Designer Babies Essay
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Genetic engineering is the alteration of genetic code by artificial means, and is therefore different from traditional selective breeding. Genetic engineering has given us the power to alter the very basis of life on earth. It therefore has few limits-except our imagination, and our moral or ethical code. Genetic engineering has the power to change who we are. I am particularly interested in a current concept, specifically choosing genes that may determine favourable characteristics in your unborn child; known as ‘designer babies’. Also the ability to choose the exact gender and eliminating disease in the foetus, this is what I will be concentrating on in the essay. Currently, a very small number of fertility specialists are using a type of embryonic analysis known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to help couples who want to have a baby of a specific gender, but also to detect unhealthy embryos.
Embryos that show normal development are biopsied with micromanipulation techniques involving the use of very fine glass needles and tools under microscopic observation and control to obtain sufficient cells (blastomeres) for analysis. Based on animal experiments as well as 10 years of experience with PGD in humans, including over 200 normal births, it is felt that removal of small numbers of cells is unlikely to affect the continued development of a healthy embryo and foetus. The cells removed from each individual embryo are analyzed by genetic testing using either PCR-based DNA amplification, or fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH). Those embryos considered to be unaffected on the basis of this testing will then be available to be transferred into the woman’s uterus or cryopreserved for future use. But in the future this technology could give parents who are willing to select everything from their babies eye and hair colour to its intelligence level.
This technique can be used for positive purposes, such as eliminating diseases. Another aspect of this is parents having another sibling created who will be a perfect genetic match to their child who has a serious illness, and this is the only chance of surviving. An example of this can be seen, when in February 2002 the human fertilisation and embryology authority gave the go ahead to Shahana and Raj Hashmi of Leeds to select an embryo for implantation, so that the baby’s tissue will match that of their son Zain, who had a rare blood disease beta thalassaemia major.
In recent years a technique called pre implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has been used to screen embryos for several different genetic conditions. The main use for this is to screen for diseases including Huntingdon’s disease, the lung disease cystic fibrosis and more recently Down’s syndrome. In some countries, couples desperate for a child of a particular sex can pay thousands of pounds for PGD to ensure they have a child of particular sex. Using PGD for this purpose is not legal in the UK. This practice though could form an imbalance between genders, especially in societies that favour boys over girls, such as china.
Some parents would love to have a perfect child-but what happens when a parent wants a designer child-a child built to order, a pedigree child, a super-breed, super human or just a baby with higher intelligence? Sex selection is just the start of the process, a form of designer life: parents deciding that only a certain type of perfectly normal child will be allowed to be born. Eggs and sperm are now for sale on the internet, not just any these genetic products come from models. So maybe people will end up with a baby that looks like Cindy Crawford and thinks like Bill Gates. Then again you could end up with one that looks like Bill Gates and thinks like Cindy Crawford, not quite what you paid a quarter or half a million dollars for*. Many couples are not content with just any child, why not have the best child, the prettiest, smartest, tallest, most athletic, musically gifted, graceful child imaginable? A designer child put together from the very best components available.
When patients want to use the technique as a way to obtain babies with specific hair and eye colour or other physical traits, rather than to avoid disease or handicap, it will do more harm than good. Babies no longer be viewed as a gift of life, but a child becomes a thing valuable as it is beautiful or smart, healthy or strong. The concept raises ethical questions among critics who say selection babies based on physical characteristics goes too far.