Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Will Disabilities Exist in the Future?

- By Keith Hosey -

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future. I went to a meeting about a park that is planned for the eastern part of Metro Louisville, a very exciting and ambitious project. I think the people involved are on the right track and inclusion on all abilities is a priority. Most organizations have a five year plan; their vision is a hundred years plan. That got me thinking, will disabilities exist in the future?

Three reasons they might not:

  1. Stem Cells. The science is in its infancy, but the applications seem to be out of this world. It promises to possibly help people with paralysis walk again, people with ocular diseases regenerate vision, and people with degenerative diseases fight back. Where will it take us? I’m not sure, but when I think about quality of life that it could create for millions of people… this thing seems to me like the best medical advance since penicillin.
  1. Genome Sequencing / Gene Manipulation. Order up, we’re already doing it with our food. Imagine a world like the movie Gattica, where before you’re born the doctors can see what genes may cause a disease or disability. Will future Hosey generations have no worry of their children being born with severe bilateral club feet? Will we be able to cure congenital diseases before they exist?
  1. Nano-Technology. The other night I saw a news piece on a Nanoknife: “It's not really a knife, but state-of-the-art technology to remove tumors that are considered inoperable. U of L Hospital is one of only twelve medical centers in the country to have the device.” Computer technology is getting smaller and more advanced, so it’s not out of the question that an army of nano-bots isn’t in medicine’s future.

Three reasons they might:

  1. The have nots. In the movie “Gattica” the rich had access to gene manipulation and the poor had congenital disabilities and diseases. Take polio, the vaccine was invented in 1955. Dr. Jonas Salk refused to patent the vaccine, so it could be widely available to everyone who needs it. The last case of polio occurring in the US was in 1979 (not counting any cases that were brought to the US by foreign carriers or caused by the vaccine). Do you want to see what countries still have polio cases in 2010?
  1. We’re getting older. Science and medicine has extended life expectancy well into people’s nineties (my grandma is 97 this year and goes on cruises). What about when we’re living to 120? There is a race between life expectancy and quality of that life. Stem cells could likely make a thirty year old in a wheelchair a sight of the past, but what about the hundred-and-thirty year old?
  1. Cochlear Implants. There is a hot debate in the Deaf Community (capital D, culturally Deaf), which consists largely of Deaf people whose first language is American Sign Language. Many Deaf individuals don’t consider their hearing loss as a disability, rather it is a cultural heritage. The community is split on the issue, but there are some Deaf parents who would rather not get the implants for their children. Maybe to an outsider this doesn’t make too much sense. The debate has softened in the past few years, but there is a greater question of culture here. They feel it is an attack on their culture and heritage. I don’t know many people that wouldn’t readily “take the cure” if it were available, but there are some who identify their disability as a major part of who they are.

Did I miss an important list item? What do you think? Will Disabilities Exist in the Future?

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  1. There's a scairer reason why disabilities may not exist in the future. As scientists learn more about DNA, they may allow parents to chose not to give birth to ahild with disabilities. This technology is aready avaliable for some disabilities.

  2. Zellie, I (Keith) apologize I haven't responded earlier, it's been a crazy week. Yes, this is a possibility I didn't mention. It's scary to think about. In the future I could have never been born. I like to think (hope) that science would move in the direction that fixes/cures (and doesn't abort) disabilities before birth. This is of course a possibility in the many possibilities of the future.

    The post was supposed to be a thought provoking piece and your comment has been more thought provoking for me than the original post. We have seen the bad in people in disability past (just look up Eugenics). Thank you for your comment, it was fantastically thought provoking.