Designer Babies

'Designer Baby' Scaremongering Never Gets Old, Does It?

Swedish researcher denounced by bioconservatives for using CRISPR genome-editing on human embryos

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DesignerBabiesVictorHabbickDreamstime
Victor Habbick/Dreamstime

We have experienced bouts of moral panic over "designer babies" ever since the 1960s when in vitro fertilization was first being discussed as a real possibilty. IVF opponents claimed that parents would not bond with their "test tube" babies like those produced the old-fashioned way. A late 1960s Newsweek poll reported that a majority of Americans thought that developing IVF was "against God's will." Today, Americans and most of the rest of the world welcome IVF as a way for people to have children. Then fertility specialists developed pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in which embryos created using IVF where tested for deleterious genetic diseases before being implanted. This enables parents to avoid genetic diseases that have in some cases afflicted their families for generations. Again, bioconservative handwringers hoping to provoke fears of Nazi eugenics darkly suggested that PGD would open the gateway to having parents select the inevitable "blue-eyed blond-haired" designer babies. Why bioconservatives would think that parents of other ethnic heritages would be inclined to make that genetic choice remains a mystery to me.

The latest outbreak of designer baby moralizing has been spurred by the development of the amazing CRISPR genome-editing technique that enables researchers to make very precise genetic changes. Last year, some Chinese researchers reported on their work using CRISPR to edit the genomes of some defective embyos to see if they could fix a specific genetic flaw. This work provoked calls for banning any genetic modification of human embryos. Last December, a meeting convened by the National Academy of Sciences declined to endorse such a ban, although it urged researchers to go slow.

TestTubeBabies1940s
Test Tube Babies

Today an NPR report, "Breaking Taboo, Swedish Scientists Seeks To Edit DNA of Healthy Human Embryos," stokes the perennial "designer baby" fears. Actually what researcher Fredrik Lanner and his team at the Karolinska Institute is doing is seeking to edit genes in donated embryos to better understand infertility problems. All of the embryos will be destroyed before 14 days of development.

Since such research is allegedly breaking a taboo, there must be shaman who wants to enforce it on the benighted populace. So NPR finds the most alarmist of anti-technology alarmists, Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society, to fulfill this role. A prominent leftwing bioconservative, Darnovsky intones:

"The production of genetically modified human embryos is actually quite dangerous," Darnovsky says. "It's a step toward attempts to produce genetically modified human beings. This would be reason for grave concern." …

But even if it's safe, Darnovsky and others still worry about what designer babies would do to society.

"If we're going to be producing genetically modified babies, we are all too likely to find ourselves in a world where those babies are perceived to be biologically superior. And then we're in a world of genetic haves- and have-nots," Darnovsky says. "That could lead to all sorts of social disasters. It's not a world I want to live in."

First, this is very early days and none of the embryos edited by Lanner will become children, so bloviating against designer babies is a tad premature. Second, and most importantly, note that Darnovsky is against the technology even if it's safe. In other words, it is supposedly ethical to prevent parents from using a technology that would spare their children of horrible diseases and, some time in the future, enable them to have stronger bodies, more effective immune systems and more nimble brains.

For a fuller response to bioconservative ethical nonsense see my article, "The Moral Case for Designer Babies," or even better read my book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution.

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  1. I’d imagine that people who become ethicists are the people who were too stupid to actually master a field, so the only thing they are capable of after is critiquing the legitimate work done by those superior to them.

  2. I’d like to design a baby that wears a bowler hat, chomps on a green cigar, and talks real tough.

  3. I prefer test tube baby to IVF, with regards to my daughter. Even though I think it was more of a petri dish.

    1. Was it a deep dish?

      1. No idea.

        My job ended with driving a cup of sperm from the hotel to the lab.

        1. My job, with regard to conception, that is.

        2. I can’t believe you used the phrase “cup of sperm” on an hnr thread. Good luck.

          Also, congrats on the baby. 🙂

          1. Fun fact:

            She was conceived in 2014 and born in 2016.

          2. I dunno, I am impressed. That’s a huge amount of sperm.

            1. eh…it was only 3/4 full.

              /sarc

  4. It will be interesting to see how the anti-biotech forces line up with regard to gays and lesbians using artificial reproductive technology. I can see the religious fundamentalists doubling down on their opposition to that because they also don’t like the gays. Will be interesting to see where the leftist anti-biotech people go with this. Ron Bailey, can you shed any light on this?

    1. Arent they already?

      Isnt IVF popular* in the lesbian community?

      *I mean, more so than with the straights.

      1. Plain old artificial insemination is the most popular method for lesbians to conceive. Sometimes in a medical setting (anonymous donor), sometimes with a gay guy jizzing into a turkey baster (yes, really) and passing that on to the women.

        IVF is also popular, but is expensive. Plus the ova extraction is said to be painful. The primary reason to do that is that Lesbian A wants to carry the baby but wants Lesbian B to be the biological mother.

        And there is always the go to a nearby city, tart up and go to a bar method.

        The one gay (male) couple I know who did that had the sister of Gay A donate eggs, Gay B donated the sperm, a doctor did the IVF and implantation and a for-hire Surrogate D carried the baby to term. Expensive.

        FWIW, the poor (as in of modest financial means) gays tend to adopt and they’ve been taking the babies nobody else wanted – mixed race, medical problems, disabilities.

        1. Adoption and IVF cost about the same. Roughly. IVF maybe a bit more, depending on exact situation.

    2. They will come down on the side of cognitive dissonance and ignore any and all contradictions because this helps the right sort of people.

    3. If I were a lesbian, I would be more interested in genetically engineering my clitoris to grow into a penis during intercourse and then retract back afterwards. And some angel wings while I am at it.

    4. Scientists have already discovered how to fertilize ordinary cells with sperm. With an axolotl tank, women are pretty much unneeded for reproduction.

      1. With an axolotl tank, women are pretty much unneeded for reproduction.

        Well, except as raw materials for the axlotl tanks.

        Scientists have also figured out how to fertilize an egg with the nucleus from an ordinary cell. So men aren’t strictly necessary either.

        So I’m going to predict that the future belongs to robot fertility doctors and brainless heaps of human cells.

        1. I do think humans make poor batteries.

        2. I do think humans make poor batteries.

        3. ‘brainless heaps of human cells.’

          Otherwise known as liberals.

  5. “Then fertility specialists developed pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in which embryos created using IVF where tested for deleterious genetic diseases before being implanted. This enables parents to avoid genetic diseases that have in some cases afflicted their families for generations.”

    No, it does not enable parents to “avoid genetic diseases,” it enables them to kill their “defective” children. You don’t need IVF technology for that; you just need to kill them after birth like in pagan Sparta.

    1. Most of us see a clear difference between a newly fertilized zygote (few cells, all undifferentiated tissue) and an actual baby.

        1. Thanks for elaborating on your argument. You are letting your feelings get in the way of reason here.

          1. At what point during your development as a living human being were you *not* a person with rights?

            1. Before I had a functioning brain for sure.

              1. The point in my development cycle where I was incapable of thinking, feeling, moving, or being recognized as a human being in any way, shape, or form beyond my genetic makeup. Also, the ability to not be seen by anything short of a microscope. I think that’s pretty fair, would you agree Fusionist? Why, or why not? Try really hard not to use the word ‘soul’, if you please.

                1. Question-begging ftl.

    2. There are typically several embryos created for every one that actually gets implanted and carried to term. So are you saying that choosing which one gets implanted by random chance is fine, but deciding on some rational basis is immoral?

  6. “If we’re going to be producing genetically modified babies, we are all too likely to find ourselves in a world where those babies are perceived to be biologically superior. And then we’re in a world of genetic haves- and have-nots,” Darnovsky says. “That could lead to all sorts of social disasters. It’s not a world I want to live in.”

    Uh, you are already living in a world of genetic haves and have-nots.

    1. Ssssshhhhhhh…. You’ll melt the snowflake…

    2. Heck, we are living in a world where Warty, STEVE SMITH and the Jacket roam the Earth….worried about “Designer Babies”? HA!

  7. All of the embryos will be destroyed before 14 days of development.

    Oh, well that should solve all ethical dilemmas!

    *headdesk*

    1. People want to know what monsters earlier generations must have been to hold slaves or to engage in the slave trade, or to “dispose of excess slaves” who died in the Middle Passage.

      How could they have routinely accepted such horrors? How come they didn’t speak out?

      Well, we have our answer.

      1. Fetal Development. Time scale along top is time in weeks. So at under two weeks you have a ball of cells with no differentiated organs.

        1. Yes, you used to be a small entity with no differentiated organs, still doesn’t mean I would have been right to kill you.

  8. As for fears of a slippery slope, that’s so cute, as if the problem was stuff that *might* happen in the future, as opposed to stuff that’s happening now.

    Here is a sympathetic portrayal of parents who use IVF and end up with so-called excess embryos. There’s a nonjudgmental list of the options parents have in dealing with those leftover babies.

    Let’s cut right to the chase:

    “Donating to Medical Research

    “…Many couples find donating to research a middle ground that gives the embryos a status somewhere between born children and simple clumps of cells. Although the embryos will not survive, giving to science can be a very caring act, says Dr. Lyerly, who has studied the issues surrounding frozen embryos. Couples who donate to research, she says, “feel like they were helped by science and they want to give back.”

    1. And here’s a fun euphemism – “Thawing Without Donating.” (that means killing the embryos)

      “Some couples find themselves unable to escape the shadows of infertility without allowing their embryos to pass on naturally and with respect. Dr. Lyerly knows of a few women who’ve found a doctor willing to perform a “compassionate transfer,” implanting the embryos into the woman at a time pregnancy is unlikely?envisioning it as a way to return the embryos to their keeping. Other couples want to perform a ceremony of some sort during the thawing and disposal to show their reverence.

      “Some parents who want other choices besides thawing discover that they have none. Kelly Damron of Phoenix was hoping to donate her three embryos to science after she’d had her twins through in vitro. “Our clinic said that wasn’t an option,” she says. She wishes now she had asked about the possibilities for unused embryos before choosing a physician. “I asked every other imaginable question,” she says. “I didn’t even think to ask that one.” So she paid for another year of storage; it was too hard to let go at that moment. But, eventually, she did. “Some days I wish they were still there,” Damron says. “I wouldn’t say that I grieved for them, but I definitely had feelings about the loss.””

      1. Based on my experience, that is weird.

      2. In the section about donating to medical research, the article discusses a couple who “eventually decided to donate the embryos for medical research, as a gesture of gratitude to a system that had given them their dreams. “We were ultimately still giving life, just not for those particular five embryos,” [the mother] says.”

        1. I keep waiting for you to get to the part that’s supposed to be horrifying.

        2. I just want women who have miscarriages to be charged with neglect leading to the death of a child. Is that too much to ask?

          1. *By definition,* these embryos are conceived *outside* the womb, and the decision about whether to kill them is made while they’re outside the womb.

            Where do miscarriages even come into it?

            Even if the womb is a rights-free zone for the embryo, what does this have to do with the question of whether it’s OK to create and then destroy a human being in a laboratory?

            1. (and in case there’s any doubt, you’re of course demolishing a straw man)

            2. Since these humans were literally created in an environment that is absolutely not a place they would ever come into existence naturally, I really don’t see much of a problem with it. Yes, they are human lives. Yes, it’s kind of shitty. However, realistically, are you going to force them to implant all the embryos that took into this woman? How many babies must you shove into her before it becomes a serious health hazard to everyone involved?

              Sorry, I just don’t think the same ethics apply to this particular niche area of human development. Mainly because it’s completely outside the normal cycle of human development.

              There are important questions to be asked, such as where does one draw the line on human genetic modification, but the question of what to do with the unused humans is actually not that difficult for me since at 10-15 days I’m pretty sure they won’t feel pain and that they won’t survive outside of a host, which it should be noted they do not currently have.

              When you get to the point where you can manufacture humans, are we still going to feel like there is something inherently magical about being human? What about when we can breed dogs that reason? Or Hawks who write novels? Because we aren’t just talking about a few 15 day old embryos being tossed in the dumpster, we’re talking a complete rewrite of the code that gives life.

              1. You’ve heard of the Pottery Barn principle – you break it, you buy it?

                Well, how about the Dr. Frankenstein principle – you create it in a lab, you’re responsible for it.

                Until some couple “adopts” an IVF baby, the lab should be considered the legal guardian with the responsibilities of a legal guardian, which includes not killing the ward.

                “But wait, that will interfere with how IVF does business!”

                Cry me a river. If your business model involves killing living human beings, you need to change businesses.

                “are we still going to feel like there is something inherently magical about being human?”

                I don’t know. When you find that compulsory African labor is a great way to manufacture sugar and pick cotton, will you *feel* that there’s nothing magical about their humanity?

                Fuck feelings.

                “What about when we can breed dogs that reason? Or Hawks who write novels?”

                Well, then, Dr. Moreau, many in my own Church have actually come up with an answer to that one – if the human element predominates it has human rights.

                1. Herein lies the key moral problem involved in this proposal, beyond the already grave problem of exploiting human embryos as cell factories for research. For if one cannot tell to what extent, if any, the resulting organism may have human status or characteristics, it will be impossible to determine what one’s moral obligations may be regarding that organism. If this is an animal, one may ultimately destroy that animal once it has served its research use ? many would say one must do so, to prevent any possibility of breeding that may produce more human/animal hybrids. If this being may have some claim on membership in the human family, then morally one must not take such action ? and that is true legally as well, for any federally funded research covered by the Dickey amendment. We submit that producing new organisms, regarding whom our fundamental moral and legal obligations are inevitably confused and even contradictory, is itself immoral.”

                  1. The idea you would need to use any ‘human’ genetics to create a thinking animal is interesting, but unproven. That being said, your religion would doubtless not survive such a creation one way or another.

                    I appreciate your point, and will decline to rile you further since a religious person of your bent is simply not going to come around to a rational secular way of thinking on this subject. You simply have a different ethos, which I’d rather not poke with a stick more than necessary. Good day sir.

                2. “Cry me a river. If your business model involves killing living human beings, you need to change businesses.”

                  What if your business model involves creating living human beings?

                  Why someone would worship a God that is supposedly to blame for all death would turn around and claim a small subset of death is somehow worse than the rest is confusing to me.

                  I’m against cruel and usual punishment, so I’m obviously against late term abortion, but I think at 10-15 days you’re safe in the eye’s of general morality, even if you aren’t in the eyes of your god. So how about you stick to not ‘murdering’ cell clusters and staying clean in your religion, and let the rest of secular society do what we will. I think Jesus actually said a lot on that very subject, but maybe you haven’t gotten that far in the book yet. I won’t spoil the ending.

        3. We were ultimately still giving life, just not for those particular five embryos

          Or, “We were ultimately still giving life, we just took it back from those particular five embryos.”

  9. Umbrella Corporation approves of this post.

  10. They offer the world order. I call them order babies.

  11. “Again, bioconservative handwringers hoping to provoke fears of Nazi eugenics darkly suggested that PGD would open the gateway to having parents select the inevitable “blue-eyed blond-haired” designer babies. Why bioconservatives would think that parents of other ethnic heritages would be inclined to make that genetic choice remains a mystery to me.”

    If anything, it would be a death knell to the idea of race and racism. You can’t draw lines around genetic groups when your genes aren’t necessarily anything about your ancestry or connect you with any group, they’re literally just selected by parents who thought the genetic traits you have were aesthetically pleasing.

    And honestly, what are the chances that parents would go for the pasty, easily burned skin tones??

    1. What people will go for is babies that are smarter, stronger and healthier. I imagine most parents will still want their children to look sort of like they do.

      I can understand the concerns that this means that wealthier people will make themselves into a new class of super-humans. But there is also an ethical problem with preventing people from making their children be healthier, stronger and smarter.

      1. Well, I for one know that there will be those families or individuals who are truly insane and would probably attempt to have the first actual Sasquatch baby or some 18 year old with think it would be hilarious to make a man-bear-pig, but that’s probably even further down the line than what we’re talking about.

  12. If we’re going to be producing genetically modified babies automobiles, we are all too likely to find ourselves in a world where those babies owners are perceived to be biologically financially superior. And then we’re in a world of genetic technology haves- and have-nots,” Darnovsky says. “That could lead to all sorts of social disasters. It’s not a world I want to live in.

    Anyone who stands in the way of technology because rich people will get it first deserves plenty of ridicule.
    The rest of us should not suffer for their failure to understand that things get cheaper over time, provided a lack of government meddling.

  13. While the ability to screen babies before birth – even before conception – is relatively new, society has been slow in accepting the inevitability of designer babies. Until now, the selection process has been pigeonholed with state-sponsored eugenics programs such as those of Nazi Germany, in which entire races deemed inferior were forcibly sterilized or exterminated, and with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which birthing was centrally controlled by a monolithic “World State”, and resulted in docile subjects.

    But to prevent this from happening, society will need to reject censorship, and learn to embrace the parent-driven embryo market.

    Designer babies are inevitable. Will they be designed by the state or by parents?

    http://hubpages.com/family/Des…..of-the-Box

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