Rhea remembered the conversation as if it were just yesterday.
“Hey honey, did you see this?” Jason was holding his phone up.
“What is it? I can’t see from here,” Rhea said.
“The FDA just approved a new gene therapy, first time ever, I believe,” he said.
“Oh, I did hear something about it,” she said. “I’m not sure what it is, just that it’s very controversial.”
“You’ll have to read the details yourself, but basically it’s an immunity booster they can give a child while they’re still an embryo,” Jason said.
“Sounds ghastly.” Rhea shivered.
“No, no, it’s actually pretty cool,” he said. “It fixes almost a thousand commonly known genetic problems, but also helps the immune system. They say it decreases a child’s chance of ever getting cancer by over 75%. Just think about all of the worries that would go away with this.”
“It just seems like a modern Frankenstein thing, or worse,” Rhea said. “I mean, this is some big mega company that came up with it to make money, not to help people. The technology is all bleeding edge. How do they know what the effects will be 10 years from now? 20?”
“Oh, come on,” Jason said. “This company has been doing genetic research for years. Half of the food you eat has been modified, all if you think back to the native plants and animals that our food came from. Look, there’s no difference between changes being made in a lab or through natural selection. Is Seamus a Franken-dog because people manipulated his ancestors to make his breed?”
“This is nothing like that,” Rhea said. “Our child will be our child, part of us, made by us, not some copyrighted genetic mutant created in a lab.”
Jason frown. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Oh, I forgot,” Rhea said. “You’re thinking of your grandfather, aren’t you?”
Jason nodded. “And others. It’s in my family, in my genes. Maybe I don’t have it, we don’t know. My dad died too young for there to be any symptoms. Are you willing to take a chance that your child, that part of you that you are talking about, will eventually come down with a horrible disease? And what if you can save that child right now? Wouldn’t you want to?”
“B-b-but we just found out that I’m pregnant today, do we need to think about this now?”
“They say the treatment has to be done as early as possible. The clock is ticking and we need to defuse the bomb, just in case.”
Every alarm bell in Rhea’s head went off, but she could tell Jason’s mind was set. They’d agonized for months about it before making the decision to try to conceive. Rhea realized that for her it had been months, but for Jason it must have been a life time of worry, not just about any child but for himself. He had been tested, but it wasn’t conclusive, turning up at about a 65 to 70% probability that he had it. Scary for Jason, but what odds did it give any child they had?
She was willing to risk it but she could tell the risks were too high for Jason, at least if there was an out. He didn’t want a child of his to live with the worry. When she brought up that the genes came from over 100 different species, including non-vertebrate animals, he brought up that humans share almost three quarters of the genes with zebra fish and almost half the genes of a fruit fly. He also reminder her that the company involved had been doing genetic modification to plants and animals for decades.
She didn’t agree to it right away, but she finally broke down and had the treatment well before the end of the first trimester, just as recommended.
Jason never developed symptoms and later tests showed he didn’t carry the gene.
“But we didn’t know, we couldn’t know,” Rhea said to try to reassure -herself.
Their child was fine, if somewhat strange. Medically she was perfect, nothing wrong, but Brit never had the expected emotional responses and tended towards coldness. She was never sick a day in her life. She grew up beautiful, smart and healthy. Most of the coldness went away as she entered her 20s.
But Rhea always worried, particularly those odd times when Brit’s cold, purple eyes looked at her in hatred and anger. Maybe worse were Brit’s occasional tantrums as she was hitting puberty, with the child screaming that she was a foreigner in her own head. They never told her that they had given her gene therapy, but later she told them she had always known, had known and resented it.
“Why did we do it to you?” Rhea asked herself.
Brit’s husband, Seth, disappeared at the first sign the pregnancy wasn’t going as planned, but Brit stuck it out. Well, she stuck it out up until the child was born.
There was no note. Nobody needed one. The reason for Brit’s suicide was whimpering in the other room. Rhea tried to ignore it, but knew she would eventually have to go back in and face the monstrosity that, though barely human, was her grandson.