Breeding Out Disease (Or Gender)

by Christopher White, CBC Director of Research and Education on July 6, 2015

Post image for Breeding Out Disease (Or Gender)

Last night 60 Minutes aired an episode highlighting the rise of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), where doctors screen an embryo to test for genetic mutations that may lead to eventual diseases. Advocates of this technology laud that fact that it could be used to test for and prevent muscular dystrophy, breast cancer, and even Alzheimer’s. Dr. Mark Hughes, an early pioneer of the practice, praises it as a way to control the “genetic dice.”

Only slight mention is made of the fact that this technology could also be used to create designer babies and control for things like hair or eye color or other desired genetic traits.

Or sex selection—as revealed in the recent controversy over Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who reportedly only implanted male embryos that were created using in vitro fertilization (IVF).

As Naomi Riley points out in her column in today’s New York Post, “‘Designer babies’ are discussed as some kind of future proposition, an ethical problem for our grandchildren. But they’re happening now, with barely a peep of protest.”

While the eradication of disease is often a noble intention, problems arise when these technologies are used to create a standard of perfection in which children with certain genetic defects of abnormalities come to be viewed as “problem children” or “cursed.”

As Princeton biologist Lee Silver, also interviewed in the broadcast, asks, “Who would want to conceive naturally?” with the technology that we have now that can ensure that your child is created exactly to your liking.

Conception has moved to calculation. And there are no real rules to place limits on this technology—or to protect the embryos that are likely to be discarded or simply used for research in the process.

Dr. Hughes says this technology is in many ways, “more powerful than antibiotics or vaccinations.”

“Who is the gatekeeper?” to ensure that these technologies are used ethically, the interviewer asks.

No one. And those that are willing to pay their way to “perfection” can get exactly what they want.

Image by micahb37 via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Previous post:

Next post: