Long before Watson and Crick famously uncovered the structure of DNA in 1953, people envisioned with both horror and hope a day when babies could be custom designed — free of inherited disease, yet equipped with superior genes for good looks, intelligence,...
Now, in the latest twist in the march towards designer babies, The Fertility Institutes says they will soon be able to offer couples the ability to screen their embryos for eye color, hair color, and complexion. The Institute cannot change the DNA of the donating couple — if neither the mother nor the father has genes for green eyes, for example, then the Institute cannot give them a baby with green eyes. Yet within the constraints inherent in the DNA of the donating couple, The Fertility Institute is willing to screen embryos for these traits. The Fertility Institute wants to offer several other customizations, and many more are sure to be released in the coming years as the science behind screening for them is developed.
In many countries around the world PGD is heavily regulated and designer babies are strictly out of the question. Yet in a strange paradox, even as the United States is one of the world’s most regulated nations in several areas of medical research and development, PGD is completely legal and unregulated in the United States. Hence, even as the United States is hindered by regulation in areas such as stem cell research, the country seems poised to be a world leader in the designer baby revolution.
At the moment, The Fertility Institutes carries the mantle as the company at the forefront of this revolution, and as such they are a lightning rod for the praise and adoration, but also the bitter and severe anger, of those on both sides of this great moral debate.
The genie is officially out of the bottle, in fact it probably has been for a long time. There is no stopping the designer baby revolution. Even as some countries try to clamp down on it, others will allow it. Progress, if we call it that, will continue unabated. A similar phenomenon has unfolded with embryonic stem cell research in recent years. Even as the Bush administration almost completely strangled US investment and research in this promising field, other countries invested heavily and advances continued.
A new generation of genetically enhanced designer babies is inevitable in the coming decades. Yet for those of us that are merely “normal”, do not despair. Even as we are outmatched by the next generation genetically, a host of new technologies from chip implants to gene therapy may allow us to keep up, allowing us to enhance ourselves in equally transformative ways. The future will indeed be interesting.