Thursday, January 18, 2007

designer babies

Designer babies, once the stuff of science fiction, have been in the news over the last few years. In 2006, a British baby was "designed" not to have a particular cancer gene. For many years, some parents have "designed" babies in order to have tissue matches for sick siblings. Other couples have used the technique to select the gender of their child.

However, in recent news ( USA Today, CNN, New York Post) the question was once again raised - how far should parents be allowed to go to designing their own babies? In this case, a dwarf couple wants to have a baby who is also a dwarf. Some people argue that this is creating "deformer babies." (Not surprisingly, the use of this term does anger some people.)
Three percent, or four clinics surveyed, said they have provided the costly, complicated procedure to help families create children with a disability.
However, others argue that conditions such a dwarfism and deafness are not disabilities. (Many members of the deaf community also resent the use of cochlear implants to "fix" deafness.) I think one of the most interesting side effects of this debate forces us, as a society, to really reconsider what we consider "normal." Is there even such a thing? Is it wrong for a dwarf couple to want to have a baby who looks like them?

Some of you may be wondering - how can a parent design a baby anyway? Doctors use a process called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis or PGD. What this means is that before an embryo is implanted (or put) in a mother's womb, doctors diagnosis (or check) the genes of that embryo for genetic defects. If there embryo does have the gene (such as that cancer gene), doctors will not implant that embryo into the woman, and that embryo will not be allowed to grow into a full-term baby.

I think you can see why this would have huge ethical concerns. Who should be able to decide whether or not a potential child's life would be worth living? If we screen embryos for things like cancer, what is next? Diabetes? Deafness? Obese people? Less intelligent kids?

Scientists have the technology to select embryos for a variety of genetic conditions, and there is no doubt that they will be able to screen for much more in the future. However, are we, as a society, ethically ready for that? Students, I welcome your comments on the issue!



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