For decades, people who want children but carry genes known to cause disease have used pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to test embryos created via in vitro fertilization.
With PGD, a few cells of a days-old embryo are tested for specific genetic conditions, allowing parents to identify and implant only those that are unaffected.
But recently I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s not the idea itself, but the way we’ve been talking about it, that’s the problem.
What if we could use discussion of designer babies productively, to unpack some of the complex issues surrounding gene editing?
Highly Unlikely, Scientists Say.” The author, Pam Belluck, writes: “Now that science is a big step closer to being able to fiddle with the genes of a human embryo, is it time to panic?
Could embryo editing spiral out of control, allowing parents to custom-order a baby with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s imagination or Usain Bolt’s speed?A more serious dialogue about designer babies could begin to change the conversation.It also could help us unpack why “designer babies” come up in the media at all.PGD carries its own ethical concerns: It prompts difficult decisions about what kind of children will be welcomed into the world and how those choices might stigmatize individuals already living with inherited conditions.But gene-editing human embryos raises such concerns to an even greater degree, by allowing parents to alter genes or even introduce new traits, and carries additional societal risks of increased inequality.” Reading the article, you might be left with the impression that even thinking about designer babies would be alarmist, unscientific, or just silly.As public interest advocates who are focused on the social implications of human biotechnologies, my colleagues and I see how often the term “designer babies” serves as a distraction in these discussions—and we usually avoid using it ourselves.Using CRISPR, scientists can make pinpoint changes in the genes of many kinds of cells, from bacteria to plants to animals to humans.There is both great hope and great hype surrounding CRISPR, because it might prove useful for medical purposes.Frequently, we find, proponents start talking about designer babies when they want to stop real discussion about the risks of gene editing. Miller, for instance, dismisses concerns over genetically enhanced embryos as downright sinister—“excessive introspection” that will “cause patients to suffer and even die needlessly,” or, as prominent bioethicists Peter Sykora and Arthur Caplan recently charged, hold patients “hostage” to “fears of a distant dystopian future.” In fact, there are no desperate patients who will suffer without germline gene editing, because by definition it will be done on people who don’t exist yet.Though some proponents claim that editing the genes of embryos is the best or only way to prevent the birth of children with inherited genetic diseases, another technology already exists that accomplishes the same thing.