Monday, March 2, 2009

Designer baby row over US clinic

From BBC website:

"This is the inevitable slippery slope of a fertility process which results in many more embryos being created than can be implanted." Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics

A US clinic has sparked controversy by offering would-be parents the chance to select traits like the eye and hair colour of their offspring.

The LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of IVF in the 1970s, expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year.

His clinic also offers sex selection.

UK fertility experts are angered that the service will distract attention from how the same technology can protect against inherited disease.

The science is based on a lab technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

This involves testing a cell taken from a very early embryo before it is put into the mother's womb.

Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes - or in this case an embryo with the desired physical traits such as blonde hair and blue eyes - to continue the pregnancy, and discard any others.

Dr Steinberg said couples might seek to use the clinic's services for both medical and cosmetic reasons.

For example, a couple might want to have a baby with a darker complexion to help guard against a skin cancer if they already had a child who had developed a melanoma. But others might just want a boy with blonde hair.

His clinic is offering this cosmetic selection to patients already having genetic screening for abnormal chromosome conditions in their embryos.

"Not all patients will qualify for these tests and we make NO guarantees as to 'perfect prediction' of things such as eye colour or hair colour," says the clinic's website.

Dr Steinberg said: "I would not say this is a dangerous road. It's an uncharted road."


Rest of article here.

11 comments:

Jackie said...

I have to say that screening for sex, hair and eye color is pretty tacky. But if the research used to create their techniques leads to better screening for genetic diseases like diabetes and alzhimers, I support it. To address Quintavalle's conserns, a cluster of cells has no awareness of self. It can't suffer. And if there really was a loving, just god interested in sorting imortal souls, these embryonic souls would go to heaven.

Emma Worley said...

I'm afraid I just don't see the point. If you are wanting a baby then surely it won't matter what hair colour/ eye colour / sex it is. Also screening to keep out diabetes / inherited 'problems' although at first seems like a good idea these are not diseases that would constitute a bad life. As a diabetic myself I realise the health problems that are associated with it, and I would in all honesty, rather not have it. But I would rather be here to experience it than not.
Will the world be better off without genetically inherited diseases? Can we really make such a place? Would we want to? Do we have the right to decide what is best for our offspring - can we?
There is an Eastern story of a father who tries to prevent his son making all the same mistakes he has, which turns out to be impossible: we have to let our children learn in their own way. Making mistakes is all part of the rich tapestry of life.

Jackie said...

Emma W,

First of all, being said in a story doesn't make something true. I could make up an allegory to make any point I want.

Secondly, if you let the embryo with diabetes be taken to term, you destroy or do not create the one without diabetes. They both have the same right to live, don't they? But we can't give life to every single ova and sperm. Doesn't it make sense to give preference to the healty ones? And of course, I'm not saying you should use this service. I'm saying other peopole should be allowed to.

Emma W said...

Hi Jackie
I wasn't suggesting the story was true, it was merely an illustration to look at the idea of trying to protect children from scenarios that parents have have already encountered and think they know best how to avoid / make better. Can we really make these decisions for other beings? And if we can should we - will it be helpful?

I don't know much about the science of IVF, how does it work now? How are babies 'selected' at the moment? Or is it left to chance, to see which one works? At any rate, as you say in your first post a cluster of cells has no awareness of itself, does this mean it can have a right to life as you go on to say in your second post?

I agree that it would seem sensible to give the life to the healthier of the two - but is this the right thing to do? What if the other fetus has an unseen problem, such as depression? I suppose when faced with this question you have to bite the bullet and go with whatever is seems best to you at that moment.

I seem to be asking a lot of questions in this post but it is a complicated issue and it's very hard to come to a firm idea about it. As you say, it is the choice of the people who are having it done.

Jackie said...

Emma W,

My point was that you can make up a story to demonstrait whatever message you want, but that doesn't make the message true. I think parents can and do save their children from pitfalls that they faced. An example would be vaccinations. I'm quite happy to never have suffered from mumps, measles, or polio. Would a world without those diseases a better place? I think so. And along those same lines, if I could choose that my offspring wouldn't suffer from genetic diseases my husband and I may be carrying, I would.

One could make the argument that any action we take, good or bad, could have unforseeable positive or negative effects down the road. Someone vaccinated for polio may die in a war that (s)he wouldn't have been able to fight if (s)he had been crippled as a child. But I think that line of reasoning is pointless. We should only base our actions on forseeable outcomes. What is the alternative? Flipping a coin? Taking no action?

Anonymous said...

I would think that trying to select a child's sex could lead to unexpected consequences. We're not totally sure yet why people are born transgendered, and this type of thing might increase the possibility of being born that way.

Toby said...

I was intrigued Emma's statement: As a diabetic myself I realise the health problems that are associated with it, and I would in all honesty, rather not have it. But I would rather be here to experience it than not.

We all have problems in life (some inherited, some not) yet most of us prefer to keep living. I suspect partly because the good things balance out some of the bad things and that the urge to continue living is a evolutionary advantage.

What, if anything, follows from this? If most people prefer life to non-life should we see life as a good that should be given to all embryos if possible?

On the other hand, these embryos are not yet people and will have no preferences. So does it not matter either way whether we grant them further development towards this good?

Does that make Emma's statement illogical? Or has she hit on something here?

I confess my thinking about this is quite muddled.

Matt M said...

They both have the same right to live, don't they?

Do embryos have rights?

Surely until they start developing nervous systems, etc. there's no significant difference between an embryo and sperm/ova?

So would my selecting one embryo over another be any different (ethically speaking) from my choosing not to have unprotected sex right at this moment -- both lead to potential individuals being denied life.

Jackie said...

I made my initial artuments in anticipation of the clasical pro-fetus, anti-choice arguments. I basically agree with Matt M that there's no difference between destroying an early embryo and not creating it in the first place.

Anon, that sounds fairly rediculous. The sexing process involves removing one cell from an embryo. After that, nothing happens to the embryo that wouldn't happen in any other type of IVF. How would that increase instances of transgenderedness?

Kyle P. said...

Even if it did increase the chances of transgenderedness, who gives a damn? It really shouldn't matter. If, for example, the couple wanted to have a transgendered child, then they should be allowed to choose that, in my opinion. I wonder if there would have to be a line somewhere here, and what that line would be. What would the legal consequences of crossing it be?

Jackie said...

Kyle P,

If someone is using IVF and has a bunch of embryos screened for disease, I don't think they should be allowed choose a diseased one. That would be like taking a healthy child and purposly infecting it. I would allowe the relavent medical association (i.e. the AMA in the USA) to define "disease," and I would include imparements like blindness and mental retardation. This would probably include transgenderedness as a disease because most of transgendered individuals require gender reassignment surgery to be happy, while homosexuality is not a disease and does not require treatment. A person can make the claim that learning to live with a disability like blindness builds character, but there are other ways of character building that don't disable/inconvenience the person for her/his entire life. And certainly, blinding a child on purpose is illegal and cruel.

Conversely, I don't think there should be regulations on adults conceiving children through sex. It's unenforceable. Furthermore, except in rare occasions, the parents don't know that they are definately going to give their disease/imparement to their offspring. It may be risky and irresponsible for certain couples to reproduce naturally, but I don't think it should be illegal.