Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hot Off the Rack: Designer Babies and its Effects to Society (Individual Project)

"Even minor tampering with nature is apt to bring serious consequences, as did the introduction of a single chemical (DDT). Genetic engineering is tampering on a monumental scale, and nature will surely exact a heavy toll for this trespass," said Dr. Eva Novotny, astronomer and campaigner on GM issues for Scientists’ for Global Responsibility, SGR. All across the world today, scientific advancements have been growing more and more rampant.  One of these is genetic engineering or the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material. This is directly related to the entire process of designer babies. Quite an odd term, however, "designer baby" at first was derived from "designer clothing" by the media, and used pejoratively as implying commoditization of children. It is the term for a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering, combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics. (Oxford, 2004). Such a thing originated during the early 2000s and has been improving over the years. Not only can the sex of the child be selected, but even the hair and eye color, plus a few more add-ons. Imagine conceiving a child and being able to play around with its embryo while gathering desired characteristics and traits as if one is simply browsing a catalogue! It sounds pretty ideal to most humans, but, of course, with an intricate development in the scientific field such as this, not everything included is a guaranteed success. Indeed, designer babies are accompanied by a handful of pros and cons, like most scientific advancements out there.

In vitro fertilization is the first step in making designer babies. This is the process where the egg is fertilized by the sperm outside the human body. After this, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is performed. This helps identify genetic defects within embryos. If genetic variants associated with any diseases are seen in the embryo's cells, the embryo is discarded. After all these procedures, genetic engineers modify the embryo’s DNA according to the parents’ preferences and then introduce it to the womb.

One pro that is accompanied with designer babies is that it prevents some genetic diseases and medical conditions at an early stage through PGD. Also, some see the enhancement of the health, looks, and traits of the baby as a pro. Lastly, it allows prospective parents to give their child genes that they do not carry.

Although there are people who aim for the legalization of designer babies in their respective countries, there are even more people who are against this. Some reason as to why they are opposed to this idea is that the engineering of genes could result to a new virus or disease that is hard to stop and could go on for generations. This could affect the whole child’s family tree which could be very devastating. Also, genes tend to have more than one use. For example, a gene could increase the child’s learning capability, but at the same time could increase his or her sensitivity to pain as well. (Agar, 2006)

Not only does designing babies affect the child physically, it also violates some of the rights of the infant. One is the child’s freedom to choose. Because of the fact that genomes could be altered, the child’s traits could be chosen and ‘programmed’ as well. For example, altering the child’s genomes could affect the child’s athletic ability. If both the parents are actually inclined to sports, they could make their child athletic as well even if the child may not have wanted this. Designer babies will also heighten discrimination. There might be a greater socioeconomic divide between the rich and the poor seeing only the rich people will be able to afford it. Also, it could create an even bigger gap in society because designer babies would most likely be better looking, smarter, etc. The process of designing babies also enables the parents to pick a gender. Because of the fact that there are still many male-dominated countries, designer babies might further heighten the discrimination between genders. Sharon Duchesneau and Candy McCullough, a deaf lesbian couple from the United States, want their baby to be deaf as well. Even though they view deafness as a cultural identity and not as a disability, some people say that they do not have the right to take away the child’s sense of hearing. (Johnson, 2012) Another example of a violation involves the process of IVF. With IVF, several embryos are tested for genetic defects, and those who are proven to have genetic defects are discarded.

Summing it all up, designer babies are still being debated amongst many countries and groups. Even though many people are against this, it is impossible to cross out the potential benefits and advancements it could bring about. Regarding this, let me end this paper with a quote said by Dr. Gillian Lockwood, a UK fertility expert and member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ ethics committee: “If it gets to the point where we can decide which gene or combination of genes are responsible for blue eyes or blonde hair, what are you going to do with all those other embryos that turn out like me to be ginger with green eyes?” She warned against “turning babies into commodities that you buy off the shelf.”

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Submitted by:
Anna Isabelle R. Lejano

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