Life is complicated. Just when you think you’re sure of something, you rethink it, and like a flock of birds flying out of a tree, your confidence is gone.
An acquaintance has a child who has been diagnosed with an incurable genetic disease. Hearing a bit of the family’s story, I thought, “there, but for the grace of God, go I,” as is the easy response to such situations. I thought of my love for my own three children, one of whom is the same age as that child. I thought of how crushed I’d be at being told any of them “might live to see 25.”
As my eyes passed over a picture of the child, who is as bright and precious looking as any ray of sunshine, the talk turned to genetic counseling. The parents were unknowingly carriers of the disease; any subsequent child they would have has a 25 percent of also having the disease. Someone in the room pointed out that technology exists that this couple go through in vitro fertilization, have their embryos sorted and only have ones that are not diseased implanted. The mother demurred on expressing an opinion about this, saying that at this point in time, all her best parenting efforts were being spent on the son she has.
This weekend, I recounted the story to my husband as we were riding somewhere, our oldest son in the backseat absorbed in his GameBoy, our daughter napping, and our middle son peering out the window, probably on the lookout for the wild turkeys that sometimes crossed our path.
I editorialized—“I don’t believe in genetic selection to pick a child’s eye color or hair color, but don’t you think in a case like this, to avoid a disease, it’s a no-brainer?”
He didn’t say anything, just glanced in the rearview mirror. I glanced back to see our son, narrating the scenery as only he does. He has a genetic disease— Legg Calve Perthes disease, a condition that may require surgery, but even in the worst case scenario, will cause him to limp, and perhaps ultimately, need a hip replacement.
If genetic sorting were widely available, would we choose to bring an “embryo” with this sometimes painful condition into the world? Maybe not. However, five years after his birth, I cannot imagine that my world is not a better place with Liam in it. In his lifetime, however long that is, I am sure that he will influence the course of more than just his immediate family. Perhaps he already has.
So, though I’m wholeheartedly thankful for the advances that we’ve made in health technology, I’m not sure what I would do if confronted with the decision that mother may or may not have to make. I can only think, “there, but for the grace of God…” and wish her well.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.