Immoral Scaremongering About Designer Babies in the New York Times

Designer BabiesMike_kiev:DreamstimeLeftwing bioconservative Marcy Darnovsky who heads up the Center for Genetics and Society has an op-ed in today's New York Times decrying "Genetically Modified Babies." In this case, she is fulminating about a Food and Drug Administration technical meeting to consider an in vitro fertilization technique in which defective mitochondria in a woman's eggs are replaced with healthy ones from another woman. Mitochondria which function as cellular power plants have their own small genomes outside of the nuclei of cells. Children inherit their mitochondria from their mothers and between 1,000 to 4,000 children per year are born with diseases arising from defects in their mitochondria.

The FDA panel is considering approval of a procedure in which defective mitochondria in a woman's eggs are replaced with healthy mitochondria derived from eggs donated by another woman. The goal is for a woman to bear genetically related children who will be free of inherited mitochondrial disease.

Bioluddite Darnovsky objects that...

...these procedures are deeply problematic in terms of their medical risks and societal implications. Will the child be born healthy, or will the cellular disruptions created by this eggs-as-Lego-pieces approach lead to problems later on? What about subsequent generations? And how far will we go in our efforts to engineer humans?...

...many scholars, scientists and policy makers have urged a different approach: We should carefully and thoughtfully apply the tools of human genetic engineering to treat medical conditions in people, but we should not use them to manipulate the genetic traits of future children. Genetic modifications of sperm, eggs and early embryos should be strictly off limits. Otherwise, we risk venturing into human experimentation and high-tech eugenics.

Unfortunately, there are now worrisome signs that opposition to inheritable genetic modifications, written into law by dozens of countries, according to our count, may be weakening. British regulators are also considering mitochondrial manipulations, and proponents there, like their counterparts in the United States, want to move quickly to clinical trials.

The mitochondrial replacement technique is not at all "deeply problematic." In fact, the FDA panel has finally gotten around to considering a technique that the agency banned after essentially the same procedure was being successfully deployed by team led by fertility researcher Jacques Cohen 13 years ago.

Cohen used the technique to help women to give birth to 20 children before the FDA shut down his work in 2001. At a conference some years later, I asked Cohen how the children were faring and he told me that 19 were healthy and one has an autism disorder. As it happens, some research finds a correlation between mitochondrial dysfunction and some cases of autism.

Just as the claque of timorous bioethicists always insist, the FDA banned Cohen's research - in this case for 13 years - in order for "society"  to consider its "social and ethical" dimensions. In the meantime, thousands of mothers who otherwise might have been helped to bear healthy children now must watch as their kids suffer and die prematurely from mitochondrial diseases.

How very moral!

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ceti Alpha V awaits their eventual arrival.

  • Pro Libertate||

    This is Ceti Alpha V!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    If this is anything like IVF, they'll create several living human beings, pick the one which meets specifications, and "discard" (kill) the remainder.

    The concept of killing off surplus human beings is kind of a downer for me.

  • Ron Bailey||

    NGKC: With due respect, telling other people how to reproduce is kind of downer for me.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I know we're not exactly seeing eye to eye on this point, but it's possible to support the right to reproduce just short of the point of killing off human embryos.

    If they find a way to get your existing child out of the womb to give it surgery to remove certain genetic predispositions to illness, then I'd like to hear more. It might be a Very Good Thing.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Now, I would support a law saying that if you create a human being through artificial means, you're the guardian of that human being until you can find someone to adopt him/her. So if the head of a lab kills a "surplus embryo" it would be the same as if a guardian presiding over the death of their child.

  • Fluffy||

    That would be an extremely marginal change, since you can keep the embryos frozen essentially forever, or until the polity that enforces the law fails, or until you yourself die.

    That's a trivial law to evade.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I'm just saying it would be better than killing them. Not that it would be ideal.

  • ||

    He says right in the first graf that it's an IVF technique, guy.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    OK, and since IVF tends to generate "surplus" embryos, my point remains.

  • ||

    I'm not saying it doesn't (though I don't agree), just pointing out that he answered the question right up top.

  • tarran||

    I am still waiting for a professional bioethicist who isn't a luddite projecting their own psychological issues onto society using fancy words.

    Like Diogenes' quest for a wise man, I think it will be a futile one.

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    Bioluddites everywhere...

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    And how far will we go in our efforts to engineer humans?

    Perhaps we should ask the same of the evolutionary process in general. At the heart of this problem lies a deeper, yet more forthright, question: "Does the survival of the species outweigh all other considerations?" I say it does.

  • ||

    We should carefully and thoughtfully apply the tools of human genetic engineering to treat medical conditions in people, but we should not use them to manipulate the genetic traits of future children. Genetic modifications of sperm, eggs and early embryos should be strictly off limits. Otherwise, we risk venturing into human experimentation and high-tech eugenics.

    Serious question (possibly for Ron): do any bioethicists who make this argument or similar have any explanation for why it's okay to reproduce at all? Doing so is to manipulate the genetic traits of future children, obviously—and is creation not "scarier" or "more serious" than manipulation anyway?

  • ||

    Not only that, but reproduction produces birth defects, miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, mongoloids, etc. It's pretty immoral to do it knowing the harm you could cause.

  • ||

    Can they have anything but the naturalistic fallacy to go on?

  • ||

    I mean, the sex act produced you, and you're easily the worst. What more proof of its harm do you need?

  • ||

    Inorite!

  • Fluffy||

    Nikki beat me to it.

    The child is an utterly passive victim of the parents' choices no matter what happens.

    Maybe parents will make bad choices and kids will suffer.

    But people with defective genes (I'm looking at YOU, ugly people) make the bad decision to impose their shitty genes on their offspring all the time and nobody bats an eye. So if they suddenly impose different genetic material, how is the child worse off?

  • ||

    To be fair, I frequently bat an eye, but yeah, exactly.

  • Fluffy||

    Perhaps this "bioethicist" can perform the basic function of describing to me, in concrete terms, the harm she is trying to prevent.

    And I don't mean by just restating her conclusion, either.

    How is a future child harmed by being "designed"?

    Notorious has identified a possible harm: a procedure that produces multiple embryos and discards some of them "harms" the discarded embryos. I don't agree that an entity with less than 100 cells is due any moral consideration, but Notorious has at least offered a coherent argument.

    Darnovsky is no doubt an IVF supporter, so she would be estopped from offering that particular argument. So I'd be interested in hearing what the argument actually is.

    Here's the problem I see: most arguments I can imagine revolve around the fact that the future child "can't consent" to the genetic alteration. But the future child already can't consent to its genetic inheritance. So we would be moving from one set of genetic material that the future child can not and did not choose to a different set of genetic material that the future child can not and did not choose. I fail to see how that can be a "harm". There's no status change.

  • Ron Bailey||

    F: You are correct. A designer baby and a conventionally produced baby stand in exactly the same moral relation - neither one gave consent to have the genes that they bear, much less to be born at all.

  • ||

    Does anyone really acknowledge that?

  • Ron Bailey||

    FN: Well, I do.

  • SugarFree||

    I don't think they worry about it because it is a false front argument to begin with. They aren't worried about designer babies for the babies' sake, but rather the implications for a diverging line of directed evolution that makes the "inequities" of society into biological fact.

  • ||

    Well these people should know that if they're going to make terrible arguments that touch on things I'm actually interested in, I'm going to be disappointed that it's all a wall of bullshit and no one much worrying about what really concerns me.

    (Thanks Ron, I wasn't accusing you or anything, just wondering if it's an actual hole in the literature or my ignorance.)

  • Fluffy||

    I think that's true, but I think there's an even bigger problem.

    Darnovsky considers herself a bioethicist.

    What's a bioethicist's work product? Apparently Darnovsky thinks it consists of sentences like "We risk venturing into human experimentation and high-tech eugenics," which isn't actually a statement about ethics. A statement about ethics would be "High-tech eugenics that undertakes procedures A, B and C is morally wrong for reasons X, Y and Z."

    She apparently thinks that the mere words "high tech eugenics" accomplishes that, and it doesn't. Not if you're a "bioethicist".

    It's as if she claimed to be an auto mechanic and all she did was point at cars and say, "Car! Look, see? Car!"

  • SugarFree||

    Eugenics is bad.
    I called something "eugenics."
    I am a bioethicist.
    Therefore anything I call "eugenics" is bad.

    If all they have are arguments from self-generated authority, we just are going to point and laugh.

    Of course, a bioethicist that thought technology wasn't frightening and dangerous would be out of a job. The whole "profession" seems to be based on the precautionary principle run amok.

  • ||

    ...the FDA banned Cohen's research - in this case for 13 years - in order for "society" to consider its "social and ethical" dimensions.

    Funny, I was under the silly impression that the point of the FDA was to judge the safety of medical procedures.

  • Robert||

    Even sillier me, I thought they were about the safety & effectiveness of medical products.

    My understanding is that their jurisdictional hook into services like this is twofold:

    1. The materials used in delivering the service are deemed to be intended by their purveyors (by virtue of being sold to someone who they can find out is using them for that purpose) for use in that way, making them drugs or medical devices in interstate commerce. That's a way FDA and state pharmacy boards commonly convert an off-label use to an imputed promoted use.

    2. The person performing such a service can alternately be deemed to be selling mitochondria. If the mitochondria have not traveled in interstate commerce, then they are still a drug or device whose marketing that state will approve only by their own pharmacy board, unless approved by FDA.

  • Free Society||

    The next step in human evolution is being stifled by bureaucracy and academic shills.

  • Marc F Cheney||

    Warty exists nevertheless.

  • Pro Libertate||

    To be clear, Warty is considered the one piece of evidence presented by Intelligent Design theorists that is, in fact, difficult to reconcile with evolution.

  • Marc F Cheney||

    "If Warty did not exist, he would have to be invented."

  • SugarFree||

    Bah. Warty proves Intelligent Design. But there is no evidence that intelligence must be benevolent.

  • Pro Libertate||

    But Calvin is no kind and loving god! He's one of the old gods! He demands sacrifice!

  • ||

    Malevolent Design.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I believe we have a consensus. As we speak, I have a random word generator at work, drafting an article on this proved fact for The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

  • Marc F Cheney||

    Leftwing bioconservative

    O brave new world, that has such people in it!

  • ~Knarf Yenrab~||

    Collectivists are traditionally opposed to technological innovation on the grounds of putting some workers out of work, which is why they're so prone to the lump of labor & Luddite fallacies. Leftwing bioconservatives are just the latest generation of an old lineage.

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