The Gene Machine: How Genetic Technologies Are Changing the Way We Have Kids--and the Kids We Have

Author:
Bonnie Rochman
Publisher:
Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Category:
Biotechnology

This book appeared in Advance Copy, a column in which NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here. Publication of NASW members’ reports in Advance Copy does not indicate NASW’s endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments, and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions. To join the discussion or submit your book, visit Advance Copy.

A sharp-eyed exploration of the promise and peril of having children in an age of genetic tests and interventions

Is screening for disease in an embryo a humane form of family planning or a slippery slope toward eugenics? Should doctors tell you that your infant daughter is genetically predisposed to breast cancer? If tests revealed that your toddler has a genetic mutation whose significance isn’t clear, would you want to know?

In The Gene Machine, the award-winning journalist Bonnie Rochman deftly explores these hot-button questions, guiding us through the new frontier of gene technology and how it is transforming medicine, bioethics, health care, and the factors that shape a family. Rochman tells the stories of scientists working to unlock the secrets of the human genome; genetic counselors and spiritual advisers guiding mothers and fathers through life-changing choices; and, of course, parents (including Rochman herself) grappling with revelations that are sometimes joyous, sometimes heartbreaking, but always profound. She navigates the dizzying and constantly expanding array of prenatal and postnatal tests, from carrier screening to genome sequencing, while considering how access to more tests is altering perceptions of disability and changing the conversation about what sort of life is worth living and who draws the line. Along the way, she highlights the most urgent ethical quandary: Is this technology a triumph of modern medicine or a Pandora’s box of possibilities?

Propelled by human narratives and meticulously reported, The Gene Machine is both a scientific road map and a meditation on our power to shape the future. It is a book that gets to the very core of what it means to be human.