Can Science Make Superbabies?
If you knew you could save your child from a lifetime of pain you would.
If you could save your child from an early death you would certainly do that too.
What if while doing those things you could also pick their intelligence? Their height and their ability to run fast? Those things may also help them as they go through life, wouldn't they?
An illuminating article in the Saturday's Globe and Mail entitled: Unnatural Selection: Is evolving reproductive technologies ushering in a new age of eugenics? says that science is heading in that direction. Medical science already has the ability to analyze embryos for different genetic traits: from serious diseases to cosmetic attributes. Since North American governments haven't stepped in to regulate reproductive technology -- it is up to the ethics of the doctors on how to use these powers.
The article focuses on PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), which is when embryos created through IVF are tested for certain genetic disorders. Doctors can then choose which embryo to implant into the woman. PGD can be used to eradicate painful genetic diseases and down the line the disease itself will die out because there are no carriers. But its use is not just limited to wiping out Tay-Sachs and other genetic syndromes. Carolyn Abraham writes in The Globe:
PGD, which is now employed to select a child's sex, to create “saviour siblings” genetically equipped with donor tissues to match those of another child in need and, ironically, to satisfy disabled couples who want to have children like themselves, most famously selecting traits to ensure deafness and dwarfism.
But its most common use by far is among doctors hoping to increase the pregnancy rates in women undergoing IVF, which now accounts for about 1 per cent of the 380,000 babies born in Canada every year. PGD can pinpoint abnormal embryos that carry a greater risk of miscarriage if implanted – a risk that increases exponentially with a woman's age.
Critics of PGD include advocates for those with disabilities. They worry that people may be blamed for their disabilities and public funding and sympathy will decline rapidly as the science increases. While it is nice to think that some childhood disabilities could be eradicated, it is important to remember that genetics play a small part in many illnesses, and we don't know the causes of many disabilities.
Other critics include religious groups who warn against playing God and choosing characteristics for our children. The people who are using IVF are already using science to deal with some natural obstacles, but I agree that there is an issue with taking the randomness out of the genetic load that are children are born with.
The article seems to say that on one level PGD is a good thing because it allows doctors to outwit genetics and allow for healthy children when one of the parents is a carrier of a genetic mutation that will result in a very sick child.
But on another level PGD is eugenics, a few of the doctors inteviewed said that parents walk into the clinic asking for healthy children but then the conversation turns to gender, intelligence and cosmetic enhancements as well as health.
A doctor practising in L.A, says:
“We get requests for all kinds of things. We had a pop star inquiring if her vocal abilities could be passed on to her children,” and elite athletes asking, “Do you think you could make it a tall boy?”
Dr. Beth Taylor, wrote on her blog for the Genesis Fertility Centre in B.C. that she thinks the article is trying to make a big concern where there is a small one. She writes that ethics and regulation will stop PGD from being used to make designer babies.
The article highlights how unregulated much of IVF and PGD are today and speaks, correctly, to the need for better regulation. I believe with thoughtful, responsible regulation we do not need to worry about PGD being used to create “designer babies.” Instead, it can continue to be used to eliminate terrible diseases. I think we can all agree that that’s a good thing.
It is a good thing, I think. But I worry about the for-profit medical clinics, like the one who gave the world Octomom, using the science in a way that has been forecasted by science fiction not ethics.
This science is a double-edged sword, and I hope that there are people out there a lot smarter than me who are trying to make sense of it all.
What do you think? How far would you go for a healthy child?
Want more chaos? Last year, I asked when is the right time to give your kid a phone? Needless to say, that my 11-year old son is now on to his second phone -- one that is way cooler than mine.