Being an Early Childhood Education major, I completely understand parents wanting the best for their children. I want the children I care for never to be in danger, and to reach their full potential. I try my best to make always feel loved, cared for, and help them thrive. However, I know that I can’t always protect them. Even the best teacher or parent knows that there is only so far their influence can go. But what if some people want to go farther? What if they want to alter the DNA of their children to give them the best odds of success?
This sounds like science fiction, but genetically altering one’s offspring is a practice rapidly becoming a reality. “Designer babies”, or children whose parents chose to have traits such as sex, beauty, and intelligence predetermined, have been more or less around for two decades. The first highly publicized case of non-medical trait selection occurred in 1996 in Fairfax, VA. Monique and Scott Collins had two boys, but desperately wanted a girl. So they worked with the Genetics and IVF Institute to achieve their desire. The Genetics and IVF Institute destroyed the embryos with XY chromosomes.
The way the Collinses were able to have a girl was by Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). For PGD, doctors screen viable embryos for genetic traits such as sex-linked diseases. This is commonly used to kill embryonic humans with cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia (1).
In 1994, the Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs released a statement in support of genetic selection used only to prevent disease. The Council fears that genetic selection will create a society where only the children of the wealthy will have preferred traits (1). Peter Donovan of the University of California Irvine’s Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center fears that the ability to create designer babies will allow for the “objectification of children as commodities” and a “genetic elite”.
Supporters argue that there should be a right of parental autonomy that trumps bioethics. George Annas, the chair of Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights at Harvard supports Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis with regulation. Some proponents argue that parents already have control of children’s traits with environmental conditions. PGD would not be that much different (1).
Another method of manipulating genes is “Crispr technology”. This method uses molecular scissors to cut DNA and add new pieces of genetic code. In 2015, scientists in China used Crispr technology to try to modify a blood disorder in nonviable embryos. This was done with limited success, and the embryos developed multiple dangerous mutations. Recently, however, scientists in the UK have used Crispr technology to reverse a heart condition. This is the first time anything like this has been done on viable embryos and there were no mutations. Scientists created 54 embryos using sperm with mutated genes (genes that often cause the heart condition). They got up to 72.4% of embryos not containing the mutation that causes the heart defect, along with no unintentional Crisper-caused mutations. The usual rate for embryos without the mutation for the heart defect would have been being 50%.
It is illegal in all countries to implant these embryos and allow them to develop (4). Human beings are being created simply to be tested on and killed. Instead of spending resources on disposing of the smallest humans, perhaps we could find cures to the diseased we are trying to stop in the first place. Instead of making “designer babies”, we should love and accept our children as they are. We should respect every human life.
(1) Ly, Sarah, “Ethics of Designer Babies”, 2011, The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/ethics-designer-babies
(2) Steere, Mike, “Designer babies: “Creating the perfect child”, 2008, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/10/30/designer.babies/index.html
(3) Gallagher, James, “‘Designer Babies’: Debate Should Start, Scientists Say”, 2015, BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/health-30742774
(4) Harper, Joyce and O’Neill, Helen. “Crispr Gene Editing: Scientist Edit Human Embryos to Safely Remove Disease”, 2017, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/crispr-gene-editing-human-embryo-remove-disease-645830