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Designer Babies: The Next Big Question for Our Generation
Picture a world in which illnesses like cancer are all but obsolete, and your physical appearance is as deliberate and trendy as a pair of jeans. Just as the name “Gladys” and shoulder pads have gone out of style, freckles and long legs are considered “so last generation,” all thanks to the powers of genetic technology. And if (heaven forbid!) you cannot afford to reap the benefits of genetic technology, your child will be at a disadvantage from the day he is born! For not only have you missed your chance to ensure his long-term health and intelligence; no one’s going to hire the guy with that outdated cleft chin. With the technology of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, this world could become a reality within decades. For you and I, a pivotal question has arisen: is tampering with human infants on a genetic level morally and logically acceptable, or will the negative aspects of preimplantation genetic diagnosis outweigh the benefits?
Already in use today, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, is a process by which fetuses are scanned for genetic traits and abnormalities and the most favorable ones are chosen to implant in the mother. However, as this technology develops it will "be possible to pick traits, not because of diseases or avoiding dysfunction, but because somebody has a taste for a particular child" ("Designer Babies" Ethical?). Already some clinics are offering a choice in gender, hair color, eye color and more to parents. This may initially seem like a promising development, but despite the obvious potential of PGD, its widespread use may lead to grave consequences.
Some of the most prominent protests against the creation of designer babies are based on the alleged immorality of PGD. To many, the use of this technology “is another step towards the reduction of human reproduction to a manufacturing process and the modification of the child to serve others” (Ellis). The professionals who offer PGD are accused of “playing God,” and are criticized for the cruelty of performing multiple abortions, which are necessary to single out a chosen fetus. Simply the act of performing preimplantation genetic diagnosis is to some, including both religious and nonreligious parties, extremely offensive in that it unjustly industrializes and trivializes human life. The consequences of and motives behind designer babies are another matter. Although their theories are not supported by science, many fear that the improvements offered by PGD, including a decreased “propensity towards obesity, freedom from mental illness, athletic ability, etc.” (Johnson) will benefit only the wealthy, and that this will lead to a dangerously stratified society and even a new race of humans. On a less extreme level, others warn against the use of PGD simply because of the psychological effects it could have on children who are customized by their parents, often to serve as donors for older siblings. So divisive and controversial is the idea of genetically modifying children that Google, as well as other search engines, has banned ads for PGD in several countries. In fact, developments in designer baby technology are often practiced discretely to avoid conflict, which is why many are oblivious to its use.
Opinions and ethics aside, extensive scientific evidence has shown that humanity should take caution in proceeding with genetic experimentation. The severe depletion of biodiversity that would undoubtedly be caused by genetic intervention would make the human population increasingly susceptible to disease. However, despite the uncertainty surrounding PGD, “between 300 and 400 women have undergone screening” (Ellis) in Italy and America. The price of a designer baby, at $15000 to $18000 dollars, is not a deterrent. Many parents are willing to spend as much on a college education for their child, so directly investing in the child’s health and appearance seems natural. As long as there are parents to be pleased money to be made, the PGD process will continue advancing at its staggering pace.
Given the dangers and questionable ethics behind PGD, one must assume that its benefits are great to attract willing mothers from around the world. Indeed, the positive possibilities for designer baby technology are endless. First and foremost, it will provide the best aid science has to offer for “families with inherited medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc. or diseases like Parkinson’s disease, thalassemia, cancer, arthritis” (Johnson) and more by eliminating these ailments from the gene pool. According to Dr. Fishel, head of a fertility unit in Britain, PGD “reduces the chance of miscarriage by over half” (Ellis). Children can be endowed with traits that will allow them to save the lives of their family members, as in the case of Adam Nash, who was specifically chosen as a fetus for his ability to donate blood to his ill older sister. Some even argue that economic disparities will not affect the widespread use of designer baby technology, as it can be made Universally available by health care. In their opinion, the choice to have a designer baby ought to rest with the parents and no one else.
Ten years ago, the very idea of a “designer baby” would have been considered by most to be impossible. In ten more years, it will likely be commonplace. For now, we are faced with important questions. How far are we willing to take this technology? How much intervention is safe? Based on historic use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis and its power to influence our future, it is most reasonable to allow PGD only under certain conditions. For health reasons, PGD ought to be made universally available, although not mandatory, and we can only hope that improvements continue in the field. For cosmetic purposes, however, the use of PGD is debatable. One must consider that beyond life threatening diseases, the idea of what is an “improvement” becomes foggy. Already there have been cases of deaf couples demanding deaf children, causing doctors to ponder what kind of genetic changes can be considered harmful. If the physical attributes and abilities of our posterity are to be tampered with, we need to lay some ground rules. Once these measures have been taken to avoid corruption of the designer baby science, it can begin to mature and truly benefit mankind.
""Designer Babies" Ethical?" CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 24 Mar. 2009. Web. 09 May 2012.
Ellis, Rachel. "Couple Having 'designer' Baby." Mail Online. Web. 10 May 2012.
Johnson, Priya. "Pros and Cons of Designer Babies." Buzzle.com. Buzzle.com, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 09 May 2012.
Keim, Brandon. "Designer Babies: A Right to Choose?" Wired. Wired Magazine., 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 10 May 2012.
Silver, Lee. "Designer Babies - Comments by Princeton Professor Lee Silver." Video blog post. Youtube. 25 Sept. 2006. Web. 10 May 2012.
"Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis May Pose Neurological Risks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 July 2009. Web. 10 May 2012.