impact this may have on the health of these children, not only when they are five months’ old (the age of the first test tube baby with “three parents”, Abrahim Hassan) but over the course of their life.” What these experts are saying is quite serious and has tremendous consequences. We are manufacturing a generation of sickly children. Of course, all of this implies suffering for both children and parents, not to mention the medical bills these children accumulate and will continue accumulating… Dr. Jouve comments, “Can we really believe that embarking on this technological adventure, with so few guarantees of success and such high risk for the health of these babies, is ethical? Is the technologically possible always ethically acceptable?” I found the answer in the words of St. John Paul II: “Man can build a world without God, but this world will end by turning against him” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 18). Pope John Paul II hits the nail on the head in pointing out that it is not God, but the “world,” who turns against man. A creation wounded by our sin is what “will end by turning against him.”
I would like to offer a very concrete example of this. I do so with utmost respect for the deceased individual and her family members’ loss. News recently came out in Italy regarding the death of a thirty-two year old woman, five months pregnant with twins. This woman had discovered what was keeping her from being able to have children and decided to seek out assisted reproductive technology. Everything was going fine until about two weeks prior to her death, when she was hospitalized for preterm labor. First, the twins died. Then, she herself died from an infection. The family blamed the doctor of negligence. But, shouldn’t we instead examine the previous act that has resulted in these deaths? Blaming the doctor or blaming God is the easy way out. However, we are forgetting that the first act in this terrible drama was ultimately an act of rebellion against God, i.e. not accepting one’s own sterility. Catholic Church doctrine and authentic anthropology both consider the conjugal act to be the only proper place for human procreation (cf. Instruction “Donum Vitae”). If we only trusted more in God, we would be spared of so much suffering. What more can I say? I can only insist on the quote from St. John Paul II, as we witness its fulfillment as if it were a biblical prophecy: “Man can build a world without God, but this world will end by turning against him.” And as our friend, the neonatologist warned, “The worst is yet to come.”
Written by Sr. Beatriz Liaño ©HM Magazine; nº194 January-February 2017
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