In 2000, the BBC launched Child of our time, an ambitious experiment to record the lives of twenty-five children over twenty years. The aim was to establish how our genes and the environment combine to make us who we are and shape our personality. Sir Robert Winston (IVF – A child against all odds) the fertility expert and TV personality presents the programmes as they follow a series of newborns from before birth through to adulthood.
|BBC ‘Child of our time’ Homepage|
In this post we focus on two segments for the first series of Child of our time. These are: Series 1 The journey begins (00:22:00 – 00:28:40) and Series 1 – Birthdays (00:23:00 – 00:24:26). Both episodes are available online, see bottom of this post for details about how to access them.
This bioethical discussion, focuses on one set of parents, Neil and Gillian Roberts, who decide to be genetically tested for the Angiotensin I converting enzyme (ACE) gene. It has been suggested that certain variants of this gene help increase stamina and efficient use of oxygen, and thus have been linked to success in sporting activities The father, a keen athlete and sportsman, suggests that both he and the future mother be tested for this variant to establish whether their new born might subsequently have a chance of inheriting it. The result (which appears in the ‘Birthdays’ episode) is negative and neither parent has this particular variant.
Despite this footage containing no direct reference to the possible contentious bioethical issues, it does provide an excellent discussion starter for questions such as;
Suppose that one of the parents did have the ‘sporty’ genetic variant, should they opt to have the child tested pre or post birth? If so what would be the consequences for the pregnancy or the new child?
If it was possible to test for this genetic variant via pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), should parents be allowed to choose an embryo which has the better chance of sporting capability?
In the programme both parents are over the moon with their new child and at no point do they consider such possibilities. Nevertheless, this scenario is helpful in consideration of a future in which it might be possible to select and make choices about reproduction based upon non-therapeutic motives. In which technology is utilised not just to prevent disease and disability but to enhance a child through selection of the best features of the parents’ genes (see ‘Choosing our children? – GATTACA’). It is difficult to predict how humanity would react to such actions, no genes are being added or taken away it is simply maximising what is accessible from the gene pool of the future parents. One ethical concern would be the risk of a two-tiered society with discrimination between those who have being conceived normally and those conceived with an element of selection.
The sections suggested above are available to stream from the internet and can be accessed via the BBC Parenting website. Unfortunately no link takes you direct to the footage, so locating the episodes, and particularly the relevant sections, takes some effort. From the initial screen, click the ‘view advice and clips from programmes such as Child of Our Time’ text next to Robert Winston’s face (top right). This will take you to a text screen pointing out that you need Macromedica Flash Player 8 to see the video. Assuming that you have this, click the text ‘Click here to start using BBC Parenting Video on demand’. A screen appears with Nell McAndrew explaining the purpose of the site, simply click on ‘tv series’ (top right) and then ‘Child of our time’ and ‘Series 1’. The episodes of interest here are the journey begins and birthdays. Unfortunately there is no time code provided, so if you want to go straight to the recommended sections it will take a bit of guesswork – if you move the yellow cursor along until it is positioned above the 6 of “60 mins” (for episode 1) then you’re not far off! Failing that, members of the BUFVC can obtain a copy for educational purposes via the usual channels – TRILT ID code TVI16897.