December 18, 2010

Almost three years ago, I read an article about designer babies – or more specifically, the ability to screen embryos for certain characteristics, allowing the parents to then, knowing those qualities, choose to implant or not. It’s not hard to see how this is controversial. And it seems it’s not going away – and in fact, it’s getting trickier as PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) is getting good enough for cosmetic choices (hair/eye color).

See, when it started, PGD was originally used to weed out extremely detrimental disorders. That’s a good thing. No parent wants a child born with a deadly disease or a high risk of one. But the trouble starts when they start targeting non-disorder/disease traits – gender and cosmetic appearance. And then what about the “negative enhancements” – when parents want the child to have a disability that also affects the parents (e.g. deafness)?

On one hand, this is a choice. Is it really different from when you select a partner for certain characteristics (looks, intelligence, no diseases)? We can look at China’s population and see that they’ve done extremely well at manipulating the gender of their younger generations. And that was without all this fancy technology.

Obviously, the concern is that at some point, PGD could open up a whole new can of worms in terms of discrimination. Sure, hair and eye color might not be too significant. But where do you start to draw the line? What if you could improve height, athletic ability, intelligence, shade of skin color? Given how much competition there is to make your child the best without genetic modifications, these screenings would make parents crazy. And becoming more homogeneous isn’t so good either (example: China’s years of gender selection is now coming back to bite them).

But what I find most interesting, and most difficult to form an opinion on, is the “negative enhancements”. This is when parents who have a disability would choose that disability in the child. The classic example seems to be deafness. As someone who can hear, I would never choose for my child (if I had that choice). I would never choose for them to be blind, color-blind, a dwarf, or have some food allergy. But deafness (and the rest I listed) isn’t a crippling disability – it’s often seen as just a different normality. And as parents, isn’t it better when your child is like you? So should parents be allowed to make that decision for their child?

side note – This doesn’t even touch on the “is an embryo alive” debate. That’s much more than I can handle.



  1. Ever seen Gattaca?

    • Yes, I love that movie! But I don’t want something like that to actually end up happening. That would be terrible

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