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“Designer Babies”: Are they Ethical?

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.

Ethical concerns

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.

Nash Family: “First Designer Baby”

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.

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COMMENTS: 19
  1. April 26, 2019 by Lucy.Fitez

    This is a really cool presentation! I didn’t know about a lot of aspects of “designer babies,” and this was very helpful. All of the interactive graphs and photos were super helpful and well-thought out. Although, I was wondering, while they do not have any now, is the US working on any laws to prevent this or not?

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you Lucy! I’m glad you liked my page. As far as I know, the US is not working on any laws to prevent it. However, in the future, there is a possibility of FDA regulating the use of genetic engineering on human beings.

  2. April 27, 2019 by Chloe.Smith-Frank

    Your presentation made me examine my own biases because I had always thought of parents who choose designer babies as shallow and a little selfish, so I’m glad I learned about the advantages of genetic selection as well. I was wondering what your opinion is on the issue: should PGD or CRISPR be allowed for anyone who can afford it, or regulated for specific purposes (risky genetic diseases, savior siblings, etc.)?

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you Chloe for your comment! I’m really glad that my page encouraged you to think deeper about this topic. I personally think the use of genetic engineering should be regulated, and only used for medical purposes.

  3. April 27, 2019 by Addie Anderson

    This is really interesting! In bio this year we did a unit on biotechnology, so it was really cool to see you take a concept we’d talked about and to go more in depth with it, showing both positive things and concerns. Do you personally think this should be done?

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you so much Addie! I think there are clear medical benefits with the use of genetic engineering on humans, therefore it could be done if it is necessary for the survival of the child.

  4. April 28, 2019 by Claire Irigoyen

    Designer babies have become an extremely controversial topic, especially in an age of in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy for women (in many instances) choosing to develop a career at the cost of reproductive years. I believe this presentation provides a balanced approach to both the issue of designer babies as an ethical conundrum and as a luxury. Although controversial, technological advances are progressive and highly sought after; therefore, I wonder where this controversy will be when it is our turn to start a family.

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you Claire for your insight on this topic. I hope this page helped you deepen your perspective on this highly controversial topic.

  5. April 28, 2019 by Annika Klaus

    Hi,

    Your project was a very interesting choice as designer babies are becoming more prominent in the world, with more couples talking about it and becoming interested. Your project explores the advantages and disadvantages of genetic selection and if this is ethical. I’m wondering if we know our families are at risks with health is it the best option to genetically modify our children?

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you Annika for your comment! I think it is up to the families to decide if genetically modifying your own child is the best option or not. However, I believe that engineering human DNA can be a solution to risky genetic disorders.

  6. April 29, 2019 by Simran Singh

    Hi Hana! This was a very cool presentation–designer babies used to be a very science fiction kind of concept. I really had to force myself to address some of my biases regarding designer babies because, as we know, this power to genetically engineer a human being can be abused and there exist a lot of ethical concerns surrounding the topic. After reading, however, I realize that if limitations are placed on designer babies in the future, there can definitely be benefits, as you mentioned. Do you know if (and how) it would be possible to place limitations on this procedure?

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you, Simran for your insight on this topic. I think the only way to place limitations on this procedure is to create laws that regulate the use of gene editing on humans. But I definitely agree with the fact that this procedure can be abused and there should be a clear limit to permit the use of gene editing.

  7. April 29, 2019 by Nina.Owen

    Hi Hana, I absolutely loved reading your project and am intrigued by the research you have presented within it! This topic is very important to understand from both sides and you presented both the advantages and disadvantages of designer babies very well! Great job!

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you so much Nina! I’m glad you enjoyed reading my page.

  8. April 30, 2019 by Emma.Sheldon

    Hana: Really cool project on a topic I knew virtually nothing about. The savior sibling part is really interesting and I’d never heard about that before. Well done!

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you so much Emma! I’m glad that this page helped you learn something new.

  9. April 30, 2019 by Ella.Bogdanski

    Hi Hana,
    This topic is very unique and modern. The Video is so interesting an almost unbelievable! I am wondering if you think that savior siblings are more ethical than other designer babies? Do you think that designer babies would experience bullying or mental health challenges due to their condition?

    • May 02, 2019 by Hana.Himura

      Thank you Ella for your comment! I believe if designer babies are used for medical purposes under proper regulation, it can be said that it is “ethical” as well as savior siblings. I wouldn’t know for sure if the designer babies will be subject for any bullying or other challenges since it is their choice to share or not about their condition.

  10. May 04, 2019 by Georgia.Farmer

    Hey Hana,
    Your presentation is super informational and really gives an in-depth look into the process of designer babies, and the exploration into the ethical concerns of designer babies helped me to understand a bit more about the ethical constraints of medicine! I was wondering about PGD, and why in the UK it is restricted, however in the US it isn’t?

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