Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Genetic Testing: Curse or Blessing?

This article has been very popular on the news.  Genetic researchers have uncovered some patterns that can be indicative of autism.  Interestingly, the researchers found that some of the gene mutations are also found in people with intellectual disability - which explains why there is a high correlation between autism and intellectual disability. 

Don't get too excited, though.  Researchers say they can only identify about 10% of possible cases.  Peter Szatmari says, "I don’t think we have the science yet to nail it down. … This isn’t one gene, but a profile of genes, a pattern of susceptibility, not cause.”

And therein lies the kicker of this testing.  As the sensitivity of the test gets better, there will be increasing demand to do pre-natal screening for autism susceptibility, and this will likely increase the number of terminated pregnancies.  In some cases, children will be killed even when they may have never developed autism.  Some people do not support tax dollars going to help disabled individuals when the parents of the disabled child knowingly chose to give birth.  It is difficult enough to provide for disabled individuals without the stigma of "they should have never been born" crowd.

I am not sure I really support genetic research to identify gene susceptibility, because I do not think it will necessarily cure anyone - it will only allow parents to escape life with a disabled child if they choose to do so.  I would rather research dollars go to examining how people with autism process information differently, and how we can alter their brains through treatments to make them closer to how neurotypical people process information.  In other words - healing or curing, not detecting.

Early detection is already possible if medical professionals are educated.  Unfortunately in my area of the world - they are not, but that is not impossible to fix.

1 comment:

  1. I am not so sure that genetic testing will only be used for selectively aborting fetus who potentially have autism, there will be other uses. If I am understanding the the latest and (yawn) greatest genetic research into autism, there are many, many genetic paths that will get you into autism and not all of them are created equal.

    Imagine for a minute that some of these genetic mutations - while extremely rare - effect a biological process that we can influence or correct with supplements, medications, or therapies. If we know that these genes can sometimes be associated with autism and doctors have tests that can look for them, then there is a real possibility that you might be able to correct some of the underlying problems that lead to autism.

    And actually, you don't have to imagine as there are already some rare mutations that are associated with autism and respond to treatments.

    I might be biased because we have been spending sometime this year looking for genetic problems in my kids, but maybe all of this research will help the small percent of children whose autism really is primarily genetic.