The Ethics Of Designer Babies

Designer babies are no longer just a theme in popular science fiction movies. They are a part of our current world and a hot debate in the world of science and medicine. These babies have either been selected as embryos during in-vitro fertilization or have had their genes modified during the embryonic phase. The technology involved was initially to be used as a way to prevent genetic diseases in offspring, but it may not be limited to just that. Some people have even used it to select their child’s gender. So how far should parents be allowed to go in ‘designing’ their babies?

The ethics of designer babies first touches on the safety of the procedures used. Modifying an embryo’s DNA may sound simple but a number of complications may arise from it. First, there is no certainty of where the modified gene may land, and this may affect a number of genes, some of which may be key to survival. Second, genes are known to have a number of effects, not just a singular one. There may be unprecedented effects caused by the modified gene, some of which could be fatal. To avoid these risks, embryo selection is another method that can be used. When the embryos are formed, they are allowed to grow to eight cells, after which two are removed. This may seem safer than gene modification, but the effect of removing two cells during the embryonic stage is not known and may have negative effects.

Other than safety, the reason of designing a baby is also crucial to determining the ethics. Parents may choose to design their babies in order to protect them from any genetic diseases that they might pass on. They may also choose to design their babies in order for them to have traits that will give them a better chance at survival- physical appearance, intelligence or athletic ability. The second reason may not be as moral as the first. However, critics argue that it may not be worth the risk to modify a gene for health reasons if the procedure still presents uncertainties. No one knows what effects the modified gene may have on the patient.

Those in support of designer babies have made the argument that parents already choose their children’s traits by choosing the type of environment they expose them to. Why is it different to choose the traits of a child during the embryonic stage?

People are against the idea of designer babies because of the society that would be created in the future. This technology is quite expensive and can only be afforded by the wealthy. If they are allowed to modify their children’s genes, the gap in social classes would be further widened. The wealthy will be physically and mentally superior to the lower classes- which is not very far from what the eugenics program proposed by Hitler advocated for.

In conclusion, the ethics of designer babies is largely determined by how human beings will decide to use this technology. Tests are being done to make it safe for humans and with time, we will be faced with the question of whether or not it is moral to choose what type of child one should have.

  • Updated September 9, 2017
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