History, Impact today

Parental Objectives and Designer Babies: Fooling Mother Nature or Accelerated Evolution?

parental objectives

“There is no time, to wait for Darwinian evolution, to make us more intelligent, and better natured. But we are now entering a new phase, of what might be called, self-designed evolution, in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. With genetic engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA, and improve the human race. “

–Steven Hawking

Parental Objectives for Designer Babies

The history of designer babies is a relatively short one, beginning when baby Jessica, who was conceived using the in vitro fertilization process, was born on August 13th, 1996. Parental objectives for utilizing the miracles made possible by science are as varied as the individuals. In this case, the parental objectives included choosing the sex of the child. In the 2000 case of Lisa and Jack Nash, their daughter Molly suffered from a bone marrow deficiency caused by a genetic disorder.

They “designed” their son Adam by choosing embryos that proved to be a perfect tissue match to be a bone marrow donor for Molly. Using stem cells from his umbilical cord, doctors were able to replace life-saving bone marrow. Parental objectives regarding designer babies have been the subject of a great deal of controversy. In addition to religion objections, a number of moral, ethical and legal questions have been raised regarding this issue.

One example of legal restrictions was demonstrated by the case of a British couple with a 4-year-old son named Charlie. Charlie had a rare condition requiring regular blood transfusions, and needed a bone marrow transplant. Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority denied them permission to utilize in vitro fertilization. They then sought treatment at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in the United States, where genetic engineering is largely unregulated.

Ethical Considerations

According to one article, one of the questions raised is whether it is ethical for parents to choose specific embryos to have a child that can serve as a donor for another child. Many have questioned whether it should be legal, and many countries do have strict laws surrounding the use of science to influence the creation of children. Another question is whether designer babies could potentially adversely affect society by creating a group of people with unnatural advantages over their peers. Others have raised the possibility of genetic engineering reducing the necessary degree of variation within the gene pool to ensure continued evolution of our species.

Scientists argue that genetic engineering will make it possible to eliminate the suffering caused by genetic disorders and hereditary diseases. Additionally, they believe that rather than decreasing genetic variation, it will increase it more rapidly that nature alone. The most common parental objectives for genetic engineering is to ensure that they are able to produce a healthy child. Another increasingly common objective is to choose the sex of the child.

Scientific Advances in Genetic Engineering

There are now medical facilities that advertise the ability for parents to choose their child’s gender as well as offering screening for hereditary diseases. A new process called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) has made it possible to determine the gender of the child with a success rate of 99.9%. In this process, the mother’s eggs are fertilized with the father’s sperm in a laboratory. Only a healthy embryos of the desired gender is implanted in the mother. Other healthy embryos can be frozen for potential future use. Several eggs are extracted from the mother by our doctors, sperm is supplied by the father.

It is now possible to screen for a great number of hereditary diseases. The process called the aneuploidy (abnormal chromosome count) detects some genetic abnormalities, such as Down’s Syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, and Kleinfelder’s syndrome. This process, combined with choosing the gender of the child costs approximately $17,000. Complete screening processes combined with donor services can cost as much as $30,000.

Parental Objectives and the Rise in Fertility Tourism

Strict regulation in many other countries has resulted in what is called “fertility tourism. Many prospective European parents go to the United States because of the lax regulations and the high success rates. Ironically, Americans often choose to go to India or Asia due to the high cost coupled with lower wages. Many women are confronted by the decrease in fertility that accompanies the aging process after spending years achieving the level of pay necessary to support a child.

Professional women for whom it is necessary to undergo in vitro fertilization to become pregnant has become increasingly common. In fact, it has become so common that recently Apple and Facebook began covering the costs of their female employees extracting and freezing their eggs. There have been mixed reactions to this news, with supporters saying that it will help women balance their careers and family lives and those who oppose accusing the companies of devaluing family life to retain workers longer.

Whatever the parental objectives or the ethical considerations, genetic engineering is here to stay. That’s why it’s important that as a global society, we must shape its direction through education and discussion, rather than allowing it to shape ours.

parental objectives
What Happened to Baby Jane, by Doug Bowman, Flickr cc2.0
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