February 16, 2009

Demand for human trait selection creates a market

The Wall Street Journal published an article last week on the topic of human trait selection -- a pending reproductive procedure that's more commonly (and pejoratively) referred to as designer babies. In the article, "A Baby, Please. Blond, Freckles -- Hold the Colic", writer Gautam Naik describes those laboratory techniques that screen for diseases in embryos and how those techniques will soon be offered to prospective parents.

Click for larger image; credit: Wall Street Journal

As previously noted here on Sentient Developments, demand for the non-medical application of PGD, while small, does exist and it's increasing. As Jeff Steinberg of LA's Fertility Institutes says, "This is cosmetic medicine...Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it." Trait selection in babies "is a service," says Dr. Steinberg, and "[w]e intend to offer it soon."

The WSJ article prompted respond with a list of reasons why human trait selection is an important topic today:
  1. It’s a hive of ethical issues
  2. The technology isn’t here yet
  3. We all have a stake in the issue
  4. Questions raised go beyond designer babies
"I love the topic of designer babies," writes Hinsch, "because difficult questions need to be asked about all kinds of emerging technologies from nanotechnology to therapeutic and reproductive human cloning." It can be overwhelming, she ways, "but the only thing we can count on is change–that the nature of the technology will evolve while the challenges remain."

According to Hinsch there are some key questions that need to be answered as we move forward:
  • Should we ban it?
  • Should we regulate the technology to allow only certain applications?
  • Should we promote the widespread use of this technology?
Some believe, for example, that genetic modification holds tremendous promise for preventing genetic diseases and that society should pursue policies to promote or encourage its use in the future, despite what other sideline “designer” applications are developed as a result.

There's no question that these are challenging isues. But what's important right now, argues Hinsch, is that we get the conversation started.

7 comments:

Enlighten one said...

I am all for it. Every parent wants the best for their child, and arguments about the parents being shallow are flawed. reason being is that every human is shallow to a degree. Secondly every human wants healthy children, so naturally the parents are going to select traits which they perceived to give the child an edge. Secondly the argument that everyone will be blond is flawed, since in the beginning most European parents might give their child blond hair however this will soon lose meaning since everyone will have blond hair. Thus evening out blond hair with other hair colours when ginger and brunettes become a novelty again. Hopefully this will technology will progress more and soon we will be able to heighten intelligence, strength, stamina and altruism. My ultimate dream is to turn on all the genes responsible for regeneration. Mammals have lost this ability, but imagine wear limbs can be regenerated, neural tissue, spinal cord and even eyes. All without medical assistants. To me this is the ultimate goal of gene therapy.

ZarPaulus said...

Any idea how long it will be before this is possible. I want to get into the business when it's new.

Aric said...

If this is allowed in China it's going to be huge. They won't have the moral issue with it that the west has. Currently it's illegal to check a baby's sex before birth, but that's to avoid a 90% male population. If the rest of the genetic selection could be done without parents choosing the sex then it should have a green light and be very popular.

That also goes for other cognitive enhancements. Economic competition drives everything over there. Even if parents don't 'like' it, they will feel for their child's future they have no choice.

Michael Kirkland said...

Should we allow parents to select their child's sexual orientation? Proclivity to risk taking? Susceptibility to religious indoctrination?

It seems to me some things should only be done by consenting adults, not imposed by the previous generation.

Non-blond, curly-haired, green-eyed said...

This whole business reeks of eugenics and racial supremacism.

Guess who already have the capability of selecting their babies' genes to a very high extent? Beautiful rich blond caucasian people. They've already got the statistically most beautiful genes (actually a mix of asian and caucasian was rated the most beautiful - apparently intelligent (IQ 100+116)looks beautiful to everyone - beautiful looks intelligent to us - and is too) from their side, they only need to find a healthy mate, and money and beauty not being problems, they will.

When the rest of the population wields the same power, the problem becomes that many of the awesome traits that the rest of the humanity, the non-white, non-asians will end up extinct. We definitely don't want to live in a monoculture. Diversity of interspecies variations is a richness that we should not endanger.

Non-blond, curly-haired, green-eyed said...

[fixed typos]

This whole business reeks of eugenics and racial supremacism.

Guess who already have the capability of selecting their babies' genes to a very high extent? Beautiful rich blond caucasian people. They've already got the statistically most beautiful genes (actually a mix of asian and caucasian was rated the most beautiful - apparently intelligent (IQ 100+116)looks beautiful to everyone - beautiful looks intelligent to us - and is too) from their side, they only need to find a healthy mate, and money and beauty not being problems, they will.

When the rest of the population wields the same power, the problem becomes that many of the awesome traits that the rest of the humanity, the non-white, non-asians have will end up extinct. We definitely don't want to live in a monoculture. Diversity of intraspecies variations is a richness that we should not endanger.

In Response said...

Hmm...I believe "nonblond, curlyhair, greeneyed" is mistaken. 1. Randomization will account for overall gene proportions to change by at most 3-4% in the world. For example, world blonde hair pop. might increase by 1-2%. But your argument of diversification of intraspecies variation is interesting. Guess what over 90% of the world is? Black haired and brown eyed. So, according to this, then diversity means increasing the number of blondes, green eyes, etc. which are rare. 2. PGD only allows selection from within the parents already-existing traits, so how exactly will non-whites end up extinct? 3. Eugenics and racial supremacism was based on the idea that only certain types of parents should be allowed to procreate. This gene selection does the opposite. It allows, for example, non-blonde haired parents to select a blonde child, thus destroying the Nazi myth that only blonde parents can produce a blonde baby, and that light-haired and eyes people are somehow "pure." If anything, this technology, like "enlighten one" said, will even out blonde hair with other colors, allowing people to get over the superficiality of hair/eye color.