A fertility clinic in the US will be offering parents the option of choosing their baby’s features, such as eye and hair colour. Although they cannot guarantee results, they will allow certain parents the option of picking an embryo to be implanted. These embryo will first be screened for genetic abnormalities, but then they can make a decision based on physical characteristics, including sex.
Interesting idea, but at the same time, a bit morbid. Before all this medical technology, a young couple’s answer to the inevitable first question, ‘Do you want a boy or girl?’ would be ‘It doesn’t matter as long as it’s healthy’ or (‘Yes’ if they want to be cheeky). Now, science can provide a healthy baby and your choice of boy or girl.
Have you ever thought what people’s ideal would be when it comes to selection for physical characteristics and why? Do they see certain traits as inferior? What would it mean if everyone had the same ideal (fortunately, we all do not) of perfection? Would we be creating a whole new race that would be uniform?
Although some scientists will argue against the ‘designer baby’ idea on ethical reasons, my reservations are based on other issues. Obviously, there won’t be an ideal embryo because they wouldn’t have had enough embryos to cover all possible combination of characteristics. But once you choose the embryo with your favourite combination, can you live with that decision? You won’t regret the others.? You won’t feel you have rejected these other potential children? Genetics may play a role in illness, but environment does too. Does the embryo have the required genes to effectively deal with the environmental consequences.? The child may have all the physical characters you wanted, but was it selected to be free of disease? Will this child have intelligence, ambition, spirit – all characteristics for which gene technology cannot identify? Will this child’s disposition be one which you will enjoy? You surely can’t determine that.
And what about the element of surprise? Though ultrasonic technology has allowed people to accurately predict the sex of their child, if they so wish, other characteristics are not determined before birth. There is that wonderful element of surprise when the child comes out. Will we start to feel complacent because we know what to expect?
The ethicists point out that these ‘designer baby clinics’ will start ‘turning babies into commodities that you buy off the shelf’. Can you imagine if eBay suddenly started selling unused embryos? Who knows, desperate mothers out there may want that.