Have you ever had a stranger or a family member say something rude to you about your diabetes? It turns out many people with this condition have experienced this type of discrimination. But there’s one particular comment out there that we just can’t believe people are still saying.
Recently, on a Facebook forum for people with type 1 diabetes, someone posed the question, “Has anyone in your life told you that you shouldn’t pass on your genes because you have type 1 diabetes?”
There were more than 250 comments on the post, and many of the people said they had never been told anything like that before. But a select few respondents had their own stories about the terrible things people had said to them about having kids. Here are just a few examples.
One adult with type 1 diabetes said that two separate friends had questioned “why I would want to have children if I could pass it along.”
Another person said her doctor told her not to have children, and she listened but later regretted following that directive. “I wish I did my research, but I was told to listen to the doctor…I never married or had children, believing I would pass on T1D to my child.”
Two parents even said that their very own children were hoping that gene editing would be developed to the point where their genes could be altered to eliminate the risk of passing on type 1 diabetes to their offspring.
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It is perhaps not surprising that people with diabetes are hearing comments like this. Many of these ideas are rooted in eugenics principles, which are discredited but still cling to life among certain groups of people.
Eugenics is a pseudoscience movement based on the belief that certain genes are superior to others and that passing more of those genes on and fewer “inferior” genes would lead to a more desirable human race over the course of time.
While this idea may be sort of true in theory, it’s pretty messed up in real life. And while it may seem like a ridiculous thing to try in real life, it actually had widespread support in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Eugenics has often been used in history as a reason why people should be able to block certain members of the population from breeding. Or in more extreme cases (think Hitler here), it’s been argued that people with undesirable genes should simply be killed, thereby keeping them out of the gene pool.
Eugenics experienced its heyday shortly after the advent of insulin therapy in 1922. Eugenicists and early diabetes researchers often argued over whether diabetes should be included among the “undesirable” traits to be kept out of the gene pool. Before the advent of insulin, most people with type 1 diabetes did not live to an age at which they could procreate anyway, but now that they could, the discussion of whether they should be allowed to breed became more relevant.
And more than just academics were considering the answer to this question. Thirty-two states passed laws requiring sterilization for people who were deemed “unfit to procreate.” Between 45,000 and 70,000 people were sterilized to keep them from passing on their unfavorable genes to future generations. And in other parts of the world, people with genetic conditions were denied marriage licenses and required to terminate pregnancies if signs of a genetic issue appeared.
Of course, after WWII and the Holocaust, the idea of eugenics fell out of favor with most people, but it is believed that vestiges of the movement still exist within certain communities and still make their way into advice about whether people with certain medical conditions should procreate.
Women with diabetes, especially women of low-income backgrounds, are still sometimes scolded by their doctors for getting pregnant. Others are counseled never to get pregnant. These women are often likely to get substandard maternal care and have worse pregnancy outcomes, which only serves to perpetuate the idea that they never should have procreated in the first place.
These prejudices have survived outside of medical practices as well. Many people with diabetes and other genetic conditions have heard from friends and family members that they should avoid having children because of their “undesirable” genes. They’ve heard that their children’s lives will be too difficult or might be cut short because of their condition, so why even have children in the first place?
So let’s set the record straight. Assuming you do have some concerns about what life might be like for your child if you pass on your diabetes to them, what are the chances of that even happening?
Scientists are still working to understand why type 1 diabetes develops in some people but not others, but we do have some information about roughly how often a type 1 diabetic person will have a diabetic child. For a man with the disease, there’s about a six percent chance of passing it to his child. For a woman, there’s about a one to four percent chance. If both parents have the condition, there’s about a 25 percent chance that the child will have type 1 diabetes.
All this is to say that you can pass on the gene for type 1 diabetes, but that doesn’t actually mean that the gene will “switch on” and your child will develop diabetes. Lots of people with diabetes have perfectly healthy children with no genetic abnormalities.
And of course, there’s always a chance of having a child with type 1 diabetes even if neither of the parents has it. There’s really no way of knowing for sure what the outcome of procreation will be, no matter who you are.
Women with type 1 diabetes are perfectly capable of having healthy and normal pregnancies. And, as you well know, people with diabetes can live completely happy and productive lives. So while some people may see the disease as an “undesirable” trait to potentially pass on to a child, it’s not exactly a tragedy either. A condition like type 1 diabetes should not stop you from having biological children if that’s what you want to do.
So please don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you that you’re selfish or wrong for wanting to have biological children who will receive your “unfavorable” genes. Not only is that simply not true, but it’s also an idea that has harmed millions of people over the course of human history.Whizzco