Laura Paliotti's child is created through a new process allowing manual genetic alteration
|The pain. The excruciating pain as they extracted strand by strand of the genetic composition from my body was almost too much to withstand. I was having visions of the small needle puncturing my skin and literally ripping the chromosomes of my cells apart from the inside, just so test samples could be taken. But I was willing to take any risk to protect my technically unborn fetus.
My child, conceived through the process of vitro fertilization, (in order to encourage maximum preventability of defects and diseases) forced to undergo a new process called ‘vitrobionic cell alteration’ invented in 2039 (five years ago), was where all of my focus lay the next five or six months of my life.
Vitrobionic cell alteration is the procedure in which scientists place an unfertilized egg in a Petri dish to be manually united with a sperm. When the egg has been fertilized, after maturing for twelve or thirteen weeks, and being contained in a synthetic placenta, they extract a number of cells in order to alter the chromosomal makeup of the fetus’s genetic structure. Certain genes imprinted on their chromosomes could then be improved, removed, or transformed through laser removal, and a gene or DNA configuration of the creator’s choice for the ‘perfect child’ could be implanted on the chromosomes. The mutated cells were then injected back into the body of the embryo and were monitored as they began to multiply, taking over the positions of the original cells, eventually replacing them. After the body is completely conquered by these new disease-free customized cells, the child starts to undergo changes, such as new hair and eye color (if formed) and accelerated growth. The only problem; although this procedure is somewhat inexpensive and tremendously effective, the probability of a malfunction during the chromosomal laser removal was 75 percent (that and the agonizing pain…). If any part of an obligatory gene or a nitrogenous base needed for completing strands of DNA was removed from the chromosomes, the fetus would likely have trouble surviving.
So why were they extricating my cells as well? To see if I was a carrier of a defective gene. If they knew for sure that I was carrying the gene for a disorder, disease, or abnormality, then it would make it that much easier to know what to expect while looking for genes of the fetus to alter.
I stood over the hospital bed in the special containment unit where they kept the maturing fetuses in the placentas, looking at my baby, my child, my whole world. And to think in a few more months, this baby would be my living, breathing, moving creation. After taking a few moments to adore my offspring, the doctor walked in with a smile. I did the same; the outcome of the experiment was looking to be hopeful, and I was expecting the best.
“Ah! Mrs. Pauliotti! I see that you are here to see how your baby boy is doing,” he said kindly.
My baby boy. “Yes,” I replied, also being kind.
“Well…let’s take a look here, shall we?” He pulled out his clipboard, flipping through page after page of mind-boggling statistics. “He’s doing well, growing at a steady rate…good. Alterations made:
change of eye color-from blue to hazel,
change of hair color-from black to blonde,
change in height-from short to tall,
change in metabolism-from average to high,” said the doctor.
“Yes….those are all correct. And were there any genes that were unusual or defective?” I asked curiously.
“Actually yes. There was the gene LRRTM1, which contributes to those who are left handed…and…the gene BCM14A found for autism was successfully eradicated from the chromosome,” said the doctor.
“That’s good news,” I said, smiling with relief.
“Your baby will be very healthy and normal,” the doctor said happily. He took the list of modified traits that he had read to me earlier, and fed it to a Pictogenerative Scanner.
“LOADING DATA,” read the computer with its human-like vocal depictions. As the machine scanned the paper the doctor had given it, all of the statistics popped up on the screen:
“GENERATING PICTURE RESULTS…”
The pictures were engendered on the screen, showing me exactly what my offspring would look like throughout its stages of adolescent life: newborn, baby, toddler, child, and teenager.
When the pictures were fully loaded and displayed on the monitor, I couldn’t help but stare in awe as I gazed at the most beautiful thing I had ever seen; my child. The dazzling shine in his hazel eyes and the sheen of his short, radiant blonde hair was enough to leave my mouth gaping in adoration.
“Please, take good care of my baby,” I said, crying tears of joy.
“With my life, ma’am,” said the doctor. And with that I left the room.
* * *
About three months later, I went into the hospital to check on my baby and make sure everything was ok. The doctor welcomed me warmly, and led me into the room where my baby was.
As I walked into the unit, I noticed that the bed that my baby had been resting in was now unexpectedly vacant.
“What happened…to my baby? This is his bed! It‘s empty! Where is he?!” I shrieked, a lump of sorrow forming in my throat; I was expecting the worst.
“Mrs. Pauliotti, I have some bad news,” said the doctor, his shoulders slumping as he spoke. “Your baby…he…passed.”
“What do you mean passed? Passed another genetic test?” I asked, hoping that this was the fantasy where he would exclaim ’Of course!’ and everything would be ok. But that’s all it would ever be; a fantasy, because what the doctor told me next would tear my fragile heart into infinitesimal little pieces.
“No I mean passed…as in passed away. He died.”
“What?” I asked. “How could this happen?” I asked, my voice cracking with the pain that was surging throughout my limp body.
“We found out that he had jaundice, which is possible even when in the placenta. We put him under a UV lamp in our UV ray treatment wing of the hospital. After all of his jaundice had passed, we thought that everything would be okay, and it was for a few weeks. But after performing some tests to examine his DNA to make sure it was functioning appropriately, we discovered that he had a thymine dimer, which is when adjacent bond between thymine and cytosine bases in the double helix formation of DNA is broken and rejoined with bases that are not compatible, mutating the cell. Unfortunately, that break in the bases caused a melanoma…a malignant skin condition that spreads to internal organs. It shut down all of his major organ systems. We didn’t find it in time because it was under his skin instead of on the surface. I’m sorry. We did everything in our power.” explained the doctor, almost in tears.
“So this is your fault! My own flesh and blood killed because you couldn’t think of a better way to treat him for jaundice?! I mean come on! It’s 2044, and of all the new and advanced technology you could’ve used to handle this, you treat him with a method used back in 2000 when you knew there was risk of harming him?! This is an outrage!" I picked up a chair, threw it across the room, and ran outside, practically blinded by the tears that were cascading out of my eyes. I ran all the way home, hoping that something would change.
When I reached the door of my house, I flung it open, almost tearing it off the hinges, and flopped down on the couch, bawling my eyes out. Everything I had worked for, my hopes, my dreams, my wishes, gone because of some stupid lamp. I wanted to scream…to go on a rampage…to die.
As I was sitting there, drowning in my own anguish, an idea hit me, smack in the face, as if someone had thrown a baseball at me and it hit me square between the eyes. This kind of tragedy occurred every day, affecting hundreds, no, thousands of expecting parents. I was only one of the victims. So why was I just moping in my house when I could be out helping those families with the same experiences? Why should future parents have to experience the same thing that I did when it could be prevented?
* * *
I picked up a newspaper on my way home from work one day, and on the very front page, the headlines read:
‘Genetic Testing in Children’ Death Victims relieved by Counseling Center
Ms. Laura Pauliotti helps victims of their children’s genetic testing deaths alleviate the pain felt by this experience. As a victim herself, she was asked this question:
“What would you have named your son?” She replied with a smile and a single word: “Brendon.”