Designer Babies: an Inevitable Future?

Blond or brunette? Tall or short? Girl or boy? Fragile X syndrome or no Fragile X syndrome?  This is what the future of fertility may come down to.  Through an up-and-coming practice known as “Reprogenetics”, medical clinics are on the verge of offering aspiring parents the option of choosing specific qualities that they desire in their children1.  This process, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), has the opportunity for participants to selectively choose against genetic diseases that would inevitably pose a significant burden on the children and the parents.  By analyzing the specific chromosomes in the egg and sperms cells that would be used to produce the fetus, doctors can identify some of the genes that are associated with different characteristics such as sex or genetic diseases2.  As of now, the selection of traits is limited, but future research can even lead to qualities such as height, longevity, or even HIV resistance.  Human-reproduction specialist Larry Lipshultz of Baylor University states, “Yes, theoretically you could do such things.  It’s doable, but I don’t know of anyone doing it”2.

Ethical issues arise when parents agree to partake in PGD solely for cosmetic purposes.  In Los Angeles, CA, a fertility clinic offered parents the choice of sex, eye and hair color of their child1; in Fairfax, VA, a couple that strongly desired a baby girl were more than delighted to greet their new daughter after genetic prescreening2.  What kind of world will this become if parents are choosing only the best or most desired qualities for their offspring?  Is it right for some parents to have the option to choose between having a healthy child or a physically appealing child just because they have the money for this luxury? James Hughes, an author on transhumanism – the use of modern technology to enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities – states: “[Using reproductive technology to pick cosmetic traits] is inevitable, in the broad context of freedom and choice… The only reason this is different is because it involves embryo selection”3.  Is it ethical for only the richer parents to choose eye color, height, or disease resistance given the financial, developmental, and social repercussions that may ensue?  Is reprogenetics ethical? We don’t know.  But is it inevitable? All signs seem to point to yes.