The Cons of Designer Babies
The future of genetic engineering is full of many possibilities, good things and improvements for our society. Currently, designer baby technology is only used to make sure the parents of a future child will not have a child with an incurable disease. However, it is only a matter of time before a doctor or company will put a price on other aspects of the genome of the baby. The technology can even be dangerous right now as it is to the embryos.
First, the genetic engineering itself may not work correctly. Choosing a certain type of gene, say for hair color, may turn off a different gene, say for aging longer (this would be telomerase, for the curious) (Agar). This type of problem may not manifest itself until the baby is actually born. Furthermore, the parents may not get what they expect. Hypothetically, they might choose a female embryo with fair skin, dark hair, and a minimal chance of disease, and get a healthy daughter who is fair skinned with dark hair who also has a terribly mean personality. Because "personality genes" are difficult to interpret and understand (they may not even exist!), the personalities of designer babies cannot be chosen for. The parents who wanted the fair and brunette daughter may have accidentally passed up a sweet tempered red haired son.
The choosing of embryos brings to the forefront a large moral issue with designer babies. Many embryos are created, and not as many are implanted into the mother. The embryos that do not fit the specifications set by the parents will get thrown away. Had these embryos have been allowed to grow, they could have had long and fulfilled lives, however the ones that are thrown away lose that potential life. Many people, especially those who are pro-life, view this aspect as a huge problem in the creation of designer babies. If many embryos are going to be thrown away, they should not be created.
Even embryos thrown away for medical reasons could still have just as good a life as those selected for without disease. When the genetics of an embryo are analyzed, it must be remembered that the genes for heart disease will not necessarily express themselves; there is only a chance that the expression will happen. Keeping that in mind, an embryo with a 40% chance of heart disease is being denied its life based on a chance.
When the time comes that a company is willing to put a price on designing aspects of a baby involving appearance, the technology will most likely be very popular. People should be wary of the possible downfalls of overusing this technology, as it could have an extremely detrimental effect on the world’s population.
If designer babies were to become commonplace, individuality as we know it would most likely cease to exist. Not everyone would look exactly the same; some parents may want their baby to have brown eyes, as opposed to green. Other parents may want their child to be more tan skinned rather than fair skinned. But as a whole, many people would be pretty, healthy, and intelligent. What parent wouldn't want these basic traits in their child?
A society of pretty, healthy, and intelligent people may sound reasonable and even favorable, until the full social implications are considered. Designing a baby costs money, and will most likely continue to cost lots of money; Genetic engineering for non medical reasons is not necessary for living life and it is doubtful that those who could not afford it would get reimbursed by insurance companies. This cost will mean that not everyone will be able to pay to design their baby, and suddenly people will encounter prejudice, not for their race, but for their inferior genetic makeup. It creates a new class system made up of genetically designed people and naturally made people. The people who were not genetically engineered would experience a loss of opportunity based on a chance that their defective genes will be expressed. In this new society, people with a 50% chance of cancer would get passed over for a job in favor of the person with .01% chance of cancer. That kind of social stratification can be frightening. Even if privacy laws the way they are now stay in place and people’s genetic information is not shared, it could be obvious which children were designed and which were not, creating the same stratification (Agar).
Another potential long term problem of designing babies lies in societies in which one gender or other important characteristic is favored over the other. In countries such as China and India where boys are favored over girls, this technology could be used so that every set of parents that wants a baby boy will get one. However, that is not evolutionarily favorable (Agar). If a generation of only boys were to be made, the human race would die out. That is, nevertheless, difficult to explain to an entire country, where family pride is based on the number of sons one has. The technology would continue to be abused.
Creating a generation of genetically modified humans could mess with evolution in unpredictable ways. The premise of evolution is simply this: as environments change, the individuals in a species best suited to the new environment are selected for. Without diversity in the species, adaptation to the new environment is more difficult without a wide range of individuals to choose from. The evolution of humans has spanned about 2 million years and has resulted in the types of people we see today: people who have imperfections and people who are very different from one another. A large scale of organisms in a particular species is necessary for that species to continue to be competitive with other species and be successful. By creating a generation of genetically similar people, the human species loses its ability to adapt to changing environments (Agar). Furthermore, on moral grounds, whether it is believed that humans evolved or were created by God, it is wrong to try to perfect something that has been perfected over a large span of time or made by God.
So What Do We Think?
Genetic engineering and designer babies could potentially be a very good thing; however, like any technology, it cannot be abused without rampant ramifications. It is true that many of the scenarios mentioned are worst case. On the other hand, any degree of the scenarios above is still somewhat terrifying. We do not think that the ideas surrounding designer babies are all bad though! To view our position in the debate, click here.