Genetically Engineered Babies

So it begins. Scientists have developed a screening process that can literally read every segment of the human genome, and the first in vitro fertilized (IVF) baby has been born using that screening. Doctors are coming closer everyday to the ability to create genetically engineered babies.

The first-born child of Marybeth Scheidts and David Levy of Philadelphia, PA was born on May 18th after they had cells from their IVF embryos screened by specialists in Oxford, U.K. The screening looks for genetic abnormalities in the embryos to try to allow potential parents to select “the best” embryos to use in the birth process.

This use of next-generation sequencing (NGS), which can read genomes quickly and cheaply, is about to change the entire IVF process. Usually embryos with genetic abnormalities will not implant; if it does, they normally miscarry. The portion of embryos with genetic abnormalities that survive to full term are born with genetic disorders, like Down’s Syndrome.

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Coupled with the recent developments that seem to allow doctors to use the DNA of three people to create an embryo, these development are both disconcerting and awe-inspiring at the same time.

What the human mind is able to accomplish when a task is set before it is truly amazing. However, at what cost have these developments come? Are we entering an age where parents will design their children to their tailored specifications? Are the benefits of destroying certain diseases and genetic disorders worth the cost of losing the ways in which our unique and “haphazard” creation make us special? Is the world really a better place without those with Down’s Syndrome?

The Guardian tries to lend some comfort with the disconcerting news that molding our child before their birth may soon be possible.

designer-babies“The prospect of “designer babies” is remote for now, even if it were made legal. IVF produces only a dozen or so embryos at best, so the odds that one has all the traits a couple desires are very low. “IVF is still expensive and uncomfortable with no guarantee of a baby at the end. I can’t imagine many people wanting to go through the strains of IVF for something trivial,” said Wells.”

It sounds as if the Guardian and the scientists involved with these developments are simply kicking the ethical “can” down the road. Almost a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” mentality.

While the developments may be exciting in terms of sheer scientific advancement, they are terrifying in other ways. These advancements could cost us our very humanity. How far are we willing to travel down the road of genetic modification on those who have no say in the matter?


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