What are designer babies and what do they mean for the future of reproduction?


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On July 25, 1978 the first successful "test tube" baby, Louise Joy Brown was born. But what exactly is a "test tube" baby and how did it lead to today's so called "designer" babies?
A "test tube" baby is a baby that was conceived through in vitro fertilization or IVF. This is a costly medical process (usually costing between $12,000 and $17,000) that is often used to help an infertile couple have a child. It differs from natural conception because the insemination (the mixing of the sperm and the egg) happens in a tube, in a lab and the tube stays there in an environmentally controlled chamber until the embryo is formed. At this point the embryo is injected into the woman's womb. In order for the procedure to be a success, the embryo must implant itself into the lining of the womb where it will then grow into a living, breathing child over the course of the next nine months. For more on IVF click here.

But what are the implications of this type of procedure?

Today, some doctors have started genetically modifying babies. What that means is that doctors extract the healthy mitochondria(very small organelles in the cells that generate much of the body's energy) from the third party (the donor) egg cells and inject this into the eggs of the woman trying to have a child. Because the mitochondria contain genetic information the baby receives genes from three people in total, two women and one man.

This type of technology and medical procedure could allow parents to have "designer" babies. A process known as Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis or PGD, originally developed for disease screening, was allowing  parents to select the sex of their baby as of 2009. Now in 2012 scientists have discovered the "switches" that control our genes and there are over four million of them. This could allow parents to select specific genetic traits for their child through genetic modification and have a choice in hair color, eye color, gender, build, skin tone and risk of disease according to an article in thesun.co.uk.

What does this mean for the future of child bearing? Will we slowly shy away from natural conception in favor of "ordering" our children to come exactly as we want them?
There are some major concerns in the medical community about these "designer" babies and whether the babies will be healthy or not. Check out this CBS video for more info on what "designer" babies would mean in a scientific and social context.
It seems we will not know the true effects until years down the road when the first genetically modified babies have grown up some to see what the after effects are of having been genetically modified. Until then it will most likely rest a controversial issue in the medical community.  

What I am left wondering is what this new technology means for our own future reproduction? Are we going to be faced with the choice between genetically designing our babies and natural conception? If we are, do you think it is a good idea to tinker with nature or is there some sort of boundary that is being crossed?  

To read up more on the issue here are a few more websites to check out:

11 Comments

I think this sounds absolutely outrageous, and will definitely bring up some moral issues. I think that while a lot of people will want to do this, there will be a good number of people that think that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and is like creating a "fake" baby. What really concerning is the risks that could be associated with this, and I think it'll be a very long time before people are able or willing to do this. I'm curious if this has been done with animals or if it has been tested on animals in any way?

I think this sounds absolutely outrageous, and will definitely bring up some moral issues. I think that while a lot of people will want to do this, there will be a good number of people that think that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and is like creating a "fake" baby. What really concerning is the risks that could be associated with this, and I think it'll be a very long time before people are able or willing to do this. I'm curious if this has been done with animals or if it has been tested on animals in any way?

I think this sounds absolutely outrageous, and will definitely bring up some moral issues. I think that while a lot of people will want to do this, there will be a good number of people that think that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and is like creating a "fake" baby. What really concerning is the risks that could be associated with this, and I think it'll be a very long time before people are able or willing to do this. I'm curious if this has been done with animals or if it has been tested on animals in any way?

I think this sounds absolutely outrageous, and will definitely bring up some moral issues. I think that while a lot of people will want to do this, there will be a good number of people that think that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and is like creating a "fake" baby. What really concerning is the risks that could be associated with this, and I think it'll be a very long time before people are able or willing to do this. I'm curious if this has been done with animals or if it has been tested on animals in any way?

I think this sounds absolutely outrageous, and will definitely bring up some moral issues. I think that while a lot of people will want to do this, there will be a good number of people that think that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and is like creating a "fake" baby. What really concerning is the risks that could be associated with this, and I think it'll be a very long time before people are able or willing to do this. I'm curious if this has been done with animals or if it has been tested on animals in any way?

I think this sounds absolutely outrageous, and will definitely bring up some moral issues. I think that while a lot of people will want to do this, there will be a good number of people that think that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and is like creating a "fake" baby. What really concerning is the risks that could be associated with this, and I think it'll be a very long time before people are able or willing to do this. I'm curious if this has been done with animals or if it has been tested on animals in any way?

this seems very interesting and controversial. but, is this particular procedure safe? like does it cause any physical harm to the women's anatomical structures? also, because this is a costly procedure, I don't think it has a suitable reputation yet. this sounds a lot like creating an ideal person. its similar to like Captain America where genetics are modified in order to make someone have specific strengths and weaknesses just like how the Marvel character was created in a lab. how many hospitals participate in this practice I wonder?

A girl in my CAS 100A class recently gave a social problems speech about this and I thought it was appalling. But interestingly baby engineering isn't the only way thing that is revolutionizing the birthing process. In her speech she also mentioned the idea of Gendercide which relates to this topic. While baby engineering focuses on modifying the children to the be the way that a couple wants them, those who are considered part of gendercide actually abandoned or kill children pre-birth if they find out that the child is not the "correct gender". This is obviously a fairly large problem in countries like China, with the one child, but together these two things are only going to make for a weak population. If people can dispose of babies because they aren't the gender they want, or feel they can manufacture babies, our population will soon become a bunch of boring similar people. Everyone wants a successful, beautiful child and we'd all almost be robots because we'd be so similar.

It saddens me that people in this day and age are ao quick so change what is naturally given to them. I guess so could say that this has been coming for a while. Even ancient egyptians and african tribes wear makeup and permanently mold the shapes of their heads. This is just far more extreme, but as we advance as a country I only seeing it becoming more and more outrageous. I just recently blogged about surgery to permanently change your eye color. This is something that I thought should/could never be changed but apparently anything is possible. Here's the link to my blog:

http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/siowfa12/2012/10/new-types-of-surgery-allow-for-changes-in-eye-color.html

Chandler,
I was actually inspired to write my blog post after reading yours about eye color.
I do not really know where I stand on the issue of genetically designing babies. If, however, it becomes common practice, what will the human population look like in 100 years? Will people resemble people as they are now?

Emma - your last question is particularly thought provoking. My guess is that people will begin following baby "fads" or trends based on the standards of beauty at the time. We'll have generations separated by particular "looks." The definitions of attractive will also be in constant flux, since the average cannot be coveted. It could be like 30s' children are all thousands of variations of Kim Kardashian, while the children of the 40s become Kate Moss-like waifs, and so on. And then we'll all be characterized by how poorly/well our genetics "turned out."

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