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The Country Where Down Syndrome Is Disappearing

In a world bent on eradicating birth defects and other undesirable health conditions from the face of the Earth, Iceland has all but eliminated Down syndrome. They’ve done this with the help of prenatal tests that tell pregnant women whether their babies have the condition. The results, according to CBSN, are that close to 100 percent of Icelandic mothers whose tests are positive terminate their pregnancy, even though many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives. One geneticist called these terminations “relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling.”

We have truly entered an era of technology where science appears to trump nature. But without appearing cynical, I have to say we’re treading in dangerous waters. For example, a new gene-editing technology has been taking the medical world by storm, showing potential for treating diseases ranging from cancer to type 2 diabetes. The technology has been moving full-steam ahead, with a trial in humans already started, even as the repercussions of gene editing remain largely unknown.

CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, is at the most basic level a very precise way of tinkering with genes. Whereas gene editing was once a very imprecise and expensive process, scientists can now go into your DNA and essentially cut and paste it at specified places. And while it’s being promoted as the best thing ever for the human race, what they’re downplaying is the fact that with gene-edited mice, researchers found numerous unintended mutations, including more than 100 additional deletions and insertions and more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations.

In other words, perfect as researchers claim this “science” is, it undoubtedly will have repercussions and unexpected consequences as human gene editing occurs in the future. For better or worse, medicine and reproductive technology is about to take a massive leap; we're quickly entering an era where the human genome can be tinkered with for any number of reasons, with pregnancy terminations just an afterthought. Unfortunately, if genetically engineered foods are any indication, such a leap may turn out to be just another factor in our own undoing.
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