The cost of “progress”

By Dave Andrusko

Will Saletan

Will Saletan

Rarely would you get a headline that more accurately captures both the core of the story and the ethical implications. “The Boy Who Lived: Embryo testing is progress built on failure, termination, and tragedy. But we only hear about the happy endings.”

Written by Slate’s William Saletan, the piece is a sobering reminder that the optimism that accompanies “breakthroughs” in genetic screening comes at a terrible price. The embryos that fail the test are disposed of. The odds of survival are daunting.

“For every success, there are dozens, hundreds, or thousands of embryos that failed the evaluation. You won’t see their pictures, because they’re never born. They’re flushed away.”

The screenings have become more and more sophisticated at the same time they grow less and less expensive. “As testing became cheaper and easier, its application spread,” Saletan explains.

These tests “catch” diseases that might never show up at all, or not until people are in their 30s and 40s (or older), or for which there is no family history, or for which there are high cure rates. Meanwhile all these embryos who don’t pass muster are treated like refuse.

And it can only get worse.

Saletan is talking about one dimension of the issue, so he cannot be faulted for not addressing others. But there are sex-selection abortions and babies with Down syndrome who also are aborted, to name just two categories. And increasingly there will be abortions for reasons most people would consider trivial, if not examples of invidious discrimination (see Down syndrome, for example).

 If you want to help unborn babies,
Click here to receive the latest pro-life news and commentary

Saletan, being Saletan, qualifies what is, in fact, a devastating critique of techniques that scan for chromosomal and genetic abnormalities.

This has prevented “terrible diseases,” he writes, and, “if you worry about unborn life, it’s better to catch genetic problems early, at the preimplantation stage, than to discover them in the womb many weeks later and abort the pregnancy.”

Where have we heard that before? Abort them early so you don’t have to abort them later. And would it surprise anyone that the definition of a “terrible disease” is almost infinitely expansive? Take a moment to read “UK Parliamentary report: Reform Abortion Act to end discrimination against disabled babies.”

An obviously conflicted Saletan ends this way:

   “We govern the choosing and the extermination. We celebrate our victories. We hide the tragedies and the cost.

If you like, join those who are following me on Twitter at Please send your comments to