Designer Babies

Every year, more than 7.9 million children are born with a severe birth defect that is as a result of genetic contribution. According to Gyngell (2015), if these errors can be easily and corrected safely at the embryonic stage, then it is possible to eliminate the diseases. In essence, the ability to manipulate genes and the knowledge gained from the studies can be applied in treating diseases caused by certain metabolic defects and improve the quality of off springs. Similarly, gene editing can be used to increase the individual’s chance of living healthy even in old age. Precisely and amidst controversies, the knowledge is now being used to genetically modify people to reproduce what is now being referred as designer babies. According to Pang & Ho (2016), designer babies originate from embryos created using in-vitro fertilization, selected using the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) based on the presence or absence of specific genes in an attempt to influence the resulting traits in children. The primary reason for creating these babies is to avoid transferring heritable diseases coded by a mutation in DNA. Unfortunately, amidst the benefits, there is insufficient knowledge on the risk of these editing tools. Furthermore, several ethical and legal considerations are involved when dealing with designer babies.

Why Designer babies

Diseases such as cystic fibrosis can be prevented. As Pang & Ho elaborate, a majority of the designer babies are created with the objective of the preventing the inheritance of genetic defects through the selection of disease-free embryos. Recently, gene-modifying tools now allow scientists to design babies by actively removing the genes carrying diseases from embryos. Currently, PGD is being used as a method of treatment in several ways. For instance, the number of children suffering from mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the mother, is significantly high. Unfortunately, there has been not a curative treatment for the condition. In the United Kingdom, the replacement therapy has been in use since 2013, and there has been a significant success. Alongside that, the genome editing tools  has been tested on mice to destroy mutated mitochondrial DNA, improve the functional mitochondria, as well as reverse the status of the particular disease. The major advantage of this gene editing technology is in its ability to inactivate or repair genes and does not involve a third person. Similarly, it makes it easy to pass on the modified genes on to the next generations.

The Negative Side of Designer Babies

The process of creating designer babies is often questioned based on several grounds. Although there are some positives about the use of technology in designing genetically modified humans, it is also often wondered if parents will have the right reasons to modify their children and the basis of their reasoning. Virtually, and as Gyngell notes, the fear is based on the possibility of parental control to reduce the valuable forms of diversity, or in case the parents pick similar immunity genes, making the resulting children vulnerable to pathogens. In addition to the above, further studies indicate that the technology behind designer babies has several risks. Firstly, it is important to understand that at this time, the technology is still not 100 percent and it is only at the experimental stage. In this regard, it is not guaranteed that the process is safe and may result in accidental termination of the embryo. Alongside that, Pang & Ho note that, if the efficiency in editing is lower than it should be, the disease prototype is not eliminated.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Evidently, several objections have been raised against designer babies and for several reasons. Firstly, as Pang & Ho note, the safety of the procedures is not fully established and could pose potential harm to future generations. Secondly, the use of the technology may be used for genetic enhancement and not the original purpose of treating genetic diseases. For instance, parents may use the technology to purposely seek specific traits in their children for appearance concerns only and not for treatment purpose. In this context, it raises the obvious question about the rights of a parent on the baby. Obviously, a child cannot consent about the alteration done to their body, and a majority of the population does not support the rights of the parents based on the assertion, parents do not own their children. In addition to the above, and as Gallagher (2015) notes, the technology has raised the issue of social justice. As it is, it seems that the procedure is only available to a particular class of individuals; those who can afford it. Apart from ethical considerations, the technology is still prohibited in several countries. The argument behind this legal limitation is that the procedures are still experimental and should not be offered in routine clinical methods. Others assert that even the research in this area should be done under stringent regulations and monitoring to ensure that individuals who take part in the procedures are fully informed of the potential risks and alternatives.

In the last few decades, medical research has made considerable advances in the field of genetic editing and modifications. Unfortunately, the issue of using these techniques as treatment options for genetic condition remains controversial. Nonetheless, there is no reason for governments to restrict research and use of gene editing technologies to remove genes carrying diseases. Evidently, it is also clear that crossing the line to edited embryos will result in a powerful new resource to fight genetic diseases.

References

Gallagher, J. (2015). ‘Designer babies’ debate should start, scientists say. BBC. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-30742774

Gyngell, C. (2015). The case for genetically engineered babies. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/01/fear-of-designer-babies-shouldnt-distract-us-from-the-goal-of-healthy-babies

Pang, R. T. K., & Ho, P. C. (2016). Designer babies. Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Reproductive Medicine, 26(2), pp. 59-60.

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