Designer Babies

Designer Babies and Human Enhancement: Ronald Bailey Lectures in Moscow

Also most babies will be created using skin cells and the bioethics of radical life extension


Margarita Hooge/

Moscow—The classical liberal think thank invited me to lecture on the topic of Designer Babies and the Ethics of Human Enhancement. The lecture took place in July at the DI Telegraph building in central Moscow and was attended by around 300 people. I began by describing the techniques such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis used now to test and select IVF embryos that are free of specified genetic diseases.

I moved on to describe how Stanford University bioethicist Henry Greely believes that in about 40 years half of all American babies will born using what he calls Easy PGD. Basically, Greely argues in his new book The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction that most people will use gametes produced from their skin cells to create scores of IVF embryos that will each have his or her entire genomes sequenced. Prospective parents will then choose among the embryos based on which combination of genetic traits they would prefer. Presumably they would tend avoid those embryos afflicted with debilitating genetic diseases.

Greely believes that Easy PGD will be extremely cheap, e.g., whole genome testing should fall to around $10 by the beginning of the next decade. Easy PGD would also make it possible for same sex couples to have offspring genetically related to both parents and it might even be possible for a person to have both sperm and eggs created from their skin cells, enabling them to be both mother and father of their child.

Interestingly, biologist Craig Venter, the leader of the group that raced the government to a tie in sequencing the human genome, and now founder of the life extension company Human Longevity, Inc. can sequence a fetal genome and give the mother "a picture of what her future child will look like at 18."

Further in the future, I discussed the possibilties of new whole genome editing techniques like CRISPR to generate transplant organs for people inside of animals and cure diseases. And with regard to radical life extension, I noted that Harvard biologist George Church has suggested that it might be possible to reverse the aging process in the next five years or so. Then I looked at a number of companies that are already working on treatments that they hope will slow and perhaps stop aging.

Of course, I explained why leftwing and rightwing bioconservatives who want to stop the development of these biotechnologies are morally wrong. Listen to the entire lecture below.