The Right to Develop “Designer Babies”
Eugenics is the study of selective breeding of human beings with the objective of improving the human genetic qualities and it is specifically applied in the prevention of congenital disorders and in the heritability of the human IQ (Duster & Troy, 1990). The recent developments in Eugenics have given people the possibilities of growing designer babies for various reasons. Prenatal screening and testing are a routine part of pregnancy for most expectant mothers in the US, widening the genetics which were once confined to the clinics and the general world of obstetrics. Parents can use In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to have unborn babies tested for various genetic defects though a process known as Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). Eugenics is slowly allowing people to be able to breed human beings that will help in treating genetic diseases and get babies of a preferable gender at the same time giving us a chance to enhance desirable traits and eliminate the undesirable one. Although this may not be ethically acceptable, genetic screening helps parents to intervene in the genetic make-up if their children and therefore, the development of “designer babies” should be allowed.
This essay explores the support for the development of “designer babies” which is achieved by using reproductive technology in a eugenic manner. It evident that this has been done successfully when in 2000, baby Adam Nash of Colorado, USA was born. He had been selected using Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) and PGD testing as an IVF embryo. This selection was done on the evidence that he did not have the genetic disability which his sister Molly had. The genetic disability Molly had was Fanconi’s Anemia. The other argument was that his tissues matched those of Molly (Josefson, 2000). If a transplant could not have been done, Molly would not have lived past seven years of age and she was only six when Adam was born. At birth, blood was taken from Adam’s umbilical cord and used to successfully transplant stem cells in Molly who with all intentions and purposes was completely cured and fully recovered (Boyle and Savulescu, 2001). It is apparent that what the Nashes did was for a noble cause. They decided to have an IVF embryo developed in order to save another life. At the same time, there seems to be nothing wrong with growing a baby with the intention of saving the life of another person. This was advantageous to Mr. and Mrs. Nash because they were able to intervene in Adam’s genetic make-up who was completely healthy and free from the genetic disorder their daughter had when he was born. In addition to this, they were able to save their dying daughter. It also helped them psychologically since they were saved from the agony of having to live with a daughter with a genetic defect they could do little about and being parents, it would have really affected them.
I support the growing of designer babies because they reduce the chances of siring children with serious genetic diseases like Famial hypercholesterolemia, Down Syndrome and blood disorders like Diamond Blackfan Anemia like in Adam’s case as seen above. Scientists can genetically select the embryos so that their children possess the right cells that do not lead to the manifestation of the particular genetic disease. If there is a history of a particular genetic disease or a blood disorder in the family, the chances of an unborn child getting the disorder are very high. An embryo is therefore chosen that does not have that particular genetic disorder (McLaren & Angus, 1990). The unborn child is therefore guaranteed to be healthy and his or her chances of survival are increased. An example is with Charlie Whitaker who had the blood disorder; Diamond Blackfan Anemia. In order to save his life, a designer baby was grown who was totally free from the disorder and like in the case of Adam, the baby was used to donate blood to Charlie and his life was saved.
Growing “designer babies” can assist a lot in “identification of genes that contribute to the understanding of how these genes work” (Weil, 2004). With time, the continued development of “designer babies” will assist couples and scientists to know what kinds of genes are associated with various behaviours and traits. This makes an addition to the knowledge we have about the genetics of many more diseases, behaviours and traits, but the capacity to biologically analyze genetic samples whether from maternal serum, IVF embryos and amniotic fluid will increase rapidly. This will give us a chance to learn more about our future babies and the likely behaviours they might possess. This will then allow us to analyze for thousands of genetic diversities in comparison to the limited analysis of just a few diseases that are done in case “designer babies” are not grown. The major advantage of such knowledge as far as “designer babies” are concerned is that, couples are allowed to interfere in their baby’s genetic make-up and in the process, they are sure of a healthy baby developing in the womb with the desired traits. This inevitably “reduces the cost and increases the efficiency” (British Medical Association, 2003) of screening, making prenatal analysis very desirable and have its scope broadened.
Another reason why I advocate for couples being able to intervene in their baby’s genetic make-up is that it helps to avoid the cases of terminating pregnancies just because a certain genetic disease was not selected for at the beginning of the pregnancy. This point is very similar to the ones given above but it is important to note that if a couple had not selected for certain disease and the condition is detected during the pregnancy, there are chances that the pregnancy will be terminated to avoid giving birth to a child with the particular genetic defect. The termination of pregnancies have several disadvantages in that it can result to the death of the mother and if she survives, she might become barren due to damages that can be result from the pregnancy termination processes, not to mention the fact that “safe” terminations of pregnancies are very expensive. Therefore, PGD screening of embryos will ensure the selection of embryos through IVF which allows prenatal diagnosis of fertilized eggs just before they are implanted in the uterus (British Medical Association, 2004). Therefore, perfectly healthy embryos are chosen for implantations and the cases pregnancy terminations are reduced.
Intervention in the genetic make-up of our babies will make a great contribution to eugenics. This is because since the 1990s, there has been very little progress in gene transfer process despite this process being risk free. With the growing of “designer babies”, this process will be made possible and gene transfer will be done and used for gene therapy of certain genetic diseases. Some research shows that “It will be difficult, if not impracticable, to use gene therapy to treat some types of genetic conditions. By now, scientists are focused on using the gene therapy to transfer viable genes to people with recessive genetic conditions that come as a result of their genes to produce the essential enzymes. Using gene transfer is a practical way to help someone’s body to produce that missing enzyme. Though complex, this process is simpler than the consequences brought about by the chromosomal abnormalities or the dominant mutations” (Friedmann, 2005). With the advancement in growing of “designer babies” the process of gene therapy will made easier than before. It is good to imagine that the effort and desire to control the occurrence and treatment of genetic diseases will be great. At this particular point growing the “designer babies” will be integrated with true treatment of and cure for diseases.
Gene transfer also opens doors to positive eugenics where it is focused on improving births which comes as a solution to the prevention of undesirable births. Growing “designer babies” is used to enhance particular desirable qualities in addition to just treating diseases. It is important to note that there is a difference between treatment of genetic diseases and improvement of births. Using extreme distinctions, treatment of genetic diseases focuses at the eradication of the disease like providing a gene that prevents a baby from inheriting a certain genetic condition (as discussed earlier) but the main point of concern here is birth improvement which focuses on improving on the ‘norm’. An example here is where transfer of genes is done to help a child with medium height that theoretically occurs at somatic level of cells or the germ level of cells allowing the child to grow to a normal height. When this is done at the embryonic level, it is possible to come up with a “designer baby” that will have a normal life without the undesirable traits like being too short. Creation of “designer babies” helps to “improve” future generations in one way or the other (Duster & Troy, 1990). This sometimes presents the greatest extremity of trying to create the “designer babies.”
The goal of this essay was to explore issues supporting the growth of “designer babies” using eugenic technologies as well as finding out the advantages couples have in being able to interfere in the genetic make-up of their children. Even though the current eugenics are not similar to those practiced in the past, many of the similar drives exist even today and most notably the passion to improve the human species and the genetic make-up of our children by making some important reproductive choices. Eugenics has been brutally criticized in the past and this can be attributed entirely to how the underlying goal was pursued. It was done through involuntary limitations of the reproductive autonomy which were done entirely on the weak and the underprivileged and not necessarily because of the goal. The modern and future eugenics evades some of these threats. However, eugenics has more advantages as laid out in the paragraphs above. Eugenics as a practice is based on the underlying intention that is aimed for the best interests of a family or a child. It is not based on discriminatory attitudes as proposed by Galton’s theory at the beginning to Hereditary Genius:
“I put forward in this book that the natural abilities of a man are derived by inheritance, under precisely the same restrictions as are the form and physical features of the whole natural world. As a result, as it is easy, notwithstanding those restrictions, to obtain by careful selection a stable breed of dogs or horses gifted with special powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite realistic to generate a highly-gifted race of men by well judged marriages during several successive generations” (Galton, 1883).
The morals of eugenics are usually addressed as ethics on the larger level of the society but where individuals and small groups like families are involved, it becomes a case of choice and eugenics can confer to them the benefits shown in this essay.