Bioethics Blogs

Should We Cure Genetic Diseases?

June 07, 2017

by Professor Bonnie Steinbock

Should We Cure Genetic Diseases?

In “Trying to Embrace a ‘Cure’,” (New York Times, June 4, 2017), Sheila Black notes that in the near future there may be a treatment that could amount to a cure for the genetic illness she and two of her children have — X-linked hypophosphatemia or XLH. Although XLH is not life threatening, it has significant disadvantages, including very short stature (short enough to qualify as a type of dwarfism), crooked legs, poor teeth, difficulty in walking, and pain. A cure would seem to be cause for celebration.

But Ms. Black is ambivalent about the prospect. Although she acknowledges the potential benefits both to individuals and to society, the issue is, for her, complex.

Having a serious disability may enable the development of certain virtues. She writes, “… to be human often entails finding ways to make what appears a disadvantage a point of strength or pride.” Or, as Nietzsche put it,  “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

It’s very likely that having polio made Franklin Roosevelt emotionally more mature and strengthened his character, but would that be a reason to oppose the development of the Salk vaccine? Comedians often credit their talent from having been bullied as children; novelists and playwrights find inspiration in their awful childhoods. Admiring their ability to overcome adversity does not mean being ambivalent about ending bullying and child abuse.

Another reason is that disabilities have created communities that are a source of support and identity.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.