Parents Feel Guilty Over Giving Children Bad Genes

Parents Feel Guilty Over Giving Children Bad Genes

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted August 27, 2007 in DNA in General, Genetic Engineering

stephen chopsticks and broccoliABC News: Picky Eating May Be in Kids’ Genes:

Having trouble persuading your child to eat broccoli or spinach? You may have only yourself to blame.

According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, neophobia – or the fear of new foods – is mostly in the genes.

“Children could actually blame their mothers for this,” said Dr. Jane Wardle, director of the Health Behavior Unit at University College London, one of the study’s authors.

“Parents should not feel like they’re doing something wrong if they keep trying but their child is not overjoyed to be eating Brussels sprouts,” said Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

@#! So are parents supposed to feel guilty for passing on “faulty” genes or give in and blame their genes instead, absolving our conscious selves of all guilt? We need to get our heads clear on this concept because the more we learn about our genetic make-up, the more worries we’ll have to face when it comes to the genes we’ve unintentionally doled out to our offspring. Some families are dealing with this dilemma already.

Last year, when the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approved preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to screen embryos for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes for breast and ovarian cancers, Karin Cohn and her family were featured. Karin carries the BRCA1 gene and both her sister and mother have had breast cancer. Karin’s mother Pat Gilbor:

I feel guilty. Rationally I know I shouldn’t, but emotionally I do

Karin herself also worries about the potential of having given her daughter Sophie the BRCA1 gene and supports the use of PGD:

If I had had the option, I would have done it. And I would continue to do it until I got a clear embryo.

It would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about my child in the future.

In many ways, I think this is a reflection of current parenting culture. We are so keen to control every aspect of our children’s lives and give them every advantage we can that it naturally extends to their health.

Just think about it for a second. It makes no sense to blame ourselves for the genes we’ve given our children because we can’t and did not select the genes that were distributed to them when they were conceived (with the exception of a limited list of genes using PGD).

Michael J. Sandel points out just what’s wrong with this way of thinking in The Case Against Perfection (now a book):

Parents become responsible for choosing, or failing to choose, the right traits for their children.

And yet, even if and when genetic engineering for “perfect” children becomes widely available, we’ll still be unable to control the way our children’s genes interact with the environment in which they grow up.

Being a good parent means knowing what’s important and what can be improved within reason. When it comes to genetic material, I accept that my child isn’t perfect. After all, I may be responsible for giving my son the genes of genius but there’s no guarantee he got just as good from his daddy’s side of the family!

NB: For the record, broccoli is my five-year-old’s favorite vegetable.

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Comment by Krissy Poopyhands


I commented and the computer ate it!

I left a long, rambling comment about how Wallace doesn’t enjoy any fruits or veggies that are fresh and will only capitulate to fresh fruit on occasion. Everyone else finds this pickiness surprising in such a little guy, but I find it entirely sane because that’s how I’ve gone through my entire life.

I eat healthy things, when I do, because they are healthy and I should but not because my taste buds enjoy them. They all taste kind of grainey and chewy and ropey and weird in my mouth. Likewise anything goopy won’t go down, pretty much no matter how good it tastes. Wallace is the same.

I could feel guilty, but instead I feel all “My SON!”

His dad ordered a chicken byriani the other night and Wallace inhaled a plateful and then demanded more. Because he is also, undeniably, English.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

Lordy. Maybe you should puree it all and slurp it up. Jessica Seinfeld’s new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, apparently has tips on how to disguise nutritious foods.

lol @ chicken biryani

Would you believe I like Marks & Spencer Indian ready meals the best? The Indian restaurants here are too sweet for my taste.

Comment by NA Subscribed to comments via email

This blog posting is definitely a life reality. This is another example why a patient who is under going genetic testing, or tested positive after a genetic test, should be seen by a genetic specialist. This will help with patients and families understand how inheritance works and what all takes place from intercourse (you know the sperm and egg production during meiosis), too embryonic development, post natal growth, and so forth. Of course the information that will need to be presented will vary for each case.

I think that we need to help educate the general public on the reasons why genetic disorders occur. We can focus on development, consanguinity, preventive measures, family history information, and carrier testing.

We also need do genetic screening for common disorders on a recommended basis. Pharmacetucal companies do it with their drug advertisements.

We can also do premarital and preconceptional testing.

Newborn screening needs to be widened (need for testing for more genetic conditions).

We also need to promote the research efforts for the development of the tools for genetic testing for disorders that are more prevalent in certain ethnicities. This can be achieved through increasing the funds allocated for research activities in the field of human medical genetics. Heck this could be widen to a global audience.
All of these efforts will only raise the guilt feeling if proper education is not done. We need to not only educate the parents, but we also need to educate the children who have the disorder when they grow up so they understand what has taken place.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

You raise some important points, NA. I hope that patients are better prepared nowadays with greater access to quality information on the Internet.

Comment by Kristina

I think you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head, as far as why some parents of autistic children continue to say that autism can’t be genetic and that other factors must be causing it.

One doesn’t pick one’s parents!

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

Kristina, It’s so sad when people get fixated on one potential cause and ignore the others. I’ll just whisper the words mercury and vaccines. :P

Comment by NA Subscribed to comments via email

I did a literature search to try and find a study that deals with the impact of genetic self-knowledge for non-disease traits on self-concept or health perception. I was not able to find any studies.

I did a find a study from the journal European Journal of Human Genetics (2005, 13, 1047-1054) that talked about a study that dealt with carriers for sickle cell trait. They talked about the view that non carriers saw themselves to be healthier then carriers. The carriers reported being less happy, less healthy, and less active even though they were carriers for the sickle cell trait.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

Fascinating! The psychosocial aspects of genetic testing will definitely need more study as more of us avail ourselves of the technology.

Comment by jhay

Blame yourself for passing on “bad” genes? That’s plain dumb! As if we could choose how our children would look like or we could choose who are parents would be.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

jhay, If we could, would we?


[...] perfect pitch genes to the list of genes I hope I’ve passed on to my son. Stephen Shankland of Underexposed shares news of a recent study on perfect pitch. The trait [...]

Comment by Barry Starr Subscribed to comments via email

What a great post. We actually have an exhibit here at The Tech that deals with the guilt a woman has for passing a version of APOE4 down to her kids that increases their risk for Alzheimer’s. And another one that deals with one sister who tests positive for BRCA1 and her other sister that doesn’t. The sister without the BRCA1 mutation struggles with survivor guilt.

Genetic testing is difficult stuff. Intellectually you can grasp that your parents aren’t to blame for something awful they passed down to you but emotionally you can still blame them.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

Hey Barry! Guilt is such a powerful emotion. What do you think of this Victor Hugo quote:

“The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”


Comment by Barry Starr Subscribed to comments via email

That is a fascinating quote. So it is not the sin but the reaction to it that matters? Yikes indeed (if I am interpreting the quote correctly).

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

Hmm. I was thinking the person who causes the darkness is the one who leads the the other to commit sin. So that would be guilty parents causing darkness by giving bad genes to their blameless offspring who does whatever they want because it all goes back to their parents who caused the darkness in the first place. How’s that for circular reasoning!

Comment by Barry Starr Subscribed to comments via email

That is deep stuff. Basically, the kids feel blameless because their parents’ DNA made them do it?

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

That’s right. It’s all one big vicious cycle. Maaaan. Life sucks!!

Comment by Wally Subscribed to comments via email

When I was a child, I also don’t like vegetables. But as I understand how important and helpful they are, I began to appreciate and even like vegetables. It may be in the genes, but I believe that we can learn how to love it.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

Wally, There’s definitely proof that we can learn to like some things if given enough exposure. I’ve read it takes 10-12 tries for a person to like a particular taste so even if my son won’t take a bite of something, I ask that he lick it or take a tiny nibble!

Comment by Pat Subscribed to comments via email

True. Parents don’t have to blame themselves for passing the bad genes. Instead, parents should be more resourceful by asking fellow parents, read books, or attend seminars regarding tips and tricks in convincing their children to eat vegetables.

Comment by Hsien Subscribed to comments via email

All good tips, Pat. Thanks for the comment.


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