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Designer Baby Hubub

We knew it was coming right? It appears that designer babies are around the corner.
In less than a year you will be able to order for your unborn baby insect legs, or antennae, or maybe an elephant’s trunk…wait…sorry…that was for my 2018 blog post

…What I mean is you may soon be able to customize your baby’s eye color, skin, even the curliness of the hair. As you may imagine, this has quickly re-ignited a ruckus with bloggers and commenters comparing this technology to Hitler’s eugenics or a recipe for Armageddon.

Dr. Jeff Steinberg is the owner of an LA Fertility Institute. He was one of the team of doctors that created the first process of In Vitro Fertilization, so-called test-tube babies in the 1970s. In this process, eggs are harvested from women, fertilized by sperm and implanted in the womb. I believe there was outrage about that back then wasn’t there?

Well, he says that within 6 months he will offer these designer options to his patients.

hold the blogs…this just in….

Since I started putting this post together a couple of day ago, it now seems that Dr. Steinberg has dropped this whole idea, for now, due to the storm of controversy that arisen over this topic.

“Though well intended, we remain sensitive to public perception and feel that any benefit the diagnostic studies may offer are far outweighed by the apparent negative societal impacts involved”

Another interesting twist to this is the claim that the science isn’t even ready for prime-time.

“Nobody can do this right now,” says Sean Tipton of the American Society for Reproductive Technology.

A statement from the Center for Human Reproduction, a fertility clinic said:

“The truth is that we cannot (yet) reliably test embryos for eye color, hair color, skin tones and other ‘cosmetic’ features”

Steinberg never proclaimed certainty for his blue-eyed deliverables. He always said that the best he could offer was an increased probability of having a child that matches the parent’s checklist. Apparently, he can’t even offer that.

So how will this process work once they get the kinks out of it.

This is all possible because of a technique called PGD or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This has actually been around for 17 years within the In Vitro Fertilization process to screen for genetic diseases. More recently, it’s been used to predict gender with 100% accuracy. It works by harmlessly taking a redundant cell from a 3 day old fertilized human embryo and performing chromosomal and genetic analysis. Not only does this greatly increase the odds of successful implantation, it also screens the dna of the cell for diseases, like Down syndrome, Tay-Sachs, even for predispositions for certain types of cancer. All told, they search for 90 different mutations.

Dr. Jamie Grifo, director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at the NYU School of Medicine said the following (before Steinberg withdrew his offer):
“I think this is more hype than reality, Patients don’t do it when they find out what’s involved…You have to go through IVF. It costs a lot of money. It doesn’t always work.”

The IVF process can be quite an ordeal not to mention an expense of around $18,000.

One woman commenter described her ordeal like this:
“This is why I question how much a woman would put herself thru to do this.  It is hard to get viable embryos.  It takes 4 weeks of oral medication followed by 3 weeks of daily injections (some of them multiple times per day) followed by 2 1/2 months of intra muscular injections (that are quite painful), to try for ONE baby. “

Grifo has also said:
“I don’t think patients really want this.”

I tend to disagree. I think if you had an easy, safe, and inexpensive method for making these selections, many parents would do it.

Still, the opposition I’ve come across seems out of proportion and largely unaware of the facts of this story.

An unscientific MSNBC poll I came across has the following results:

Would you choose your baby’s physical traits if you could?   * 51442 responses

Yes. It would be great to be able to select hair and eye color!
7.3%
No. It’s not wise to tamper with Mother Nature!
73%
I’m not sure. Screening out physical and mental defects sounds good, but maybe it’s going too far.
20%

I went through many many comments people left on the MSNBC website. I found a pattern in the responses that I’d like to address.

ALL THE SAME

“all kids will end up being the super awesome and everybody will be the same”
“I do not think it is a good idea, because in the end everyone will look the same, and no one will be unique”

It seems to me that these people are overstating the impact that cultural fads have on hair and eye color. Wouldn’t there be lots of variations based on the subjective likes and dislikes of the parents?

Changing hair and even eye color is pretty cheap and easy these days. Is this making too many people “the same”? Plus who denies that it won’t be long before we’ll be able to change almost any aspect of our appearance like we change wigs today. How we look when we’re born will become irrelevant to an amazing degree.

GATTACA SYNDROME
“Once it starts, it will spiral to the point that non-designer babies, kids and finally adults, will be at a significant disadvantage.”

Ah…the slippery slope argument. The premise here is that only babies can benefit from these genetics advancements.
I think it’s clear that amazing adult enhancement technologies will be ubiquitous in a generation or two. I’m not talking Viagra tech. Like I mentioned above, Superficial changes like hair and eyes and skin will be even easier and cheaper than today. Things like intelligence augmentation through drugs and eventually genetic manipulation could be common-place as well. The same goes for athleticism and fitness. Adults will have methods at their disposal for dramatic improvements far beyond and far safer than steroids.

CONFUSION WITH GENETIC MANIPULATION
“To introduce genetically altered human beings to the gene pool can’t be good.”

“Are we all so vain & stupid as to start messing with the genetic makeup of our species? Have’nt we created enough new and untreatable strains of viruses, mad cow, AIDS, etc?”

These people misunderstand this technology. This technique doesn’t manipulate the genome. Blue eyes aren’t being created de novo. It only allows the parents to select among embryos created normally. This technique just removes some of the randomness about reproduction. Is random selection inherently superior? Does it have to be forced on parents if they don’t want it to?

…..OK

“How our children come out, whether it’s their physical appearance, their gender, or any diseases or defects, is up to God. He is the only one that should have this power.”

“Everyone has a purpose.  No one wants to have a child with mental or physical problems, but that child is being born for a specific reason.  It is NOT our job to question or understand what that reason is…only to accept it.”

I don’t feel like responding to these. If you agree with these people, nothing I say will make a difference.

JUST YOU WAIT

“It does not even come close to stopping there. Soon we will hybrid(ize) ourselves with the machines we create…If you are hung up on hair & eye color, you are in for a complete shock in the next 50 years.”

-commentor:Aldus Huxley

I agree with this commentor’s sentiment. If you think that this technology is repugnant, then wait until you see the options available to your kids or grandkids. People will be cloning themselves, fusing animal genes into their genomes, integrating themselves with machines plus stuff we’re not even thinking about yet.

I love the deliciously ironic name this commentor chose…Aldous Huxley. He wrote the famous novel Brave New World many decades ago which anticipates bizarre developments in reproductive technology that change the world turning it into not a utopia but a dystopia.

I’ll end with best comment I came across:

“Babies are NOT accessories, they DON’T need to color coordinate them.  Geeze…please grow up people, before you create mutants bearing the first zombie disease or something.”

2 comments to Designer Baby Hubub

  • durnett

    I guess I have been desensitized by too much science fiction. Until I can give my kid the ability to regenerate damaged limbs and organs and get rid of this ridiculous “put the center of the nervous system on a stalk outside of the body” design, I will put this controversy in the tempest-in-a-tea-cup file.

  • Exactly right, I got tired of all the “Blond, blue eyed Nazi baby” comments from those who misunderstood the technology and imposed a sort of Eugenics for Dummies template over the whole thing.
    Even those who didn’t not a priori object to the technology seemed to end up with the same flaws in thinking.
    Tempest-in-a-teacup indeed.

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