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Dating Advice #166 - Navigating the Gene Pool
Dating Advice 166

Dating Advice #166 - Navigating the Gene Pool

Does a family history of some medical condition signal a red flag to stay away?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm writing with a concern I have about my roommate. She is currently dating a man who shared casually with her that he has a genetic disposition to skeletal dysphasia ("dwarfism"). From what I understand, it's a possibility that if he has children they may be afflicted with this condition.

My roommate came home from the date in an absolute panic. She wants to stop dating him because of this possibility. I asked her why this should matter, as this man has many fine qualities, and anyway aren't all humans sacred?

My friend seems to have an attitude of trying to get the best gene pool. She actually said that she's looking for a life partner who can provide for her emotionally and financially, as well as someone who can make up for her own perceived bad genes!

Is this what dating is all about?


Dear Cheryl,

We cannot fault your roommate for being concerned about having a child with a physical condition that might be challenging to deal with. Many of us accept the fact that God created people in all shapes and sizes and that none of us is perfect, that we can live full and rewarding lives even though we are not perfect, and that we must value others based on what's inside rather than the package they come in. In addition, many of us have close relationships with people who have disabilities, physical illnesses, mental or emotional conditions, or "different" appearances, and value them as fine human beings.

And while most of us would love any child God gave us, some of us would nevertheless not be willing to knowingly place ourselves in a situation in which there was a strong likelihood that our offspring would have a serious medical "abnormality."

Someone with skeletal dysphasia faces more challenges than the difficulty of living in a physical world geared to conventionally-sized adults. People of extremely short stature often face social discrimination, diminished employment opportunities, and negative effects on self-esteem. Some people with skeletal dysphasia must also deal with medical problems brought on by organs that do not function normally, and may experience pain and disability because of the effects their abnormal bone structure has on their joints, nerves, and even lung capacity.

We're not saying that your friend's attitude is good or bad; we're just saying that we understand it and do not fault her for having it. God may not have given her the inner strength to deal with the issue. Another person may be reluctant to date someone who has a difficult-to-manage disease, because they do not feel that they are up to the challenge of dealing with it. Others can accept a future spouse's less-than-ideal health but want to avoid the likelihood that a serious medical condition might be passed onto their children. That doesn't mean that they are bad people, or closed-minded, or prejudiced, or that they think that people who are less than perfect are less than human.

In fact, there are even times that we feel singles are wise to turn down a prospective dating partner on medical grounds. There are simple methods to screen individuals for genes for certain debilitating, and often fatal medical conditions (see Dating Maze #130 ). If both parents carry the same defective gene, there is a 25 percent chance in each pregnancy that a baby will be born with the condition. If a man and woman learn that they are both carriers before they decide to go out with each other, or after they have gone out on just a few dates, they may decide turn down the possible match because they are not genetically compatible for marriage.

Of course, in writing all of this we haven't even mentioned the fact that any person who believes he or she may be "genetically disposed" to a medical condition should consult with a genetic counselor. The counselor, who may order genetic testing to get a clear picture of the individual's situation, can give advice about the risks of passing the condition onto offspring and any medical procedures that can minimize the chance the condition will be inherited. We recommend that anyone who is concerned enough about being "disposed" to a serious medical condition should meet with a genetic counselor before he starts dating for marriage. This will enable him to fully understand his situation and present information about it in an intelligent and balanced way.

The man your friend has been dating should think about the optimal point in the dating process to reveal his situation. Personally, we think that the timing for such a disclosure should be after a couple who is dating for the purpose of marriage has gone on a few dates and is ready to focus on developing a relationship that might lead to marriage. Presumably, at this point two people have begun to like each other and the other person will be somewhat receptive to hearing and considering a disclosure that is presented in an informative, well-reasoned manner. If the other person is not able or willing to continue to date, the couple is spared the considerable heartbreak that could occur if the disclosure were made after they had developed a strong emotional connection. We advise consulting with a rabbi to help decide when to disclose this information, in terms of both practicality and Jewish law.

Your last comment about your friend is something that concerns us much more than the genetic profile of the man she is dating. Your friend appears to see herself as "defective" in some way. Perhaps this is a product of a difficult upbringing, and she fears that she may bring undesirable behaviors into a marriage. Perhaps there are health issues within her own family, and she may want to minimize the chances that her children can inherit several serious conditions. It seems to us that your friend could benefit from some counseling herself.

If she's concerned about issues such as parenting, management of stress or anger, etc., a mental health professional can help her learn more effective ways of dealing with life so that she can avoid repeating the undesirable patterns of behavior she learned from her parents.

Once she learns positive ways to deal with her own situation, we hope she will no longer look for a future spouse who will be able to compensate for her "defects" and will instead be able to look for the right person with whom she can build a life.

All the best,

Sherry and Rosie

October 30, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) dd, February 8, 2005 12:00 AM

to chooce poor genes

Thsi young lady has a free will to choose whom she wants. She may not find the "right " one with all of her quilifications. Somewhere she will loose out. All people sacred, you are right. It does not mean that this man will have those children. Who is to say that he will? I can understand her fear, if it was with right motive, and concern, but if it to satisfy her selfishness then no, her final choice could be the worst she will ever make.
beauty is in the eye of the beholder and shines from within. If anybodyis looking ot get married, they shouldnot compromise, it is for life. If she does choose this man, later on might be a chance of divorce and hurting him more. Maybe it is better that she does stop. Some one else more worthy then she is, will love him no matter what. They both have choice. I hope she is honest with him and shares how she feels. Not just dump him. He deserves more. He deserves truth.

(4) Elliott Aheroni, December 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Generic attitudes

The comment from Dr. Jose Nigrin reminds me of Dr. Mengele and the Nazi attitude about the "Master Race". What is a disfavorable condition? Is it my deaf mother who became a highly successful hairdresser or my deaf parents who produced me, a person who has M.S. and became a successful trial lawyer?

Is it my cousin who was born with Club feet who became an accomplished Plastic Surgeon and then a successful
trial lawyer?

Or is it my two daughters who wear hearing aids, are both college graduates and both of whom are getting married next year?

I really believe that it is Dr. Nigrin who is out of touch with Jewish humanity and spirituality who suffers from a disfavorable condition.

Elliott Aheroni

(3) Dr. Jose Nigrin, November 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Genetical prevention

Any person that is informed, or knows, there is a genetic defect, in a prospective partner, should take it seriously as a possible risk in having abnormal offspring. Everybody has the right to improve his physical or mental status. We also know, that love is blind, but preventing any disfavorable condition, is a sound mental policy for the welfare of all mankind. If there has been an offspring without having had a genetic awareness, we are obliged to take the responsability to help the handicapped borned with a dissability.

(2) Andy, November 4, 2004 12:00 AM

telling it like is

If she is straightforward and makes potential partners aware of what she is looking for and why I don't believe she can be faulted. I hope she brings great attributes as well. If not, I'd say her chances of achieving marital bliss are slim indeed.

(1) Sidra Shapiro, October 31, 2004 12:00 AM

Genetic Counseling Resources

Thank you for making your readers aware of genetic counselors. Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. More information on genetic counselors, including how to find one, can be found at the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American Board of Genetic Counseling

Sidra Shapiro, MS, CGC
Certified Genetic Counselor

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