Conceptualize yourself comfortably sitting in the Reproductive Fertility Center at Diamond Bar, California, with your partner after many years of attempting to conceive, a reproductive endocrinologist, fertility doctor, comes in with a folder. Inside the folder contains an embryo menu with each embryos’ description. With a wide variety of embryos to choose from, all uniquely made by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) from you and your partner’s sperm and eggs, how will you design your baby? A designer baby has been an arising medical breakthrough that has changed many lives of parents and health care systems in treating genetic diseases caused by faulty genes. However, the emergence of designer babies has presented a myriad of ethical issues for humans manipulating genes that are not new. As a result, the designer baby concept presents opportunities to rid society of problems by preventing genetic diseases from occurring through DNA screening to remove unwanted genes and retain normal ones for the health and prosperity of a baby. While the process may appear innocent, determining normal genes against abnormal ones has become an arising ethical concern of whether implemented limitations should be applied.
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Before the emergence of IVF, designer babies were a science fiction concept; however, with the rapid advancement of technology in contemporary society, designer babies have become an increasing possibility. Inspired by Aldous Huxley’s satirical novel, Brave New World, Huxley introduces predictions of future reproductive technology described in a dystopian society populated by people embedded into different levels of intelligence who underwent chemical treatment in the embryo. Inevitably, this has served as a reference point for the new advances in reproductive technology. Over the years, the designer baby concept has been introduced as a modified baby that undergoes genetic alterations from an embryo for having or lacking particular genes. At present, in-vitro fertilization — a medical procedure used to help with fertility or prevent genetic problems to assist with conceiving — has become a prominent procedure to aid in selecting specific genetic traits by using created embryos. As the male sperm and female ovum fertilize, the zygote — a fertilized ovum — undergoes preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) before being transferred into the mother’s womb. Through the PGD process, the embryo undergoes genetic profiling to help identify healthy and non-mutated genes to reduce the probabilities of genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia, cancer, or down syndrome. (Bliss 16). In contemporary society, the emergence of revolutionized technology such as IVF and PGD faces usage to help make designer babies into a reality.
Although rising ethical and moral disparagements are prominent in contemporary society, the advantages proposed by designer babies should not be ceased. As previously stated, the concept behind designer babies is to promote the presence or absence of inheriting particular gene traits or physical characteristics. Advocates of designer babies suggest that the alteration of a baby’s genome can help medical communities prevent inheritable diseases and disorders, such as down syndrome, cancer, and Alzheimer's diseases, to cease from existence. As mentioned in Shirley Shalev’s book, Genetic Explanation, Shalev argues that “the desire for one’s own genetic child seems to exist alongside the aspiration for a healthy child. About 6 percent of infants born worldwide every year (approximately 7.9 million infants) are born with birth defects.” (Shalev 205). Alongside, Shalev urges that helping parents profile their baby’s genetic material helps prevent chromosomal abnormalities and eliminate unsafe and detrimental treatments. In other words, eliminating certain traits or mutations found in the genome can help erase genomic mutations to reduce human suffering and hardships that impact families emotionally and financially. Ultimately, manipulating and removing unwanted genes from an infant can increase their life expectancy because they consist of healthier genes. Along with choosing desirable characteristics, gender selection can also be beneficial for designing a baby. For instance, in John Bliss’s book, Designer Babies, Bliss claims that “ [designer babies] offer parents the opportunity to choose the sex of their unborn child .. [and is] used as a way to screen for genetic disorders.” (Bliss 18). Parents have the availability to prevent sex-linked disorders by selecting the baby’s gender if there’s an ongoing sex-linked disorder in the family’s history. Gender selection allows prospective parents to avoid gender selection abortions, child abandonment, and sexism. Cultural bias in eastern cultures such as China and India tends to be a common problem due to sexism against females leading to most parents wanting a male because of their value or abandoning their female infant. With this being said, gender selection helps regulate abortions and stabilize child abandonment and sexism.
Critics may argue that the technology utilized on babies is unethical because it implicitly devalues the lives of people who are disabled. For instance, "some couples with a disability seek to have a child that also has their disability, or a child-like them in other ways (e.g. mixed race) others deliberately do the opposite." (Reproductive Health Matters 197). Based on this, it is evident to notice that problems surrounding disabilities or diseases are caused by society itself. In order to fix this dilemma, society’s and environments need to accommodate these differences rather than genetically eliminating them. Promoting genetic alterations because of disabilities is demonstrated as discriminatory and contradicts the moral principle behind all lives being valuable. In accordance, the technology used creates a division between socioeconomic classes. The cost of the process to attain a designer baby is not relatively cheap. Therefore, only the wealthy benefit from designer babies because they can afford these desirable traits in their offspring, while those residing in lower socioeconomic standing aren’t granted access. As a result, genetic divisions may be distinguished. For instance, the science-fiction film, Gattaca, explores this by genetically modifying individuals to engage in the upper class.
In essence, the ethical debate on designer babies will continue to venture in future generations — as technology and human genetic modifications enhance. Although the ability to alter and control embryos may present health improvements on children, one must not ignore the social repercussions and negative consequences imposed by it. Many Americans spend billions of dollars on healthcare to help find cures for genetic diseases; logically, it would be encouraged to utilize technology that aids them. Henceforth, designer babies demonstrate a change in arising medical breakthroughs, but this issue will continue to evoke debate and controversy in society.
Berg, M.e.s. (Elbie) Van Den. “Human Reproductive Cloning and Biotechnology: Rational, Ethical and Public Concerns.” Koers - Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, vol. 77, no. 2, 2012, doi:10.4102/koers.v77i2.412.
Bliss, John. Designer Babies. Capstone Global Library Ltd, 2012.
Shalev, Shirley. “Creating a ‘Better Baby’: The Role of Genetics in Contemporary Reproductive Practices.” Genetic Explanations, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England, 2013, pp. 201–226. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbrkw.18.
“Wanting ‘A Baby like Me’: Ethics and Freedom in Reproductive Decision-Making.” Reproductive Health Matters, vol. 11, no. 21, 2003, pp. 197–197. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3776697. Accessed 27 July 2020.
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