Risk and Reproductive Decisions: British Pakistani Couples’ Responses to Genetic Counselling

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'Risk is in the eye of the beholder.' With contemporary examples discuss what is meant by the risk for the individual and society.

In this essay I am going to explore the genetic, cultural and social risks occurring when certain communities marry within their own family, i.e. in the Asian communities marrying cousins using contemporary examples of the medical, ethical and sociological effects on individuals and society in Britain. While there is no law in Britain against first cousins marrying each other, I will explore claims that the genetic risk for disability occurring in children born from these relationships and how the risks are disregarded in favour of cultural and religious traditions. I will use arguments from government statistics on the actual genetic risks alongside opinionated and perceived social risks from newspapers and other sources using both sides to conclude which should be more important and which are dominantly taken into account by the individual.

To date there has been conclusive scientific evidence that consanguineous marriages within the Pakistani community have a high medical risk for disorders and disabilities occurring in one or more children. 'For anyone, the risk of having a child affected by a genetic condition is comparatively low. According to birth incidence data, the risk of having a child with a congenital or genetic (including recessive) disorder is about 2 per cent. The risk doubles to about 4 per cent for first-cousin couples, mainly because of the increased risk of recessive disorders.' (Shaw A, 2004) . Although the evidence does not suggest that all Pakistani couples will be at risk, only those with a recessive gene, using deductive reasoning most would disregard the long term effects if the short term gain was a hedonistic choice that would bring immediate pleasure to themselves and others around them. 'psychologists studying deductive reasoning have found some typical errors, such as difficulty accepting unwelcome conclusions - that smoking causes cancer - or in changing valued beliefs, for example that all mothers are benign.' (Bulter G & McManus F, 2000) The Pakistani community has many traditions and an extremely strong sense of duty and commitment to the family unit, if there were to be a disruption in within these confines it could result in an individual being viewed negatively.

Birmingham advertised a campaign against first cousin marriages with a drama set in Pakistan depicting a couple who are first cousins being told their child has a genetic disorder then an argument at the family home with the father saying, 'what do doctors know about gods will?'. (youtube, 2009) This is one of the few places in Britain which has done this regardless of the outcry and anger from the targeted community. Would this create a moral panic causing the non Pakistani community to view this culture in a pejorative manner? Is the majority white western society merely trying to impact the view that the Pakistani culture is deficient in its choices? Would the Pakistani community perceive the media's attention on their customs and traditions as a personal attack, therefore ostracising them from white western customs and social norms even further, minimising the risk on a personal level by keeping their family bloodline intact and creating a well knit family unit in a country which has attacked the customs handed down through generations, via the media and political right wing groups. The moral relativism on both sides changes due to cultural and societal norms enforced upon us. We all have our own virtue ethics in which we decide either consciously or subconsciously in accordance with our surroundings. Therefore if your parents marriage and their parents marriage before them were to first cousins the ingrained deductive reasoning we all possess would determine our own choices, the likely outcome of this scenario would be (especially if there had been no birth defects or infant...
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