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Designer Babies: An Unethical Advance?

Mis à jour : avr. 25

Scientists have developped a technique that’s certainly going to change the way Mankind has to procreate and also his point of view about ethics. First, what actually is a designer baby? It is a baby whose genetic make-up has been selected in order to eradicate a particular defect, or to ensure that a particular gene is present. To clarify the definition of a designer baby, the meaning itself is for a newborn to genetically have traits that make it desirable for the parents.

This process began in the United States by Professor Steinberg who founded the Fertility Institute in 1986 in order to choose the sex of the baby. To do so, embryos are created by in-vitro fertilization and grown to the eight-cell stage, at which point one or two cells are removed. At first, this practice was meant to create savior babies who could be able to save their sibling’s life.

At the beginning, it was reserved whether to parents in need of a savior baby or infertile women who yearned for a child. Still, through time, a survey demonstrated that on 800 women, 700 were able to procreate but they just wanted to choose its sex.

Moreover, persons with hereditary illness such as hemophilia, resort to this practice so they don’t pass on their disease. To do so, they select the good genes and inject them to the embryo. Yet, these persons are not the only ones to benefit from it. Indeed, so does the gay community even if they are a restricted clientele. To tell the truth, the type of customers Professor Steinberg have come from wealthy foreign families from India or China for instance, who, for most of them, want a baby with a different sex than the others they have already had.

However, before making their dream come true, people need to follow a lot of process.

Firstable, the method consists in selecting the proper healthy embryo before being inseminated. On another hand, another sorting is made in order to select whether the female or male embryo. This is a cumbersome process to which the number of failure is huge on the first time.

Yet, the achievement rate is 99,99% after several trials.

But every dream has a cost, and this one is indeed overpriced. Once you count the donor, all of the doctors taking care of the proceedings, the analyses to be done, the surrogate mother if necessary, the aftercare, the hormonal treatment and all the medicents you will need, the bill can reach more than $25 000!

However, not every country is as open-minded as the United States. That’s why most of the patients go there to fulfill their desire. It is true that this phenomenon is completely legal there for quite a while now and it receives more and more people everyday.

This phenomenon is now spreading all over the world. Indeed, Doctor Steinberg opened branches in cities like Las Vegas, New-York and Mexico. People from different countries such as India, France or China come to him to get their desired baby, no matter the cost. Although most countries are against that kind of technology, for rational reasons, two of them are more open-minded. It is no surprise that the United States of America are the first to consider such an avant-garde method, but another one is opening itself toward pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Israel authorizes it on one condition: they need to have had four children of the same sex and then they will be allowed to choose the sex of their baby.

However, the first designer baby ever created is named Connor Levy, he was born in Philadelphia, USA. He is now a healthy six-year-old boy. He is considered genetically perfect because of the genes duly chosen. Indeed, only 3 of the 13 embryos he had, had a correct number of chromosomes. Therefore, one of them 3 has been implanted into the mother so she could give birth to what they call a designer baby.

This process has a lot of pros. Scientists consider it a utopia because of factors such as increasing human life span up to 30 years but not only. It could actually prevent genetic diseases such as Alzheimer's or Huntington's disease and many others. Moreover, it could reduce risk of inherited medical conditions such as obesity, anemia, diabetes or even cancer.

However, this technology is not completely safe, especially for the woman that is carrying the baby. Indeed, the retrieval of eggs from women is invasive, it carries risks that are understudied, and the women that are recruited to provide eggs often are not made fully aware of what the risks are. In the process of fertility treatments, some of the embryos don’t turn out right, so they can’t be developed into a human child even if they were implanted. If they still implant them, the process would fail and the embryo would die, probably leaving after-effects to the woman.

But playing this role may have consequences. It could create a gap in the society because of theses babies who would most likely be better looking, smarter. This could create classes between designer and non-designer babies, and this would eventually lead to an even more unequal world. Plus, genes often have more than one single use. For example, a gene that controls intelligence could also be the one controlling anger, so you could end up having a genius but very angry child. Indeed, most people would seek out the same caracteristics, that is to say good-looking, intelligent, athletic or even ambitious babies, and everyone would end up being really similar. They wouldn't have their own personnality and they would be imprisonned in their parents' ideal.

Steinberg's reply to the sceptics is that 'he understands the trepidation and concerns, but we cannot escape the fact that science is moving forward'.

Finally, designer babies could be identified as a utopia beginning to take shape. Even if this process has pros to consider, the repercussions it could engender for both the mother and the child aren't to be taken lightly. Besides, the consequences it could have on the whole society could be terrible in a long-term vision. Henceforth, the question on everyone's lips is: are the scientists going beyond nature's limits with that process?

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