A company’s product will allow for parents to select that traits of their children and could change the dynamic of childbearing as we know it.
A consumer genomics company called 23andMe has created a system where parents get to choose the traits of their offspring. Using this system, customers have the ability to select for more than 240 traits including height, expected life span, athleticism and even breast shape. Risks for different diseases like colorectal cancer and congenital heart defects would also be accounted for in the process.
This designer baby-making system works by taking a customer’s preference for their child’s traits and calculating different genetic outcomes that fit this preference. They combine the customer’s egg or sperm with other people’s sex cells to produce these combinations. It then displays which combinations align most with the parent’s genetic desires.
Creepy right? There are arguments for and against this procedure. For instance, who wouldn’t want to see their child have the best chance at life? By using this genomic process, a parent could offer their child the best possible genes for combating diseases like Alzheimer’s. 23andMe even have a different product that provides a thorough DNA screening that tests for diseases in the customer that they might not even be aware of.
While this is all well and good, the downsides of genetic selection are still serious. When its possible to select traits in a child, it leaves the door open for “desirable” genes to arise. Bioethical experts speculate that if this technology were to exist in the United States market today, those who could afford this procedure would give their children the best genes possible, while those who couldn’t afford the procedure would suffer. The worry is that those who could not afford this surgery would give birth to “degenerate” children, or those without desirable traits. This would create a rift between the genetically superior and the genetically deficient. Andrew Niccol’s grim film Gattaca outlines a society like this.
Traits shouldn’t be deemed favorable or unfavorable. We saw what happened in the Holocaust when certain traits were selected for. Instead of selecting for superior traits, we should be celebrating the differences inherent in every human being. While seemingly innocent, 23andMe’s new system could have dire consequences.