Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
What is “Designer Baby”?
A “designer baby” is a baby that is genetically engineered to select or remove certain traits, which vary from removing the risks of genetically inherited diseases, ability to select gender, eye color, and even enhancing intelligence or athleticism. Though this concept might seem like science fiction, through recent advancement of biotechnology, designer babies may soon become a reality.
How would designer babies be made?
Currently there are 2 different ways that designer babies could be made.
- Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
With this method, there is no gene editing involved during the process. Through *IVF embryo screening, people’s embryos are taken and identified for genetic traits. Parents are able to choose from the viable eggs and select the one that suits their needs, such as selecting the ones without genetic disorders, or even select gender. The use of PGD is strongly restricted in the UK, however, there are no strict laws preventing the use of PGD in the US, and can be used for selecting the gender if wanted. IVF and medical technology surrounding it are currently used in hospitals all around the world, therefore, it can be said that this method is somewhat safe.
*IVF (In-Vitro-Fertilization): reproductive technology that uses medicine and surgical procedures to help with fertilization of eggs and implantation on the uterus
- Genome Editing (CRISPR)
With this method, scientists “use natural enzymes to target and snip genes with maximum accuracy.” (Ball, The Guardian) In theory, this method proves possible to change the DNA sequence, allowing for the removal and the replacement of specific strands of DNA, such as those that contain mutations that are harmful to humans. Currently, this method is not proven to be safe for human use and is under clinical trials. Several countries around the world, however, created laws that forbid the use of genetic engineering on human babies due to widespread public distrust.
There are several ethical issues raised with the concept of gene editing on human embryos. The use of biotechnology such as the ones listed above are expensive, and only those who can afford the technology can get the benefits of having designer babies. Even the cost of reproductive technology, IVF, now in the US takes about an average over $20,000 according to Hercher from MIT technology review. So what happens when the designer babies are actually a reality? Affluent families will able to have the choice of having a healthy genetically tested child while the others will not. Furthermore, some religious, racial, ethnic groups do not believe in the use of reproductive technology, restricting the choices they may have compared to other people. According to a STAT-Harvard poll on genetic editing, more than 60% of US adults disliked the idea of gene editing on the embryo to reduce the risk of genetic disorder, or change physical characteristics. The core of the ethical issue concerning designer babies is the fear that this technology may create an uneven playing field resulting in a further gap of the society.
We risk creating a society where some groups, because of culture or geography or poverty, bear a greater burden of genetic disease.Laura Hercher (MIT Technology Review)
Benefits of Designer Babies
Although there are several concerns regarding genetically modified babies, there are several advantages that benefit not only individuals but also the world.
- Reduce the risk or eliminate genetically inherited diseases
Through genetic modification and removing the strands of DNA that cause genetic disorders, there is a possibility of completely eliminating the disease from the world after several generations, potentially leading to a longer life span and a healthier society. This technology can also lead to reducing the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Down Syndrome.
- “Savior Siblings”
“Savior Sibling” is a term used to define children that are born for the purpose of providing stem cells from the umbilical cord to save an older sibling suffering from a serious medical condition. The “savior sibling” is selected through PGD so that it has a clear match to save the older sibling. This procedure has been done several times and is considered a “designer baby” since doctors select the embryo that can be used for the older sibling. The first ever case of the designer baby is Adam Nash, born in August 2000, to save her sister Molly that was suffering from a rare genetic disease, Fanconi anaemia which is a progressive bone marrow failure. After the stem cell transplant, Molly has fully recovered.
So What Do You Think?
The debate surrounding the ethics of designer babies is still present. Can technology be used to better human lives? Or will it be used to create corruption? Below is a short poll asking for your opinions on this topic.
Works Cited :
Agar, Nicholas. “Designer Babies: Ethical Considerations.” ACTION BIOSCIENCE, American Institute of Biological Sciences, www.actionbioscience.org/biotechnology/agar.html.
Ball, Philip. “Designer Babies: an Ethical Horror Waiting to Happen?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Jan. 2017, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jan/08/designer-babies-ethical-horror-waiting-to-happen.
Ball, Philip. “Super-Smart Designer Babies Could Be on Offer Soon. But Is That Ethical? | Philip Ball.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Nov. 2018, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/19/designer-babies-ethical-genetic-selection-intelligence.
Begley, Sharon. “Harvard Poll: Americans Say No to ‘Designer Babies’.” STAT, STAT, 19 Apr. 2018, www.statnews.com/2016/02/11/stat-harvard-poll-gene-editing/.
“Designer Babies: the Arguments for and Against.” The Week UK, The Week Ltd, www.theweek.co.uk/95108/designer-babies-the-arguments-for-and-against.
Hercher, Laura, and Laura Hercher. “Designer Babies Aren’t Futuristic. They’re Already Here.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 24 Oct. 2018, www.technologyreview.com/s/612258/are-we-designing-inequality-into-our-genes/.
“The Status of the Human Embryo.” Saviour Siblings, University of London, embryo-ethics.smd.qmul.ac.uk/tutorials/embryo-and-the-law/saviour-siblings/.
“What Is In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF)?” Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/fertility-treatments/what-ivf.