Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Medicine: kissing cousins

An interesting article on some Pennsylvania folk who had to go get married in Maryland because Penn, like 23 other states, bans marriages between first cousins.

And while most of us still go, "EWWW!," science has taught us that, while it may be kinda gross, first cousin marriages don't present the genetic obstacles that people had long believed:

Robin Bennett, associate director of the medical genetics clinic at the University of Washington, said that laws prohibiting cousins from marrying are "a form of genetic discrimination."

Bennett led a 2002 study on risks of genetic problems in children born in such marriages. The study found that children born to couples who are first or second cousins have a lower risk for birth defects than commonly perceived.

On average, an unrelated couple has an approximately 3 percent to 4 percent risk of having a child with a birth defect, significant mental retardation or serious genetic disease.

Close cousins face an additional risk of 1.7 percent to 2.8 percent, according to the study, funded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
I can't find the exact stats to back this up, but I'm thinking from what I've learned that a younger first-cousin couple would have a better chance of producing a healthy child than many older women populations.

Thus, discriminating against first-cousins with regards to marriage seems incredibly unfair. No one bars cystic fibrosis carriers (about 1/25 of the population) from marrying each other or having children, and they have a 25% of having a kid w/ CF.

The article notes that some states do require genetic counseling. That seems fair enough. Genetic counseling might be a good (yet expensive) idea for the entire population. And some married first-cousins might even be improperly afraid of producing an unhealthy child. Having a 95% chance of having a healthy kid might lead a couple to go ahead. And fundamentally, that's their decision.

But I have to say, I'm really glad this article didn't have anything to do with Kentucky.


Steve said...

The sad thing is that I was just talking with my mom and cousin on this topic last night. I have no dreams to marry my cousin, but I do agree with your point - if we do not restrict people from getting married with genetic diseases that they may give their children, why do we have laws against cousin-cousin love when they are less likely to have sick children.

This will be somebody's crusade to pursue some day.

michael said...

if someone wants to marry his right hand then let him! the government has no right to dictate who can and cannot get married. of course this also means that tax breaks for married people and stupid crap like that go away too, which i also happen to be in favor of. less government more freedom, and neglected populations are an unintended consequence which is morally acceptable like morphine causing respiratory failure.

Matz said...

Um, no, the government does have a right to determine who can and cannot be married. I read the San Francisco court opinion the other day (invalidating CA's ban on same-sex unions) and it did a great job of emphasizing that government has a duty to pass laws that protect it's citizenry. Thus age limits on marriage (good). Laws against polygamy (good). But they have to provide a valid reason. For years intermarriage of first cousins was thought to be bad, now science has shown that it's not. On some level our aversion to marrying family is good (there's an evolutionary benefit which probably explains our natural aversion), but laws shouldn't be based on "ew that's gross" (that's how we end up with laws against same-sex unions). I think we all still agree that blood sibling marriages are bad. The law just has to catch up with the science. And tax breaks for families are good also, they encourage stable family structures that produce healthy happy citizens (and benefit me personally). We have tax breaks for retirement accounts, healthcare, education: why not marriage?

Matz, paving the way for a more complicated tax system, one loophole at a time.

Matz said...
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