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CHILDREN/ The beauty of the unexpected

LUIGI BALLERINI discusses the temptation to try to predict and control everything about our lives and our children, when the person is free to act in surprising ways.

(Infophoto) (Infophoto)

Fans of numerology attach great value to the number twenty-three. The Earth rotates on an axis on a twenty-three degree tilt, in "I Ching" twenty-three represents the hexagram of Fragmentation, Mozart wrote twenty-three concertos for piano and twenty-three quartets, and then did not Adam have twenty-three ribs? Yet the site www.23andme.com is not referring to any of those things.

Twenty-three in connection with "me" refers to the pairs of our chromosomes. The popular U.S. website is in fact able to send kits for genetic diagnosis to be done on the couch to homes around the world. The "plan for the future" kit, for example, promises to identify whether a prospective parent is a healthy carrier of at least forty hereditary diseases. Take for example cystic fibrosis: from the site, we learn that one Caucasian in twenty-nine is a carrier of a mutation that can cause this disease. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25% chance that their baby will be born with the disease. To know, all you have to do is get the kit, insert a sample of saliva into the appropriate tube, send it back to the laboratory, and in two weeks’ time you can check your genetic profile online from home. Easy, no?

Such sites are part of the biotechnology wave hitting us, and allowing us to do self-diagnoses and forecasts, promising to make us feel safer, more prepared to be better parents because we are more aware.

Unique like America itself, though it appears to be so hungry for guarantees on the future, later this month a book is coming out that, at least according to reviews that appeared in the newspapers, is already attracting interest and much controversy: Bloom by Kelle Hampton. During her pregnancy, the author reports that she underwent prenatal testing and received the peace she sought. However, when she gave birth, she discovered that her baby was suffering from trisomy twenty-one, otherwise known as Down syndrome.

Of this book, which many critics and parents who went through the same experience stigmatize, saying that the story was dramatized as a marketing scheme, at least the subtitle is good, and remarkable in this era of extreme prediction-making: "finding beauty in the unexpected".