Welcome to the age of the designer baby! Now all you parents with deep pockets can make sure your baby has a sparkling pair of baby blues, gorgeous black hair, beautiful olive skin, and of course, determine what the baby’s gender is. All you have to do is head over to the Fertility Institutes in Los Angeles, where parents are offered the option of choosing their physical attributes.
The same technology that Fertility Institutes plan to use for made-to-order children was originally developed for the important purpose of screening embryos for fatal genetic disorders. This procedure is known as PGD — pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This allows doctors to screen embryos soon after they are created in a petri dish and implant only the ones that meet certain criteria. The technique was invented to help high-risk families avoid or manage potentially deadly genetic traits, and to help women who’ve had multiple miscarriages conceive babies they can carry to term. Already, 42 percent of PGD clinics offer couples the option of choosing their baby’s gender, but Fertility Institutes is the first clinic to offer cosmetic choices as well.
The U.S. is one of few countries that currently do not have regulations in place to govern the uses of PGD. Many doctors who support PGD argue that using it to for non-medical purposes risks limiting human diversity and increasing societal discrimination. Imagine what Hitler would have done with this technology? “It’s technically feasible and it can be done,” says Mark Hughes, a pioneer of the PGD process and director of Genesis Genetics Institute, a large fertility laboratory in Detroit. However, he adds that “no legitimate lab would get into it and, if they did, they’d be ostracized.”
But not in L.A. at Fertility Institutes, where everyone in Hollywood has had a nip or a tuck in the quest for perfection. Why not just start at preconception? “This is cosmetic medicine,” says Jeff Steinberg, director of the clinic that is advertising gender and physical trait selection on its Web site. “Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it.”
In a recent U.S. survey conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine of 999 people who sought genetic counseling, a majority said they supported prenatal genetic tests for the elimination of certain serious diseases. The survey found that 56% supported using them to counter blindness and 75% for mental retardation. More provocatively, about 10% of respondents said they would want genetic testing for athletic ability, while another 10% voted for improved height. Nearly 13% backed the approach to select for superior intelligence.
And the numbers are surely to rise as parents are offered the opportunity to choose to have more intelligent, more athletic, more conventionally beautiful children are likely to want that choice – and why should they feel guilty about the implications?
No current technology allows parents to order a baby like customers customize their Dell computers — at least not yet.
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