(Don’t worry – I won’t subject you to the requisite pun about “designer genes.”)
The Fertility Institute of Los Angeles will begin offering parents the opportunity to select the physical characteristics of their children. Using a technique called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD, embryos conceived in vitro will be screened for specific genes that determine a child’s physical characteristics. The Fertility Institute’s own website boasts that prospective parents can choose “expanded testing that can greatly increase the odds of achieving a healthy pregnancy with a preselected choice of gender, eye color, hair color, and complexion.” You can expect denunciation from pundits and the blogosphere, just as there was in response to the Fertility Institute's previous work on gender selection – click here and here, for examples.
To my mind, such across-the-board denunciations make about as much sense as trying to hold back the wind with a fishnet. If the technology really exists to enable people to have children who are taller, stronger, healthier, more intelligent, more beautiful – and if it doesn’t, it will before we know it – then do you think any force on earth will be able to stop people from using it? I don’t have a problem with trait selection per se – but I think a little caution is in order here. After all, creating designer offspring didn’t work out so well for Frankenstein. Or, for an astounding real-life tale of medical cruelty, consider David Vetter, the Boy in the Plastic Bubble.
But we really don’t need such esoteric examples as the foregoing to warn us of the perils of designer babies. The fact is, people are ornery critters and don’t usually respond well to efforts to control them. We’ve all known parents who are narcissistic monsters, who spend their lives trying to force their children to be something they’re not. That usually doesn’t end up too well, for anyone concerned. When parents can specify the characteristics of their offspring, will they fare any better than the hapless Victor Frankenstein?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons