Monday, June 30, 2008

Designer Babies

If you could, would you choose for your baby to have blond hair or brown? What about the baby's eye color? Blue or Green? That technology could soon be available, but is it ethical? That's the question many are raising after a couple eliminated the risk of hereditary colon cancer for their little girl.

This should be an interesting controversy to follow.

Here's the story that ran on ABC:

What if we could eradicate hereditary breast cancer by screening embryos? It 's controversial, but it's just been done for the first time in Britain and a handful of doctors are already doing it here in the U.S. The results are incredibly promising and are giving hope to families with a long history of the disease.

But some fear it could be the beginning of a brave new world where parents design their own children screening not just for deadly disease but for everything from beauty to intelligence.

In the movie "Gattaca", the fictional world of the future included selective genetics where undesirable genes were eliminated before birth. This brave new world on film was science fiction fantasy, but the science is fiction no more. Chloe Kingsbury is living proof.

Chloe's father, Chad, carries a gene for deadly genetic colon cancer that has killed two uncles, his mother and his grandfather. Because he carries the gene, he has an 85% chance of getting colon cancer. His offspring have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene from him.

So Chad and wife Colby used a new method of genetic testing called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which screens embryos for genetic disease. It allowed them to bring their daughter Chloe into the world without any fear that she'll get the disease. Chad said, "I've seen what this disease can do firsthand. I've held my mother's hand while she died. I look at my grandma every time I see her and there is an emptiness there. I mean, she's lost all three of her children. and I - I just, I couldn't do that."

And now one doctor in London used PGD to help a 27yr-old woman conceive Britain's first baby guaranteed to be free of hereditary breast cancer. Dr. Paul Serhal from University College London Hospital said, "All the lineage of the child will be free of the cancer and this to me is a very important message you want to put across."

It's been 30 years since the world's first test tube baby raised ethical questions over reproductive science and now with this medical milestone comes a new debate over genetic selection. Dr. Arthur Caplan, the Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "Today we saw the door open. The rare ethical challenge is where is this going to take us in the future? How far will we go to letting people design their babies?"

The Kingsbury's though wouldn't have it any other way. Chad said, "You just want to make a happy life for your child. And I think that's all we're trying to do."

What do you think about genetic testing? Will it lead to designer babies?

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

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Maria said...

I think it is a slippery slope that we must carefully traverse. Also, we (everyone) needs to keep in mind that just because we CAN do things doesn't mean we SHOULD.

It'd be interesting to get the Right to Life take on this...

baby girl said...

I think we shouldn't use genetic testing, it a risky place and we cant know what will be the next step.

Rixblix said...

I've debated's such a wide open area.

The reality is that the state of health care is awful. And I could, in theory, understand parents not wanting to re-visit genetic illness and all that is entailed on their children. For example, women who know they are carriers of hemophilia could select eggs/embryos not affected with the hemophilia gene. They would save their children from all that living with hemophilia include. Those include: (but aren't limited to) exorbitant medical costs, pain, life long dependence on drugs, possible exposure to blood born pathogens, risk of traumatic brain/joint injuries from internal bleeding . Are those parents wrong for wanting to spare a child of that?

Unless someone has had an intimate experience with a genetic illness, it's impossible to understand the attraction to preventing such a thing. Genetic illnesses don't just affect the current generation of a family but every generation thereafter.

When this issue is examined, people always assume that parents will pick skin/eye/hair color...but these advances have implications that the vast majority of people have no idea about.

And then there is the very real possibility of an insurance company denying a dependent because of the RISK of genetic illness. For example, what if I was told (because I carry the gene that causes hemophilia) by my insurance that I would not be allowed to have a child unless we could select an egg/embryo unaffected?

These aren't the things of science fiction anymore. These are real issues facing parents every day. said...

Rix-Some unrelated info: I am working on a story on hemophilia for July Healthwatch, which runs on the 19th of the month. I will post it on my blog too. If you want to share your story, please email me and I will include it when I post the HOI story. Thanks!

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