The Family That Removes Its Stomachs Together…


…lives longer and healthier lives together.

At least for the clan described in this AP story, "Cousins at Risk of Cancer Give Up Stomachs." The members of this extended family, which is at risk for a rare form of stomach cancer, used genetic testing to figure out who was at risk for the disease and then acted, well, proactively:

Determined to outsmart the cancer, they turned to genetic testing. Upon learning they had inherited Grandmother Golda Bradfield's flawed gene, these were their options:

Risk the odds that they might not develop cancer, with a 70 percent chance they would; or have their stomachs removed. The latter would mean a challenging life of eating very little, very often.

All the cousins chose the life-changing operation. Doctors say they're the largest family to have preventive surgery to protect themselves from hereditary stomach cancer.

Chew on this, too: When surgeons checked the removed stomachs–all of which appeared healthy at the time of removal–they actually found early or pre-tumorous growths.

Here's to the future of such proactive medicine:

Experts say that someday, doctors may do DNA tests as routinely as they check cholesterol levels now, spotting disease risks that can be lowered. That day isn't here yet, but progress is being made.

"We do not yet have a general DNA test that fits into that category, but we're headed for it at a pretty good clip," said Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

For more details–and a sense of exactly how people can survive without their stomachs–go here.

In many ways, this story is the adult version of Ron Bailey's earlier blog post about the new breakthrough in diagnosing pre-implantation embryos. There seems little doubt that we are gaining increasing control over our bodies, which is surely a good thing to all but the most ardent pro-death critics of human life.

Back in our January issue, Reason ran a discussion with Ron Bailey, Radical Evolution author Joel Garreau, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Eric Cohen on the question of "Who's Afraid of Human Enhancement?" Cohen, for one, was, and part of his comments are worth thinking about, I think, in the context of pre-implantation interventions:

If you take that principle seriously and if you take basic biology seriously, then embryos are embryonic human lives, and we're now talking about using them in research. We already abort children with Down syndrome. Those are ways we're saying these people are not good enough. We're not going to welcome them in our society. We're going to eliminate them, and so from that perspective equality has been hurt. Technology has created a mind-set that has made us more inegalitarian even as it's served the cause of equality. I think both things are happening at once.

The whole discussion is here. I think that Ron Bailey has answered convincingly the question of whether unimplanted embryos are in fact equivalent to human life and thus worthy of the same protections. Ron has also foregrounded the notion that biotechnology will certainly force a rethinking of when human life begins. But I remain curious what other readers think on the subject.