“I want my baby to be the next Usain Bolt! He shall have blue eyes too…….” This is the wish of Maria James as she is escorted to the health center by her husband. The young couple is excited at the prospect of being able to dictate the physical and biological traits of their unborn baby. Maria has been a devout fan and admire of the world’s fastest man for as long as she can remember. With the recent breakthroughs in medicine and genetic engineering in particular, she wishes her unborn son to take after Bolt, but only to the extent that she desires. Her wish is only limited to athletic ability! More people are now paying millions of dollars to have desired traits created in their babies. Such include cosmetic traits, athletic ability, hair color, intelligence, and resistance to disease just to mention but a few. Proponents of such medical procedures argue that the enhancement to help determine the characteristics of one’s baby, even in terms of behavior, is better than having them shaped at school by teachers and caretakers who sometimes do not do enough. They also support their view by putting forth that the genetic superiority achieved has more advantages than disadvantages. However, critics have their arguments too. What issues come up in each case?
Before the issues revolving around this subject are examined, it may be necessary to understand the biology behind designer babies. ‘Designer baby’ is a term that is widely used to pejoratively imply commodification of children. It may refer to selection and determination of desired qualities of a young one through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Largely, the term is used in reference to babies resulting if human zygotes, gametes, or embryos are genetically engineered (Naff, 2013). The engineering involves application of gene therapy procedures to create preferred traits of a young one.
Those in support of this technology think it is best since it can help boost a child’s resistance to disease. What else would any parent want if not a child who is disease resistant? They say this will be a long-term solution to the high mortality rates being witnessed around the globe. In addition, they say that being able to determine a child’s traits through genetic engineering has the advantage of selecting only desired qualities. That way, undesired characteristics can be suppressed before the child is born (Gosden, 2009). They say this could help take some burden away from teachers who struggle to shape a child’s behavior, sometimes unsuccessfully. They say it may be better for parents to foster particular traits through genetics in opposition to using tutors and specified lessons like those in music. Also, troublesome efforts of trying to instill discipline in children may be a thing of the past.
In as much as some people think designer babies are good news, there are those who think otherwise. Largely, they base their arguments on morality and ethics. The technology could lead to a superior race of humans who look down upon those they think are inferior since they lack the said genetic enhancements. It is agreed that the society is obliged to determine whether or not the technologies applied in bringing a new born into the world harm the subject or not. The process may lead to development of new, complicated diseases arising from possible genetic mutations (Bliss, 2012). Opponents of the procedure also think that the relationship between children and their parents could be subtly worsened when both parties are aware that after all they are not so much genetically connected. Such sour relationships could also be brought about by parents having tyrannical expectations regarding what their child should or should not do. They may not measure up to what they are expected to.
In light of the above arguments, one may not be so concerned about the ethical implications of designer babies. If chances of success in disease resistance are greater than those of coming up with new diseases in the process, then more should be invested in such projects. As opposed to entirely rejecting such a medical/ clinical breakthrough, it should be supported. However, more care should be taken in application of the techniques to avoid any accidents or undesired developments. In that respect, there should be adequate and effective regulation to check the potential efficacy and safety of the methods employed.
Bliss, J. (2012). Designer babies. Chicago, Ill: Heinemann Library.
Gosden, R. G. (2009). Designer babies: The brave new world of reproductive technology. London: V. Gollancz.
In Naff, C. F. (2013). Designer babies.