As I was on my way to college on a typical weekday morning, I saw a newspaper with a very attractive cover. There was a picture of a baby wearing a bib with “DB Custom Made in LA” written on it and “Designer Babies” written in bold black letters on the cover itself. I picked up the newspaper, which happened to be amNewYork, and read the cover story. Apparently, a Dr. Jeff Steinberg, who runs a Fertility Clinic in LA and is a 1970s In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) pioneer, is offering a chance for IVF patients to choose the physical traits of their child, such as hair and eye color, using Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (P.G.D.) They already offer people the choice of selecting the child’s gender (Fink). After reading this article, I couldn’t help asking myself the question: is this right?
In our times, technology presents us with numerous opportunities to make our lives better. We see these opportunities in various areas of our life: education, career, leisurely activities, etc. However, technology has now found its way into our family life as well. In Vitro Fertilization is used to provide infertile couples with a chance to have a child and P.G.D. is used to insure that parents with a disease that can be passed on to the child will have a healthy child by excluding the disease-carrying genes (Handyside and Delhanty 270; Belkin). IVF is the process of manually combining male sperm and a female egg in vitro (in the lab). When IVF is successful, it is combined with a procedure called embryo transfer, which allows the embryo to be physically placed into the uterus and after a while, pregnancy occurs (American Pregnancy Assoc.). Of course, there can be no doubt about the fact that this process is a blessing for the unfortunate, but fertility specialists have gone too far this time. The ability to choose the gender and physical traits or your baby is unethical and dangerous.
According to data from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, 36,648 women underwent fertility treatment in 2007, compared to 34,855 in 2006, which shows a 5 % increase (Kirby). Moreover, this number continues to rise. However, there is a problem involved with IVF. While undergoing the process, women have to take certain fertility drugs, which may have a negative effect on the patient. Complications include the risk of multiples such as twins, triplets and high-order pregnancies, and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is the process of the enlargement of ovaries, leading to them filling with fluids and causing difficulties when ovulation occurs. This can then lead to blood clots and kidney failure (Gurevich). Therefore, IVF poses a risk for people choosing to go through with it, and for people who choose this process for reasons other than to be able to have a healthy baby is unnecessary.
One problem associated with the ability to choose the traits of a child is that, from the point of view of ethics, this allows the parents to play the role of “God” and the child to be treated like a toy. As a Boston University bioethicist named George Annas said, “It could radically change our view of human life, our view of children, our view of parenthood, our view of our relationships to each other and what it means to be human” (qtd. in Snow). Parents will tend to lose the feeling of excitement that comes with not knowing what the baby’s gender is and what he/she will look like. With the ability to choose, children will turn into some sort of competition between parents, a contest to make the more beautiful baby. Moreover, the parents cannot be completely certain that the child him/herself will be satisfied with the looks the parents chose, and this will create tension in their future relationship. “It encourages parents to think about their child not as a person they will nurture and take into adulthood, but as a product like a new kitchen or a car that you might customize,” says a scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, Josephine Johnston (qtd. in Fink).
Artificial fertilization methods also pose a health risk not only for the mother, but for the baby as well. The fact that this process is relatively new and has never been tested before creates a hazard for the child and can lead to negative outcomes. Doctors themselves are not entirely sure of the results this process will bring. Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU, has asked “How many arbitrary and willful choices about a child’s genetic makeup could lead to unexpected negative outcomes?” (Siegel) This process is dangerous, and until scientists are completely sure of its safety and success, it should not be allowed. According to a research conducted by scientists in Atlanta, babies conceived artificially are likely to suffer 30% more from health problems and genetic flaws (BBC News). With the intervention of the ability to choose genes, the risk increases.
The biggest problem concerning the ability to choose the gender and traits of a child is the one of social division. The average total cost of an IVF process in the U.S. is $1,250,000 (IVF Cost). Obviously, the typical middle-class American family will not be able to afford something so expensive. Only the wealthy, upper-class families will have the choice of creating good-looking children. This will significantly increase the already wide gap between the classes, because the wealthy will now not only be wealthy, but beautiful as well. The inequality between classes will deepen, and there will be no knowing what the outcome of such differences in a society will be. "There is going to be a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and so the children of the rich really might be beautiful, and the children of ordinary people won't have access to the same sorts of expensive technologies," Paul Saffo, a futurist, said (qtd. in Snow).
Another possible problem is that the people who can afford this option will try to create children based on their ideal of beauty, and due to the fact that people tend to have similar ideals of beauty, the children will most likely turn out looking the same: probably blue-eyed and blonde-haired. At a gathering of pregnant mothers in NYC, one woman named Risa Goldberg said, "I think the world will be a little bit more competitive. If everyone programmed their own kids, then everyone would be…the same. There would be a lot of the same type of people. There wouldn't be as much diversity or variety” (qtd. in Snow).
The situation in China demonstrates the possible problem the world might encounter when being able to choose the gender of a baby. Because of their national preference of boys in the past and today, China now faces gender imbalance. For centuries, the Chinese valued men more than women, and often committed infanticide. Now, China has a lack of women in their population. The choice of selecting the sex of a child can lead to similar issues. If a family prefers a boy, and millions of other families will prefer boys as well, the world will be experiencing a lack of females and vice versa and therefore, reproduction rates will decrease and gender imbalance will occur all over the world (People’s Daily).
An online poll on MSNBC.com asked the question,”Would You Choose Your Baby’s Traits?” and 51,898 people responded. 73% answered “No”, 20% said, “I’m Not Sure”, and only 7.4% said “Yes”. This demonstrates the overall negative attitude people have towards selecting what your baby looks like. Nevertheless, some people actually might consider it as an option. One of the pregnant mothers at the gathering, Shabina Sheikh said, “I could be a little selfish in the fact that I want my baby to look more like me, not my husband…Have my pretty nose and not have my husband's flat chin” (qtd. in Snow). Without a doubt, there is a positive side to this process. If there are defects in the appearance of one of the parents, for example a harelip, while undergoing IVF, they might as well choose not to have those defects passed on and instead make the baby inherit genes that the other parent has. Different people have different points of view on this matter, such as Dr. Aniruddha Malpani and Dr. Anjali Malpani, infertility specialists, who wrote:
Why not? If man can improve on Nature, then why should he not try? After all, building a house is simply man's way of improving on nature - and if we can improve man himself, then why not?...If we allow people to choose when to have babies; how many to have; and even to terminate pregnancies if they inadvertently get pregnant, then why not allow them to select the sex of their child, if it is possible?...We should allow patients freedom to choose for themselves - medical technology should empower them with choices they can make for themselves!
The opinions about whether it is right to allow people to choose the traits and gender of their children varies greatly from person to person. The doctors and specialists will obviously stress the fact that there is nothing wrong with such a procedure, as Jeff Steinberg does when saying “I would not say this is a dangerous road…It is an uncharted road” (Fink). Nevertheless, the majority of people consider this wrong, unethical and hazardous for the baby, the mother and for the population in general. However, if this procedure is possible, and people are actually considering it, who knows what will happen next? Technology discovers new things on a daily basis, and at this rate, people will soon be able to choose not only the physical, but also the psychological traits of their children. The outcome of this remains yet to be discovered.