The technology to screen embryos for certain genetic traits has been around for decades, but the scientific community has been engrossed in an ethical debate that has hindered advancements in the field. Back in 2009, ‘The Fertility Institutes’ promised to offer screening for eye, hair and skin colour, but later withdrew their offer due to a media backlash. Now the same guys are offering eye colour selection and it doesn’t look like they’re going to back down.
On ‘The Fertility Institutes’ homepage, you can see this advertisement:
The institute is casually advertising a service which enables parents to determine the appearance of their children. It’s disgusting. The ad is diminishing the babies’ level of humanity and is likening them to an inanimate product such as a new phone or car.
In order to achieve this eye colour selection, the clinic is using a technique called PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis). The technique involves removing a cell from an embryo and examining the DNA of that cell to determine the genome of the embryo. Clinicians compare the gene variants of the embryo to a database of gene variants to determine the most probable eye colour that the future baby will have. This process is repeated for several other embryos.
If parents requested a baby with blue eyes, any embryos with genes for black, brown or green eyes would be discarded, and two embryos with genes for blue eyes would be implanted in the mother’s uterus. If one or both of the embryos survive until childbirth, they have a high probability of being babies with blue eyes.
You might be thinking to yourself: isn’t it illegal to select for desirable traits in babies? This is the case in most countries, where PGD is only used to select against harmful genetic conditions; however the USA has no regulations regarding the use of PGD. This means that clinics could start offering to select for a whole range of traits that have genetic components, including hair colour, height, athletic ability and intelligence.
‘The Fertility Institutes’ claims to be the only clinic worldwide to offer eye colour selection, but because of the lack of regulation in the USA, there’s no way to know for sure whether or not other fertility clinics offer similar services. After seeing the media backlash in 2009, other clinics might have started to quietly offer such services to customers without blatantly advertising them on their websites. Designer babies may have already been created and could be living among us.
If the USA doesn’t start regulating PGD, designer babies could become prevalent. We need to stop this before it gets out of control. Say NO to eye colour selection. Say NO to designer babies.