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?

Cheryl


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