You may remember a short period in the 1990s when a broad consensus emerged among biologists about the ethics of human genetic engineering. Somatic cell gene therapy was considered an acceptable biomedical research program, whereas germ line genetic modification was treated as unethical. By the new millennium, that moral boundary had eroded.
A recent debate in New York City in which I was a participant highlighted the cultural change. Our topic: “Babies Should Not Be Genetically Engineered.” I argued in support of the proposition to prohibit the genetic modification of human reproductive cells prior to gestation in the womb.
Two compelling reasons to genetically alter human reproductive cells in preparation for childbirth, I argued, are for curing or preventing a disease or for the “enhancement” of a child. With respect to the former, there are safer and more dependable methods for preventing the birth of a child with a severe genetic abnormality than by genetic modification of the germ cells. The use of prenatal screening or pre-implantation embryo diagnosis will suffice in most cases to prevent the birth of a genetically abnormal embryo.
Accordingly, the only remaining rationale for engaging in the genetic modification of human reproductive cells is to enhance the child—to bestow such traits as heightened intelligence, resistance to disease, muscle strength, appealing personality or longevity, to cite a few common examples. I believe that pursuit of this goal represents the greatest scientific folly and moral failure.
First, for whatever enhancement is sought, the only method for determining efficacy is to engage in a clinical trial with a few dozen fertilized human eggs or embryos, where half would be genetically modified, all would be carried to term, and the development of the children would be followed throughout their lives to determine whether the genetic modification worked and worked safely. No animal studies can answer these questions.
It is unimaginable that any humane society would permit such a trial, where the potential risks so outweigh the social benefits.
The second reason to shun genetic enhancement is that it makes no sense from a biological and developmental perspective. The human traits typically cited for enhancement, such as intelligence, personality or musicianship, are complex and not only involve dozens if not hundreds of genes, but are the result of a complex mix of determinants, including nutrition, social and environmental factors, gene-to-gene interactions and epigenetic switches that are outside the reductive chemistry of the DNA code.
Even for height, one of the most heritable traits known, scientists have discovered at least 50 genes that can account for 2 to 3 percent of the variance in the samples. There could be hundreds of genes associated with height. If you want a tall child, then marry tall.
Finally, the idea of genetic enhancement grows out of a eugenics ideology that human perfection can be directed by genetics. I am all for human enhancement, but it must start after an egg is fertilized beginning in utero—by protecting the fetus from neurotoxins and other endocrine-disrupting substances and continuing after birth with nutritional and cognitive enrichment and moral education, for example.
The greatest danger of a belief in genetic engineering lies in its likely social impact. Eugenics will inevitably be used by those with wealth and power to make others believe that prenatal genetic modification makes people better. This would be as much a myth as believing that the sperm from Nobel Laureates will produce a genius child.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Tufts Medicine magazine.
Sheldon Krimsky is the Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tufts University and an adjunct professor of public health and community medicine. He is coeditor of Biotechnology in Our Lives: What Modern Genetics Can Tell You about Assisted Reproduction, Human Behavior, and Personalized Medicine, and Much More (Shyhorse Press, June 2013).
Designer Babies: Unethical and Unnecessary Essay
1009 Words5 Pages
When it comes to the subject of designer babies, or even the thought of being able to create a 'perfect' child there is either controversy or pure relief. The reason being because when it comes to designing babies there is good as well as bad. For example some may say being able to genetically modify a baby so it has no chances of coming out deformed or even with mental or psychical diseases and disabilities is a miracle. Others may say that in the law of ethics this can not be acceptable. The fact the you're choosing your child's fate is ‘wrong’ stating that whether a child ends up with a disease is life, we should not be able to control it. Which makes sense yes, unless you're talking about two parents who can't have children because…show more content…
When it comes to the subject of designer babies, or even the thought of being able to create a 'perfect' child there is either controversy or pure relief. The reason being because when it comes to designing babies there is good as well as bad. For example some may say being able to genetically modify a baby so it has no chances of coming out deformed or even with mental or psychical diseases and disabilities is a miracle. Others may say that in the law of ethics this can not be acceptable. The fact the you're choosing your child's fate is ‘wrong’ stating that whether a child ends up with a disease is life, we should not be able to control it. Which makes sense yes, unless you're talking about two parents who can't have children because they might pass down a disease. Both opinions have some reality to them, starting to create children who are 'perfect' will indeed affect the world, the thing is we don't know if it this will be good or bad effect until it happens. On the contrary being able to make children or people without disabilities or mental/physical issues would lead to a much happier as well as stronger world. I support the cause of designer babies to an extent, if were talking about saving a child from suffering until they reach their premature death then why shouldn't we support a cause that can prevent that. On the contrary when you're designing a child for the purpose of making them a Victoria secret model that is when things become unethical as well as