Old Fathers, Sick Children?
Leslie Feldman has suggested to me that there is beginning evidence to suspect that the father’s age at conception may affect, by genetic changes in the sperm, the presence in the offspring of disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. She writes about this and lists her documentation in the EBDblog. The literature offers genetic explanations for how advancing age may affect the incidence of these and, in fact, other disorders.
If statistics regarding the age-incidence relationship are valid, the question becomes what is the risk? Is the risk only based on age or are other factors known or yet unknown more important? Is the risk sufficient to try to find ways to reduce the risk and therefore possibly reduce the incidence of these disorders? Would there be a well established optimum age for the father’s sperm to be the most “genetically healthy” so that one might encourage potential fathers to cryo-preserve their sperm at the ideal age for later insemination? Finally, is anyone looking for genetically beneficial conditions that might be transmitted to the offspring by the elderly father, not available in the younger ones?
We have already discussed on this blog the ethics of elderly mothers, through one method or another, bearing children. This ethical issue was whether the parents would be living long enough to provide what was felt to be essential parental attention to their young children. With the information brought up by Leslie, the issue also becomes whether, from a genetic point of view, the risk of producing ailing offspring become something, by itself, to discourage. ..Maurice.