The term “designer babies,” coined by science fiction movies, online blogs, and journalists, allude to the terrifying idea of customizing every specific trait in a child. The scientific term for this is Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). The embryos are then grown until they reach eight cells, where they are screened for genetic diseases. Embryos without disease are then introduced into the womb by In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
Using this technique, parents may choose the gender of the child with 100% accuracy, along with eye, hair color, and completion with 80% accuracy for $15,000 to $18,000 for each IVF. Additionally, since the success of pregnancy is between 10% to 35%, many couples spend more than originally planned.
In the past, parents have used fertility companies to also screen embryos for diseases and sex. According to the Fertility Institute, 70% of people who seek PGD do not have difficulty conceiving a child; they simply want to choose the gender. However, with innovative technology, they are given more options. Some fertility institutes claim that they plan to provide the ability to choose variety of cosmetic traits. With this, comes the issue of ethics.
It should be noted that the DNA of the donating couple is not altered. It is simply screened for certain traits. For example, if the parents wanted their child to have blue eyes but the parents did not contain the gene, then they would not be given the option.
In certain countries, genetic screening is illegal, mainly because of the dangers of a gender imbalance. However, there may be exceptions for couples who are prone to deadly genetic disorders. In the case of an American couple, Cindy and John Whitley, their child died after nine months from spinal muscular atrophy. Through DNA analysis, it was determined the Whitleys had a one in four chance of having a child with the same disease. Since they did not want to risk conceiving another child with the disease, they coupled used PGD to have three healthy children.
In an interview with CNN, the executive director of The Center for Genetics and Society stated “This runs many risks. It's used in many countries to avoid the birth of female children.” He added that "The technologies are going to be accessible to affluent couples and would be used in ways that could increase inequality. The last thing we need now is a genetic elite.”
For better or for worse, babies created through PGD will continue to be an option in the United States. Further research are to establish regulations and ensure the safety and ethics of this process.