Merits of Congress Program Dubious
By Madeline Hong '13
One of the greatest debates in science is nature versus nurture. Is it our innate qualities or our personal experiences that shape our individual differences? Does it have to be one or the other, or could it be a combination of both?

In an attempt to delve into these questions, Congress, in 2000, authorized The National Children’s Study, a longitudinal study designed to monitor 100,000 children over the span of over 21 years. Planned to be the largest long-term study of environmental and genetic effects on children’s health ever conducted in the United States, The National Children’s Study recruits participants from various areas of the country and family types with the purpose of examining the wide range of biological, physical, genetic, social, cultural and other factors comprising a child’s environment that can affect health and development. Now projected to cost $6.7 billion, the study attempts to address multiple questions on multiple issues, such as the correlation between early exposure to some allergens and asthma, the affect of genes and environmental conditions in producing violent behavior in teenagers and the role of city and neighborhood planning and construction on injuries. The study is, in my opinion, a violation of privacy and an ethical concern.

While the study, according to Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, is “very important … for understanding the health of our nation’s children and for identifying factors that may play a role downstream in adult health,” it is not yet carefully planned for. In fact, the study is having difficulty even finding the 100,000 participants. Even Dr. Collins admits they are having unexpected difficulties with finding volunteers. After visiting nearly 64,000 doors, the study was able to only enroll 510 women. I believe that the difficulty in finding volunteers is very telling of the experiment.

When families volunteer for the study, they are signing on to more than just 21 years of specimens including blood, urine, hair and saliva, dust from women’s bedsheets, particles on carpets and baseboards, which are all sent to laboratories, prepared for long-term storage and analyzed for chemicals, metals, genes and infections. They are agreeing to 21 years of home monitoring and health interviews. They are agreeing to 21 years of constant interrogation of their babies’ lives. Upon birth, the babies are subject to the study and have no personal choice but to remain. I believe that this restriction is unfair and anachronistic of a nation that values individual rights.

Furthermore, the study has greater implications for the families. For instance, what would happen if, during the study, the researchers discovered that the unborn child would surely develop a physical handicap in his or her adult stages of life? Would they be obligated to share this information with the parents? What would happen once they share the knowledge? Would the parents decide on abortion? If so, would they have the authority to abort their own baby if allowed by the state laws? If prohibited from abortion and the mother unwillingly gives birth to her baby, how would this affect the development of the baby? I believe that such questions must be answered prior to conducting the $6.7 billion study. Once conducted, the study may forever change the nature and experience of pregnancy, and the reproduction of our future generation.

While the projected contributions to science may be great, they may be too great for our society to handle. In an attempt to solve human development’s greatest debate between nature and nurture, the study would be altering the natural balance between nature and nurture. The technological advances and dangerous knowledge the study would cultivate would artificially shape how much nature and nurture can be altered. Hence, I believe that the potential losses from conducting the study significantly outweigh the few potential gains from following through with it.

Issue 15, Submitted 2010-02-17 02:45:23