Ethics of having children if you have a disease with a strong genetic predisposition?

In one of my classes this morning, we were learning about Huntington's Disease. a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to mental decline and behavioral symptoms. There is no cure for it, and full-time care is required in the later stages of the disease.

It results from a chromosomal mutation, with a high chance of being passed down to any children if you are a carrier. If you carry this mutation, your children will have a 50% chance of also developing Huntington's. Chances of developing depression are also in the higher range of 40-50% if either of your parents is a carrier of the gene that has a certain mutation that results in becoming depressed.

After learning all of that, the issue was raised was whether or not it is ethical for a parent who is a carrier of either genes with mutations that result in these two disorders, or a whole host of others? To give a child a 50/50 chance of also developign Huntington's or depression? Which brings a whole nother question to the other side of the argument. Is it ethical to tell someone that they can't/shouldn't have children because they are essentially a bit 'faulty'?


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Most Helpful Guy

  • That's a very good but difficult question :o
    I think that if people are aware they have this genetic problem, they'd indeed better decide to stay away from getting kids.
    An even more dramatic question is: when such person becomes pregnant and the echo shows the kid has a sydrome that will undermine its quality of life, what to do?
    Ask this question and it would be a 50/50 for or against abortion :o

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    • haha true, there are so many tangents questions like that or the one I asked could start. Whether abortion is ethical to start with, is it ethical to even have children knowing they're born with a pretty big genetic disadvantage from the get-go. Is it even ethical to get genetically tested in the first place, instead of just letting nature take it's course?
      -_-

    • Haha do you feel that headache approaching as well :-(
      Let's hope we'll never face these decisions Kayla... good luck with your interesting studies!

    • Thanks for the MH :D

What Guys Said 15

  • Every person is a carrier for some genetic defects; therefore, no person should reproduce. Absurd result, yes?

    A large minority of the population has characteristics which will be passed down to their offspring and which are deemed by the majority to be undesirable. Should that minority nor reproduce? The characteristics are skin color, alcoholism, ADHD, unattractive facial features.

    People who cannot afford to have children should be banned from reproducing because the rest of us will be supporting their children for 18 years by paying taxes that fund a welfare state.

    People should not be allowed to have more than 3 children per couple because population growth will eventually result in more people than we can feed and people will die of starvation.

    People should not have children our of wedlock because children in single parent homes have a much greater chance of engaging in undesirable behaviors when they become adults.

    The idea is. . . if you decide that someone else can control your reproductive rights, we are headed towards a totalitarian state where social norms are dictated by the few.

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  • I would scale it back even further. Ethics of having children, at all. I'm an anti-natalist. There is no benefit to existing over never having existed; therefore, having children is always something that one does for oneself. No one has a child *for the child*. Following suit, ethics doesn't apply to childbearing, generally. The vast majority of people don't even see a need to justify it. It's just 'their job' or 'what you do' or 'something you want'. Most people don't think further than that: or at all.

    There's a 14% global chance of a male dying violently, 7% for females. 1:7 odds of dying from heart disease. 1:28 lower respiratory disease. 1:100 odds of dying from self-harm. www.nsc.org/.../injury-facts-chart.aspx etc. etc.

    The chances of getting some horrible disease or seeing horrible things which scar you for life, the chance of being brutally raped or murdered or tortured. To say nothing of the routine harms that everyone goes through. How does one balance all of this and say, "Yes. This child's life will be worth it." Simply put, they don't. They never measure it. They simply do.

    It's funny. Most parents are so hellbent on protecting their children, but somehow missed the idea that the only true way to protect your children is to not have them.

    As for eugenics, you're getting into Hitler territory, there. At what point does it stop? Do we simply tell them they should not have children? Do we enforce not having children? Or do we do what Hitler did, and castrate or sterilize the undesirables? To prove Goodwin's law.

    Genetic manipulation is coming into the fold in medicine. In a few more decades, we will be able to deactivate any undesirable genes before the baby is even born. That is the future of medicine, along with nanotechnology. While the idea of eugenics might have been a very deep, important, or otherwise stressing one in the past, it's so late that it really doesn't matter much anymore. To cause such an uproar and turn society on its head a few decades before the issue becomes namely irrelevant. Ehh.

    In my personal morality, it is never moral to have children.

    I can't help but notice. "a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to mental decline and behavioral symptoms. There is no cure for it, and full-time care is required in the later stages of the disease." Sounds like old age, doesn't it? Similar, at least.

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  • One of our secretaries had a son with a similar illness.
    We all knew he would not reach 25.
    Her marriage didn't resist , her husband left her with the boy.

    He died at 23.
    That time is the only time I volunteered to go to a mass.(I'm atheist)

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  • Adopt, use someone else's sperm/egg. Is it unethcial? That is a grey area, I am inclined to say yes, but it is more stupid than anything.

    If anything, having children at all is stupid at this point in history. So many children need help, I would argue that given the current state of affairs having new children at ALL is unethical when so many are in dire need of help.

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    • "I would argue that given the current state of affairs having new children at ALL is unethical when so many are in dire need of help." Is it unethical for adults to not adopt? (I'm talking about people who choose not to have or adopt children)

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    • Yeah. Most of what we do is selfish and beyond just needs to survive. Evil no, selfish yes. It's programmed into every living creature on earth to reproduce though it's true humans have the ability to reason. Personally... I don't think the ethics of leaving unadopted children behind should only come into play when a couple wants to have a biological child. An adult who can afford it and chooses not to adopt can be considered selfish as well. Their reasoning for not wanting to have children in their lives is selfish too.

    • @coconutelixir Agreed, just less selfish. And a lot smarter.

  • Its a tricky one. A couple in the town I grew up in had a down syndrome baby, they got tested and were told that they shouldn't have kids as there was a very strong chance that the next child would have down syndrome as well but being devout Christians they didn't listen and thier next child was born with down syndrome as well. Long story short they have four kids so far with down syndrome and only one recently born that is normal.

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  • No its not ethical, but I think it would be irresponsible for the disease carrier to take such a risk. But our Constitution states we have the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So what we do to achieve any of those is up to us and nobody else.

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  • It's not my fault if I am genetically predispositioned to depression, I can't control what I was born with and neither will my kids be able to.

    Of course I don't really have to worry about it because I don't have Huntington's Disease and my depression isn't genetic. The best you can do is to marry someone who doesn't and hope to breed it out of your bloodline.

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  • If the person in question is aware of this then it's up to them to decide if it is ethical or not.

    You can't tell people not to have children because there is a chance that there children won't be perfect. But if they know there is a high chance for their children to suffer then it's something they should definitely think about.

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    • yea of course, I meant the question as more if it's ethical for the parents to go ahead with it. I don't think any medical professional would even be allowed by law to 'tell' them what to do.

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    • what if it was just 50/50 though? Then comes the whole issue of genetic testing right, like if you should do that to see if you're a carrier despite that mutation not having been expressed.

    • You can get a pretty good idea if you know your family's history of genetic diseases, it might be a risk some people would be willing to take.

      There's a good chance you are a carrier if you have relatives that have the same disease, and checking your genetics is really only an option if you have the funds but I'm not sure how accurate a result they can give you.

      Of course some diseases you can never know for sure, and are not strictly genetic, so there is always a risk regardless.

  • Perfectly okay to tell someone the odds of a child having a birth defect.

    I think it's okay to try to have a normal baby knowing the risks, as long as you are prepared to care for the child if it has defects (AND NOT EXPECT THE STATE TO CARE OR PaY EXPENSES... Which most do...)

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  • No one expects to have a born child whit health issue. The couples who carry a disease and want to have children always rely on hope to expect their child will born healthy even tough probably It might not be the case. I believe It will never be unethical to have a child whit the intention to give unconditional love to that child.

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  • I think it should be illegal to have a child if they have this type of illness. It's a cruel punishment to have the child to endure such a life.
    50% is too high a risk.

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  • If you are reproducing when you have a known genetic disease then you are knowingly allowing that disease to continue to harm future generations. Selfish people who do that are the reason Huntingtons still exists.

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    • I'm talking about severe, known genetic diseases, not something relatively mild like a predisposition to depression.

  • I've got mental illness and so does my girlfriend, its one of the factors in both of us not wanting kids. I'm just not the right person to bring a new soul into this world

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  • Can it be detected with prenatal screening?

    If not, they can adopt or use donor sperm or eggs depending on which parent has the bad genes.

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    • yes you can get genetic testing to see if you carry that particular mutation.

    • Well then I think it's alright for them to have children provided they're willing to abort a foetus with the defective gene.

  • Eugenics is wrong, to answer your second question. Anyone who advocates it is criminally insane.

    As for an individual basis... yes, they should have the choice to reproduce or not.

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What Girls Said 9

  • Huntington's becomes even more complicated, because offspring of someone who ends up manifesting Huntingtons (doesn't usually manifest until the person is in his/her 40s) may develop it younger and with more severe symptoms. Huntington's is considered a trinucleotide repeat disorder where the genetics gets worse with generations and it's worse for male offspring. A father may develop it at 50 while his son develops it at 30, and his grandson can develop it even younger... like 20.

    I think if the risk of passing on diseased genes are that high, the person should strongly consider getting genetic counseling before deciding to have children. I don't feel strong enough to bar someone from having kids, but they need to be educated on what could happen to make an informed decision.

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  • Well... I think it would be unethical for someone with such a disease to have children, but I also think it would be unethical to tell them that they can't. You can't just take that opportunity away from people, no matter how unethical or even cruel it might be.

    The best choice would be for them to adopt, and I would hope that most people with severe genetic diseases would have the sense to understand that. I am certain that people with these diseases understand what it could mean for their children and grand children if they choose to have biological children, but for some people, the importance of having biological children is greater than the risk of passing on the disease. Maybe they figure that if they can lead a good life with their disease, so too can their children.

    Still... adoption would be a much more ethical choice for such people. There are plenty of healthy babies who need loving parents

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  • No it is not ethical for a stranger or someone who the couple don't don't know very well to tell them not to have children. However, it can be ethical when it comes to their families. Heaven forbid but if I carried this mutation I would not have kids.

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  • If you want to experience pregnancy m, birth, and motherhood no one should call it unethical for you to try just because he kid MIGHT have a problem.

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  • Ethics of having children if you have a disease with a strong genetic predisposition?
    No I would not!

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  • I wouldn't tell anybody else what is right or wrong in that situation, but if I were in that position I would choose to adopt a child, especially in the case of Huntington's Disease.

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  • Is I ethical for a woman to have a baby if she's been depressed and suicidal most of her life?

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    • yup, that's the question.

    • I don't want kids but part of it is the reason why. Also, I don't like dealing with pain or spending money. But I have dealt with mental issues since I was a child. I think it worked out for me because I find kids annoying to begin with

  • Its the same as with abortions, its completely up to the person. Whether its ethical or not doesn't matter...

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  • You can't tell someone what to do. It's not a 100% chance the kid will get it. I think the parents should be able to have kids if they want to. Look at Parkinson's disease; it's also genetic. If you were to tell everyone with diseases that had a 50% chance of being passed down not to have kids, it would affect a ton of people and I think it's unethical.

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