About a year ago, I was asked to do a short email interview concerning the Buddhist viewpoint on genetic manipulation and PGD (Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis). Essentially, this is a process that involves artificially fertilizing a number of human eggs, taking out a few cells and checking them for abnormalities, and then implanting the best ones. This removes the chance of a “bad egg” (pun intended). The very idea opens up a can of ethical worms. Here are the rapid-fire Questions and my Answers. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the science behind it, but I have to say it’s a fascinating topic. What do YOU think? Comment below:
Q. According to Buddhism, is it moral to have a baby to provide for the medical needs of an already existing child?
A. Probably not, but it really depends on whether or not the second child suffers. All of Buddhism revolves around relieving suffering, and if the new baby will suffer to fulfill the role of “spare part donor,” then that’s not going to work out. If you mean the second child will be a caregiver of some sort, that’s not necessarily suffering in itself; a lot of good comes from helping others, both in this world and in the realm of karma.
Q. According to Buddhism, is it moral to attempt to have a child when genetic factors make it likely that the child may be mentally or physically handicapped?
A. Doesn’t really matter. All life is sacred, even mentally or physically handicapped people.
Q. According to Buddhism , is it moral to try to select the sex of one’s baby?
A. Doesn’t apply; the majority of scientific and medical advances are embraced by Buddhists. If they are used to relieve suffering, they are considered overall a good thing.
Q. According to Buddhism, is it moral to abort a foetus if it prone to obesity of a chronic medical condition?
A. Generally, most Buddhists are against abortion, but it does depend on the situation. Your case would probably not be acceptable if there were no other extenuating circumstances.
Q. According to Buddhism, what is the moral worth of an embryo?
A. That, just like with any other religion, depends on whether you consider an embryo a “person” or not. Buddhists arguer over this just like everyone else. Generally speaking, it’s probably safer to assume an embryo is a person, or at least a potential person. This leads to the whole abortion discussion, which isn’t what you’re looking for here.
Q. According to Buddhism, who should determine the genes of a person- doctors, parents, or God?
A. Buddhists do not have a God. Karma perhaps, but many would just attribute this to random luck beyond whatever the parents bring to the genetic table.
Q. What perspective does Buddhism take on the use of PGD treatment, for both medical use and the enhancement of genes? Has the view on medical treatment changed amongst Buddhists or has certain ideologies continued since the foundation of Buddhism (particularly on the issue of genetic enhancements and PGD treatment)?
A. Many say that the original Buddha was a doctor. Medicine that relieves suffering is a great thing and is always good. Medicine that causes suffering, addiction, grasping at a life that may be unnaturally long, and other “wrong” uses are not acceptable. PGD, like any of these other things, really depends on the motives and reasoning behind their use,
Q. Why do you think religious groups accept the use of gene therapies and even the use of genetic modification for medical reasons but reject use for physical attributes only?
A. With Buddhists, fixing a medical problem would be relieving suffering, while choosing genes to have a prettier nose is simply vanity, which is unhealthy.
Q. In your opinion, do you think religion and science can ever complement each other? Or are they constantly conflicting each other?
A. When science contradicts religion, religion must bend and adapt, according to the Dalai Lama. Some religions go kicking and screaming into the future. You know who I mean.
Q. Do you agree to dealing with prejudices (such as skin and eye colour) by biomedical fixes as a way of solving our social problems?
A. No. If everyone were the same color, we’d find something else to hate people over. Racism aside, I think most people recognize that there really is strength in diversity,
Q. If PGD treatment becomes increasingly popular, what do you think the consequences will be on society AND on the relationship between science and religion?
A. I have no idea, but I think we’d all adapt.
Comments? Agree or disagree with me? There’s a lot of room for discussion on this topic, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below: