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World's First Designer Baby

By Stickerboy in News
Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 12:21:19 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Yet another science fiction tale has passed recently from the fanciful to the present; this time the story in question is genetically pre-designed babies. Seventeen months ago, a woman in Chicago gave birth to the first designer baby.

Seventeen months ago, a woman in Chicago gave birth to the first designer baby in the world. The Washington Post is carrying the story; The Journal of the American Medical Association has the abstract available to the public to read.

The woman, who comes from a family stricken by an early and deadly form of Alzheimer's disease, sought help from the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago. Dr. Yury Verlinsky led a team that extracted 23 eggs from the woman, screened the eggs for the presence of the V717L gene which causes the Alzheimer's variant, and implanted four of the eggs that tested negative back into the mother's womb after being fertilized with her husband's sperm.

Without this pre-pregnancy screening and selection, the child's chances of inheriting this lethal variant of Alzheimer's would have been 50%. The selection process has eliminated that chance - medicine has effectively removed an unwanted trait from the woman's descendants (barring a random mutation or mating with another V717L positive person).

Gene therapy has already begun to show fruit for the years of research put into this field. Adenine Deaminase (ADA) Deficiency, a genetic condition which leads to what is commonly known as bubble-boy syndrome, was targeted in the early 1990s and successfully treated using gene therapy. Gene therapy, though, has shunned tampering with the germ cells of the body which contain the instructions for the next generation and instead has focused on treating the somatic cells of the patients in question.

While not gene therapy per se, the screening and selection of eggs in this baby's case uses the accumulated knowledge in the field of genetics to accomplish the goals of gene therapy, with the added side effect of not having to cure each successive generation of the same genetic condition. Genetic engineering of the human race has begun.

Many hail this as a revolutionary development. Man is learning to conquer the limitations of his own design, not by fixes and cures, but by changing the design itself. Man has the ability to adapt and improve himself, through technology which allows us to bypass the long-term process of natural selection, and why shouldn't he? Removal of the cause of early Alzheimer's will eventually lead to the removal of cystic fibrosis, Huntington's, and normal Alzheimer's from our genetic legacy. Genetic predisposition to killers like cancer and heart disease will go next. Alcoholism and obesity are both unwanted characteristics that people are predisposed to, and that almost all people would rather be without. And finally, what about the natural urge to give our children every opportunity and advantage we can? Prospective parents today start investing for college tuition and move to the right school districts in order to do that. If the technology exists to make our children a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and a little bit smarter, would it be so wrong to use it? A person's genetic legacy is their own property, and if some woman wants that legacy to be a 5'6" blonde, blue-eyed girl with predispositions to perfect complexion and a thin build, isn't that her right?

Hold on just a minute, the critics against the use of this technology are already saying. Yes, it is wrong - the level of bio-diversity in humans will go down, which might spell disaster in the long term. The gap between the haves and have-nots will increase exponentially once genetic reengineering of humans starts. Science fiction warnings will have a good chance of becoming reality, and why take that risk? For health issues, the extra effort of limiting fixes and cures for the current generation only is more than worth not stepping onto that slippery slope. Mankind thrives off of the abnormal - the Einsteins, Mozarts, and da Vincis of the world are not the norm, but deviants from that norm, and reengineering the human race will deprive us of future geniuses as well as future patients.

"Talk amongst yourselves."


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Should babies be screened and selected for removal of unwanted traits?
o Yes - genetic engineering will improve mankind. 40%
o Yes - but only for traits directly linked to health. 33%
o No - traits should only be changed for each person specifically, after conception. 3%
o No - genetic legacies should not be altered, ever - it's too much of a slippery slope. 22%

Votes: 104
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o The Washington Post
o story
o The Journal of the American Medical Association
o abstract
o Reproducti ve Genetics Institute
o successful ly treated
o warnings
o Also by Stickerboy

Display: Sort:
World's First Designer Baby | 64 comments (46 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
Genetic Engineering (4.00 / 2) (#5)
by Khedak on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 04:19:50 PM EST

I think genetic engineering will have an effect on the human gene pool, but since there are countless factors that effect the human gene pool already, I don't think that we can evaulate these effects as good or bad. Whether as a result of genocide, famine, or genetic engineering, human gene pools get altered. As long as there are some people with some unengineered genes having sex, there will the potential for mutation and selection.

Also in Slashdot. (2.25 / 4) (#7)
by chipuni on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 04:23:40 PM EST

Discussion of these articles can also be found on Slashdot. However, the article they posted was far shorter and with far less information.
Perfection is not reached when nothing more can be added, but only when nothing more can be taken away.
Wisdom for short attention spans.
funny that... (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by 31: on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 06:08:15 PM EST

on slashdot:
Stickerboy writes: "A 30 year-old woman in Chicago gave birth to a pre-pregnancy genetically screened and s

On K5:
By Stickerboy Wed Feb 27th, 2002 at 01:03:40 PM PST

Which makes me think that even the people on k5 who visit slashdot don't actually read it. I think you just validated every story k5 story that was first on /.

[ Parent ]
Yes, stickerboy submitted the same article... (none / 0) (#54)
by chipuni on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 04:14:38 PM EST

I don't understand, Patrick. How am I validating every k5 story that was first on /.?

The Slashdot article was also submitted by Stickerboy. However, the article posted to Slashdot was, in its entirity:

Stickerboy writes: "A 30 year-old woman in Chicago gave birth to a pre-pregnancy genetically screened and selected baby 17 months ago, which is being reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association today. Doctors at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago took 23 eggs from her, screened the eggs for a gene that causes an early form of Alzheimer's, and then fertilized and implanted the eggs back in her womb. Shades of the movie Gattaca - this is a good specific development, but the start of a very controversial trend. Read more about it in the Washington Post or read the abstract in JAMA."

As I said, it's far shorter and it has far less information (though the discussion there is much larger.)
Perfection is not reached when nothing more can be added, but only when nothing more can be taken away.
Wisdom for short attention spans.
[ Parent ]

Natural Selection (3.57 / 7) (#11)
by gauntlet on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 04:29:57 PM EST

I wonder to what degree natural selection has already been fouled up. I've been saying since high-school that the habitual extraction of wisdom teeth evidences quite strongly that our minds have out-evolved our bodies.

It used to be that if you got sick and died, you couldn't reproduce. Now, people get better. It used to be that if you were weak, you would be less likely to survive. Now, the majority of what we do requires minimal physical strength.

Surely the advances of medicine and social safety nets have done more to damage natural selection than genetic screening. In fact, it seems to me that the genetic screening may be artificially replacing some of the natural selection that we have previous eliminated.

The argument that the gene pool will be limited I don't think stands to reason. The depth of the gene pool is not decided by which branches survive, but rather by how closely the branches are related to one another. If it takes fewer "tries" to have a child that has a good chance of surviving to have their own children, and if people would be otherwise unwilling to risk having half of their children terribly disabled, that is to the benefit of the gene pool.

There may be some good arguments against its use, but I don't think that's one of them.

Into Canadian Politics?

nonsense argument (4.33 / 3) (#23)
by Estanislao Martínez on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 06:19:00 PM EST

It used to be that if you got sick and died, you couldn't reproduce. Now, people get better. It used to be that if you were weak, you would be less likely to survive. Now, the majority of what we do requires minimal physical strength.

There is no sense in which one can say that natural selection could ever stop functioning; if the preconditions for natural selection to take place are met (which to the best of our knowledge, they are) it *will* inevitably take place. Saying that natural selection has somehow "ceased to function" is nonsense, unless you can somehow support the claim that humans no longer have inheritable traits that through their interaction with their environment influence the number of offspring they leave.

Contrary to what you seem to assume, there is no notion of fitness that's logically prior to the particular environment the organism has as an habitat. So even if you could show that whatever trait used to be selected for is no longer adaptive, that shows nothing about natural selection, but rather about the environment.

[ Parent ]

Agreed (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by dasunt on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 10:13:43 AM EST

Natural selection is, roughly speaking, survival of the fittest. And who is the fittest? Well, the ones who survive. Yes, its a circular argument, but its the only measurement we have. Therefore, humans are still undergoing survival of the fittest, pulling wisdom teeth and not letting those people fall ill and die is no different then taking a spear and killing dinner, instead of starving because you aren't fast and strong enough to do it without tools. We are a tool using race, it defines us. That is how we survive.

[ Parent ]
Crikey (2.16 / 6) (#12)
by synaesthesia on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 04:32:04 PM EST

Imagine if we had successfully managed to eradicate Cowpox before Smallpox showed up!

Keep it real, people!

Sausages or cheese?
Think about it (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by duncan bayne on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 04:48:35 PM EST

Cowpox and Smallpox are pathogen-based diseases - Alzheimers is genetic.

[ Parent ]
Oops - I didn't mean it literally (2.66 / 3) (#19)
by synaesthesia on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 06:00:10 PM EST

I meant it as an analogy - to demonstrate that something which may appear to have no positive aspect may turn out to have redeeming features.

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
Alright (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by streetlawyer on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 07:41:15 PM EST

Imagine if we had managed to eliminate sickle-cell anaemia before malaria showed up!

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
thinking about it a little more deeply (none / 0) (#56)
by frostilicus on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 06:59:17 PM EST

This type of selection is not like a breeding program where you mate two individuals that share a trait so that their offspring will posess it. You're examining sperm and eggs to identify particular genetic sequences that are linked to a harmful trait. So, in order to get this far you must have first identified and sequenced the gene (possibly genes). Since you know the DNA sequence, if it turns out to have some significant benefit you could reintroduce it into the population at a later date.

Though that may require some active genetic manipulation rather than just passive screening.

[ Parent ]
A different point of view (3.66 / 3) (#13)
by Tatarigami on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 04:40:41 PM EST

Looking at it from a different perspective, kids have always been brought into the world to serve a specific purpose. Take over the family farm, continue the proud tradition of military service, carry on the family name, etc. Heck, my very own parents have always talked about how it's going to be my job to pay off their debts after they die.

There have even been previous attempts to engineer children to order. In the early 80s, when it was revealed that a diet high in fish led to a higher percentage of male births, sales of fish went up in the US and Europe.

The only ethical consideration which has been important up to this point is whether or not the children have any choice in the matter, which they do, protected by international law. I haven't mentioned this to my parents yet, but their creditors are in for a nasty shock if they think I'm going to accept the debt. Don't talk to me, talk to the insurance company.

Now people are screaming about babies being created for spare parts, which is ridiculous. The ones complaining seem to be deliberately misunderstanding the facts in the case of little Zain and his new baby brother -- what they wanted for the therapy was blood from the kid's umbilical cord, which he could contribute without fuss. They could have aborted after that, but they didn't -- so I guess they want their second child for more than just medical supplies for the first.

Is it a product or a service? (none / 0) (#35)
by juahonen on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 03:06:06 AM EST

Allowing large-scale genetic (or whatever) alteration, designed or ordered babies, would eventually lead to babies (and therefore humans in general) beign just another type of product or service.

Think of it: Cries too much, isn't sweet enough, doesn't say "I love you" as much to daddy as for mommy; and you'd be eligible to return the baby and get a full refund.

Wow, why don't we have this system already!

[ Parent ]

Not the first (4.66 / 6) (#18)
by bgdarnel on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 05:54:27 PM EST

This is not the first use of pre-implantation genetic screening, it is just the first use of the technique to select against early-onset Alzheimer's disease. It's been done before for other illnesses; I find the Nash family particularly interesting because it raises some additional ethical questions - the child in that case was selected not only to be free of a disease (Fanconi anemia), but also to be a match for a bone marrow transplant for his sister.

Old News? (none / 0) (#20)
by spreerpg on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 06:07:31 PM EST

I'm not certain, but I think I may have seen a video about this in Bio my freshman year of high school (so about 4 years ago now). These doctors screened unfertilized eggs for some genetic problem, I believe it was down syndrome, and were able create a fetus that did not display this trait. However a quick search of google didn't come up with anything, so I may be not be remembering correctly.

After watching this video, we contrasted it by watching GATTACA. For those of you haven't seen it, this movie is about a theoretical future society in which people are built, rather than born, by taking their parents' DNA and weeding out the 'bad' traits. The main character is a person who was concieved naturally, and because of this has a difficult time getting a job which his mental capabilities would allow. In my personal opinion, this is a future to be avoided, saving babies by selecting an egg sans the bad gene is fine, but when we start adding good traits it must stop. In addition, there would need to be legislation of some sort to protect those who weren't screened, or were, but after birth and consequently have some sort of so-called inferiority.

Anyway, good article which should incite good arguments, so +1.

You can kill me, but you can't eat me!
Gattaca (none / 0) (#31)
by Tatarigami on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 09:15:01 PM EST

I loved that movie, but it shouldn't be taken too literally in a discussion like this. Why didn't they give Vincent gene therapy to correct his health problems after he was born? Why didn't they clone him a new heart, and transplant it while he was still a child?

Still, there was some wicked cool symbolism in some of the images the film presented -- like the legions of the genetically-improved in their identical black and grey suits, and the superman Eugene struggling up a helical staircase to carry on the hoax.

[ Parent ]
And if you remember... (none / 0) (#59)
by gromm on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 04:45:05 AM EST

In addition, there would need to be legislation of some sort to protect those who weren't screened, or were, but after birth and consequently have some sort of so-called inferiority.

In the movie Gattaca, said discrimination *was* illegal. But urine tests for drugs were not. And since in the movie, genetic scans could be carried out in a matter of seconds, the law was broken as frequently and as easily as software piracy laws are broken today. So a fat lot of good that did them.
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]

Civilized Genetics (3.66 / 3) (#32)
by schrotie on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 09:27:17 PM EST

Let's take the example from the article, a woman with a 50% chance to give birth to a human with disposition to early Alzheimer syndrom. When you discuss genetics, imagine you are talking to that woman. Can you deny her her wish? I think you'd have a hard time pursuading her that she or her offspring has to suffer to guarantee the genetic diversity of our species. And seriously - you'll find few legitimate arguments for preserving Alzheimer.

Genetic engeneering holds enormous promises. And threats. Imagine the human genome patented away. Imagine ensurances and employers requiring genom screenings (...). Imagine competing with blond, blue eyed, gifted athletes. Imagine Gattaca.

And still you'll not pursuade that woman. There are two problems here. One can be healed by time: We were overrun by the technological development. We need time to discuss these issues before we can decide what to do. I'm hardly thirty and few of my friends keep track with current pace of innovation in any field. But eventually we'll know what's good and what not. Thus legislature should be pretty restrictive today so that we don't let anything loose that we can't stop later. Companies and scientist are trying to make ends meat now. We should keep our options open and try and make an educated decision on a matter that grave.
The second problem is harder. It could be called our frame of reference. We don't want to end up in Gattaca. But given the current development we will. The real problem is our system. The so called civilized culture. Democracy, free markets and especially copyrights. Imagine Mr. Gates develops the first AI and patents it. I know that scenario is not likely, but AI will probably appear on this planet in the next century or so. And it will be patented if we don't change our ways. As will much of the genome and human dignity.

So what can be done? Imagine we had advanced genetic engineering. Imagine we had AI and advanced robotics. Imagine you can engineer the 1917 flu with some education, a sequencer and some standard equipment from your local pharmacy and an internet access. (Ok if you don't like doomsday scenarios skip the last point). And please throw away that centuries old idiologies (whatever, communism, libertarianism, capitalism, xism, democracy and whatevergarchy). Come up with new ideas. We need some now.

Yours truly

Just to take a side (4.71 / 7) (#33)
by Wah on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 09:54:04 PM EST

I'll go ahead and argue that this is exactly what our floundering species needs. The dinosours didn't have genetic engi^H^H^H^Hscreening, and look where they ended up, in our cars.

The simple fact is that we need this technology to stay ahead of the nanobots. Yea, yea, they don't exist yet, but when they do, ooh boy, ya better watch it. They'll be like bacteria. And you know how bacteria is, all authoritarian and shit.

Another bonus is that there won't be as many crazy people. Or well, people who don't have a choice about being crazy. Or fat. Or drunk. The rest of us can still drink tho, right? And eat too much? I'm sure we can, until the insurance companies get a hold of this. Then not only do you get super baby, you get super baby rates on your health insurance. And not having to pay for rehab or psychiatric care, man that's like 20% of my paycheck.

And I don't see anything wrong with a legion of 5'6" buxom young lasses with fair skin and gene protection against wrinkles and Nagger's Syndrome. Genetic diversity is in no danger, with 3x10^9 lackeys out there in the world, you can have a wayward BYL mate with one every couple of generations and maintain the coveted black sheep familial designation for thousands of years.

To sum up, screen away. Just make sure to drop me a line for when they come up with a gene therapy solution that makes tech support not suck absolute ass. When that comes around, there will be no argument against GE left in this part of the world.
Choas and order, flowing down the drain of time. Ain't it purdy? | SSP

Fair skin? (none / 0) (#38)
by FreeBarking on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 08:27:54 AM EST

"And I don't see anything wrong with a legion of 5'6" buxom young lasses with fair skin..."

"Fair skin", huh? Yes, genetic engineering for racial characteristics sounds like a *real* good idea... If we think that race and class are intertwined in today's society, how about in the future, where your social class (parents' access to genetic engineering) can *determine* your racial characteristics and identity.

[ Parent ]
I donno (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by Weezul on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 09:41:51 AM EST

You may be able to tell what year someone was born by the fasions which influenced their physical characteristics. :)

I don't think parents would all choose to have look alike kids, at least not U.S. parent. You would see parents selecting out racial characteristics based on eviromental factors though. If you happen to be of Turkish descent living in Germany, you'd want your kids to not look Turkish. This could also be a good thing as it would undermine racism. OTOH, Atheists are about one of the most discriminated aginst groups in the U.S. This could be partially a corollary of the fact that it's easy to hide being an Atheist. I think it will be interesting.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
Fair skin? Maybe not racial, so don't assume. (4.50 / 2) (#50)
by beergut on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:14:56 PM EST

Think about it...

Fair skin, meaning smooth and silky, rather than pocked and cratered. Beautiful and healthy, rather than scarred and diseased.

Yeah... this sounds good. I don't care if it's chocolate, vanilla, caramel, or whatever other flavor or color of the rainbow... just nice and smooth and pretty... Mmm...

'Course, I like 'em between 4'6" and 5'0" as a matter of aesthetic taste, but that's really not an issue. I'd marry a woman that was 6'2" or taller if I loved her.

'Course, with a woman of that proportion, I'd better not misbehave, 'cause she'd kick my ass...

i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

Limitations of the technology (4.75 / 8) (#34)
by ucblockhead on Wed Feb 27, 2002 at 11:21:49 PM EST

People need to understand that there are some fairly severe limitations to this technology that will prevent the worst abuses from happening. This is not genetic engineering, and even the screening done is fairly minimal. You aren't going to produce a blue-eyed, blonde-haired master race with this.

The process is standard invitro fertilization. In order to do this, the woman has to go through a fairly heavy course of hormone therapy to get her to overproduce eggs. It isn't fun. Then, about twenty or so eggs are removed using a minor surgical procedure. These eggs are then fertilized and grown into small embryos. Four or so of these are then selected and implanted. They have to implant this many because the chance that one will "take" is only about 20%.

It should be obvious that this is not a trivial process. It is also expensive, around $10,000 a go.

What these guys did is use genetic testing to select the four eggs, rather than the fairly random method of taking the healthiest looking embryos.

There are a few things to realize. First, very few traits can be so easily selected against. Very few traits are of a simple "on/off" nature like the disease mentioned. Yes, you could selected against a number of genetic diseases, or between a couple simple traits like eye color or sex, but there is little chance that tests will be available to say whether one embryo is "smarter" than another or "stronger" than another.

Second, you are selecting from only a very limited number of possibilities. You are selecting the "best" four out of twenty. That's not to hard when you are looking for one particular negative trait, but the story is going to be quite different if you are looking at many different, interelated traits.

Third, this can't produce offspring that the parents could not have otherwise produced. Any "improvement" in the species through this method would be very slow.

With all this, it is hard to think why anyone would care for any but extreme cases. Is anyone going to pay $10,000 and undergo the medical annoyances to ensure that their kid is an inch taller not an inch shorter?

It should also be noted that while this technique is new, it is really just replaces an already existing technique. People at risk for these sorts of horrible genetic diseases often get the fetus checked for these diseases using amniocentesus with the view of potentially aborting the fetus if a positive result comes up. This is not uncommon, and from most points of view, this new technique is superior.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

nothing will change? (none / 0) (#45)
by speek on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 11:57:11 AM EST

What, improvements won't happen? New technologies won't appear? We won't be able to generate eggs from normal cells in the future? We won't ever be able to generate gametes outside the body? We won't expand on our understanding of how specific genes and combinations of genes affect us? We won't use computer modeling to select the "best" out of millions rather than dozens? We won't ever be able to synthesize DNA in the lab, and thus hand-make our own code? All this won't come sooner than anyone expects (and since very few are expecting it ever....)?

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Hmm... what if... (none / 0) (#49)
by beergut on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:08:05 PM EST

... someone spent all this time and money, and went through all this anguish and hardship to produce a healthy child capable of sending forth the selected (or screened against) genes, only to have the child wind up a homosexual?

What irony...

i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

An early orphan? (2.33 / 3) (#36)
by hawthorne on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 04:02:06 AM EST

While I think that it is a "good thing" that a child can be born knowing that they will not be susceptable to a particular fatal condition, I do wonder whether it is fair to have a child while knowing that YOU are unlikely to live long enough to see that child reach adulthood.

Old men (4.50 / 2) (#40)
by FreeBarking on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 08:50:56 AM EST

So what do you think about people like Tony Randall, who had his first child at the age of 75 and his second a few years later.

Is is fair for HIM to have children?

I don't these these two situations as being very different.

(Personally, I don't know that I would choose to have a child in either of these circumstances, but I don't know that it is my -- or society's -- place to tell these people that they can't have children.)

[ Parent ]
Memories of WWII (3.33 / 3) (#37)
by elgardo on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 07:48:05 AM EST

It is interesting that these things come up, as the "dream of the perfect human" has been tried before... by the Nazis. It is even more interesting that, when the Nazis did it, we thought it was a bad thing (tm), because you can't really say that one person is "better" than another. In fact, it is a rediculous concept.

Even the idea of removing "flaws" through such methods was seen as idiotic, because we are human and like our flaws.

Now that we do the same thing 50 years later, and even more accurately than the Nazis ever did, it is suddenly ok. Because the "quest for the perfect, flawless person" is worth it. But is it?

The movie "Gattaca" comes to mind, painting a rather depressing picture of the future. But what that movie didn't really touch, was whether or not the perfect human was really perfect. We modify a gene here, modify a gene there. But while these modifications might rid us from different illnesses, they might leave us defenseless against other illnesses, or inadvertently add a new one.

We don't really understand genetics until we are able to build a new life from scratch, designing every gene the way you want them, as you go, without having a reference guide. Just like you don't really understand computer programming until you're able to write a computer program from scratch.

The techniques used today also opens up for conservatism. Throughout millions of years, we have changed shape, we have grown, shrunk, etc. Deliberately messing with how we breed leaves chances out. In fact, we tend to pick things that are conservative. Without these chances, we will stop evolving and adapting to the planet as the planet changes.

And the planet changes, and humans have typically also changed, at a very high pace. Interestingly, one of the greatest changes the last century, has been the lower age of puberty. But could this possibly be caused by the fact that we now eat food propped with hormones? We are making our food grow faster, so therefore we grow faster also. As what's-her-name-on-TV-who-talks-about-sex-every-sunday-night likes to say: "You are what you eat. And that's particularly true when it comes to oral sex."

preposterous! (4.50 / 2) (#48)
by codejack on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:02:39 PM EST

You CAN say one person is better than another; we have a whole battery of tests, degrees, awards, trophies, etc., all aimed at one goal: finding out who is better than who. Caveat: this only applies to one particular subject! the best weight lifter in the world is not necessarily the most proficient accountant! but what happens when you compare two individuals, similar height, weight, skin color, etc, but one is stronger, smarter, tougher, faster, nicer, has a larger penis, a tighter vagina, more attractive hair, whatever... how could you possibly make the argument that one is not better than the other? certainly, "equal before the law" must certainly apply, due to the inability to absolutely quantify every aspect of humanity, but at the same time, if you cannot find a way that one person is even equal to any natural characteristic of another, what other standard are you going to use?

The Nazis mistake was that they aspired to the WRONG attributes! a faster, tougher, stronger fool is still a fool, and anyone who blindly follows the kind of rhetoric the nazis spewed certainly falls into that category in my book. Note that i said "blindly follows," and that i mean it to apply to ANY rhetoric, any ideology. blindly following the greatest man on earth is still to be blind.

Gattaca: I have seen this movie, and seen it mentioned several times in this topic, but what is the point? that random gene selection has a chance of creating a superior individual? Of course it does, but that invalidates the argument of universal equality, doesn't it? As a matter of fact, it sounds bigoted about people "designed" using this process, similar to the unfounded arguments the nazis used against the jews. The truth is, no one knows what will happen from one moment to the next; using this development might mean the end of the human race as we become extinct from bad decisions, but it might just as easily be the one development that saves the human race from extinction.

Or, it might not mean anything at all.

Please read before posting.

[ Parent ]
What's that law again? (none / 0) (#60)
by EriKZ on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 07:25:35 AM EST

When you bring up Hitler or Naztis the thread is dead?

Or at least your point.

[ Parent ]
Fallacy of the slippery slope (4.33 / 3) (#39)
by FreeBarking on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 08:41:42 AM EST

Not all slopes are slippery.

This particular case involves screening for a gene for a particular disease, which casuses death at an early age. This seems pretty straightforward.

Why would anyone assume that the next step will be screening for blonde hair or IQ?

The biggest danger to my mind is parent who want to use procedures like this for sex selection. At least in the U.S., there doesn't seem to be a strong preference for boys or girls, but in some countries (China, for example) there is, which could create serious social imbalances if such procedures became common.

Eventually, laws or codes of ethics will be needed to prevent this kind of thing, but in the meantime, these procedures are too expensive and physically intrusive to have a big social impact.

In other words: the slope has plenty of friction right now, and if it starts getting smoother later, friction can be added.

even further (none / 0) (#55)
by garlic on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 06:27:21 PM EST

So, what's wrong with screening for blond hair or high IQ? Its not bad to want your child to be smart or have blond hair, so what's wrong with giving that desire realization?

HUSI challenge: post 4 troll diaries on husi without being outed as a Kuron, or having the diaries deleted or moved by admins.
[ Parent ]

China (none / 0) (#63)
by abdera on Mon Mar 04, 2002 at 08:26:13 AM EST

but in some countries (China, for example) there is, which could create serious social imbalances if such procedures became common.

There are already serious social imbalances in China caused by abortion, abandonment to orphanages(not for the timid), and infanticide stemming from the Chinese policy of only allowing one child per couple and the the overwhelming preference for male children. Compared to these, selection of eggs based on genetics seems preferable.

In China there are between 117 and 131 male births for every 100 female births, and increased infant mortality for female children skews the ratio even further. No need to create a social imbalance here, it's already been done.

#224 [deft-:deft@98A9C369.ipt.aol.com] at least i don't go on aol
[ Parent ]

Analogous to? (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by Anonymous 7324 on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 09:16:07 AM EST

Is this analogous to eugenics, which prevents undesirable persons from breeding? <BR><BR>

It seems to me that now, we are preventing 'undesirables' from being at all. Is this correct?

Come to think, does this fall under the umbrella of eugenics in general? (My professor certainly believes so!)

No (4.00 / 2) (#53)
by kimbly on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 02:26:39 PM EST

First, nobody is preventing "undesirables" from breeding. Instead, they're preventing the undesirable parts of the parents from being passed on to their children.

Second, it's the parents themselves that are doing this; there is no higher authority that is imposing this upon the parents.

The main question is whether parents have the moral authority to exert this much control over their children's genetics.

Another important question is how this might contribute to the "medicalization" of otherwise normal human variation. For example, treating being short, or not very intelligent, or bisexual, or prone to addiction, as a medical problem that needs fixing.

[ Parent ]

I get (4.00 / 1) (#57)
by Anonymous 7324 on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 07:31:31 PM EST

your side of the argument. However, consider this:

First, nobody is preventing "undesirables" from breeding. Instead, they're preventing the undesirable parts of the parents from being passed on to their children.

Without genetic screens, the parents would have presumably given birth to children with partially 'undesirable' genes. As a result, this is not happening. I agree that yes, this is not exactly analogous to putting societal undesirables in forced celibate labor camps (as was done both in the U.S. and Germany!), however, one can also look at it from the viewpoint of segregating undesirables by not even allowing them to be born, much less to breed.

Again, no one's rights are violated. This is true. However, from a genetic point of view, certain 'undesirable' genes are not being passed on. As a student of genetics, I would suggest that this behavior is short-sighted, since "undesirable" is only in relationship to the environment, and environments change. There may well be an environment where this genetic allele is of significant value. (The malaria example has been beaten to death and back already, of course...) It seems to me that weeding out certain genetic alleles remains a foolish and dangerous endeavor.

Second, it's the parents themselves that are doing this; there is no higher authority that is imposing this upon the parents.

Again, understood, and I agree that this is significantly different than forced celibacy, castration, etc. However, consider this: the horrifying eugenics movement started out with medals given to 'ideal' white families, posters urging people not to breed interracially, and a host of other public-campaign style advertisements. It is true that in the end, the choice was left to the individual, at least at first, but as history shows, it's a slippery slope.

Very frankly, (and without I hope being labeled a paranoid), this type of screening and selective breeding leads us down the same slippery slope that we've traveled down before. Who's to say that one day, this type of screening and selective childbirth won't be totally mandatory?

The main question is whether parents have the moral authority to exert this much control over their children's genetics.

Another extremely difficult question. A parent has limited rights over their children, depending on whether they are minors, or adults, or infants, or whatever. What about unborn people? Is the concept of morality even applicable to an unfertilized egg? What about one that has been fertilized?

FWIW, I come down on the side of the pro-choice "an egg is not a human" view, so my views on this subject correspond. However, even if the parent has perfect moral authority, I still think that the action is scientifically unwins and unsound.

Another important question is how this might contribute to the "medicalization" of otherwise normal human variation. For example, treating being short, or not very intelligent, or bisexual, or prone to addiction, as a medical problem that needs fixing.

Very, very bad. As far as I'm concerned.

In summary, I agree completely with the questions that you've raised, and think that at the very least there needs to be very serious investigation into the legal, moral, and scientific aspects of this entire activity.


[ Parent ]
Egg Screening vs. Gene Therapy (none / 0) (#44)
by Nafai on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 10:41:19 AM EST

Egg screening is a passive process that merely involves analysis and selection.

OTOH, Gene therapy is actively modify a currently existing human on a genetic level.

When comparing these, egg screening for disease seems like a useful and logical thing to do with Our (relatively) new knowledge of genetics. I don't really consider egg screening for a specific bad trait as "making a designer baby". I think it becomes grayer when you discuss genetic screening for the purpose of physical attributes such as hight, eye/hair color, and such. Of course, I don't think it would be too bad. Instead of "Remember when 'Heather' was a popular name" it now becomes "Remember when tall, brown hair, and green eyes was all the rage?" I do see egg screening as possibly becomming popular in the (near?) future.

But, IMO, gene therapy is an entirely different animal (is that a pun?) because humans are taking an active role in modifying our "building blocks". (OTOH, Screening doesn't actively modify anything.) This active modification of genes is something I think we need to be careful with. I'll admit I am not an expert on genetics, but if good traits can be introduced into someone, I'm sure bad ones can too. What are the chances that bad traits could be inadvertantly introduced at some point with gene therapy? And if a bad trait is introduced, will it be sent "down the line"? I don't think we as a species knows enough about genetics yet to "play around with it". Study it, yes, but it should not yet be used to "fashion a designer baby".

That said, I'll end with saying that we are set some big changes in the near future. With computing power and the internet increasing at it's current rate, and science being pushed along with it, we are going to see some amazing things in the next few decades... as long as we don't screw ourselves trying to get there.

Tall, brown hair, green eyes... (none / 0) (#47)
by beergut on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:01:23 PM EST

... makes me rage. :-)

i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

natural selection (none / 0) (#46)
by codejack on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 12:43:05 PM EST

Is this not just an intelligent form of natural selection? I would make the argument that mankinds' success is already in jeopardy from the advent of those "fixes and cures" which have led up to developments like gene-therapy: the inferior young are no longer culled. Not that i am complaining! As a person who suffered from relatively severe childhood asthma, i would probably not be alive today if not for modern medicine; but, at the same time, my descendants will be more likely to have this disease, unless we find a way to "cull" them. this is simply culling without the blood, without the pain. Breeders of dogs, horses, cattle, will all tell you that if you don't cull, you wind up with inferior stock.
The single most telling point of the opposition is the approaching disparity between the "haves and the have-nots," which is a question that is already with us. while not wishing to drift afield of the topic, this is a matter of enlightened self-interest and the social contract. It would be better for everyone to see to it that these advances are universally available, but the same argument attaches itself to welfare, public healthcare, etc. Perhaps it is time for us, as a race, to decide where our best interests lie, and then develop a plan to get there. The alternative is frightening.

Please read before posting.

Anti-alarmism, and some ponderings. (4.25 / 4) (#51)
by Kasreyn on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:20:02 PM EST

There is a (medical and ethical) line to be crossed, which is: Will the proposed genetic change be useful to counteract / prevent a health issue for the person-to-be? Based on that criteria, parents who want to spawn 6'6" blue eyed blondes will hopefully be turned down flat. There ARE medical guidelines, after all, and they will be followed. Personally, I'm all for the medical uses. Enough children die of CF, enough people have Down's Syndrome. Yes, I know Down's Syndrome sufferers are still real people; I've known several, and they were good friends. But there's nothing to say they'd not still be the same people, only brighter, without their handicap. I think in the field of healing and curing, ethics are clear; it's only when petty cosmetics enter into it that things get muddled.

And yes, the thought of a world full of cosmetically designed humans sickens me. Personally, I think parents shouldn't have control over the bodies and minds their children come to inhabit; a parent's sole responsibility is to raise and nurture that body and mind, and the personality that goes with them. I'm disgusted by the thought of parents who have such a voyeuristic need to live through their children, or such a narrow view of human beauty. A race of people genetically engineered to be "perfect" by some idiot popular definition of perfect, would be an ugly horror in fact.

Think about it. Why do people find blue eyed blondes with perfect physiques and complexions attractive? They're not very common. In a world where everyone looks alike, and looks model-gorgeous by standards of today, how will anyone have a personal identity, or any conception of true beauty? How could anyone even learn the meaning of personal identity, when everyone around them looks alike? Furthermore, what about us guys who like short, pudgy brunettes (a personal favorite)? Will we just be SOL in that brave new world? And yes, I am most definitely thinking of that novel w.r.t. this. Would parents get into arguments over how their designer children should look? Will they make concessions: "ok, you can have the eyes blue the way you want, but dammit, I'm ordering the brunette hair!"?

And what will it be like, to BE one of those children, grown up? Looking in a mirror, and seeing a body that wasn't the result of random chance, but was deliberately chosen for you without your consent? For chrissakes, people already have enough angst about their bodies! One of the few saving graces is we know it wasn't anyone's fault, and our bodies are just the hand we were dealt. But when parents and doctors take over the dealing, suddenly dissatisfaction with one's body can be laid at the feet of a guilty party. And then you'll have those who weren't modified, and wish they were, so they could be pretty too. Oh well, more work for family counsellors...

And what about the parents who can't afford such services? We're looking at the chance for a whole new stratification of society. Alphas and Deltas, to continue the Brave New World analogy. The children of the rich will in only a few generations wind up not only more pretty (by some standards) than those of the poor, but also stronger and smarter by quantifiable measurements. How could they *not* start thinking of themselves as superior? How could they have any compassion for mere ordinary humans who arose from standard genetic randomness, when they all seem so ugly and ill and dumb, so... different?

So let's depend on the medical profession deep-sixing this one. And I trust they will. Because if not, we may see the end of human heredity itself. If a child is genetically constructed articially, and not by a combination of its parents' DNA, then heredity is gone, and with it our physical link to our ancestors. We'll be a race of homogenous clones, basically, advancing into a possibly sterile future. I hope that never comes to pass.

Anyway, I realize I got way too deep into what-if's. Not trying to sound alarmist, just thinking over possibilities.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
But where is the demarcation? (4.00 / 2) (#62)
by Amesha Spentas on Sat Mar 02, 2002 at 11:11:05 AM EST

There is a (medical and ethical) line to be crossed, which is: Will the proposed genetic change be useful to counteract / prevent a health issue for the person-to-be?

This is true except that where does this line get drawn? Is mental retardation or mental Illness covered under the health issue? Or is it so vital a segment of an individual's makeup that it should remain random. (With a small stretch you can move from mental retardation to mental excellence as a reason for manipulation.)

I don't believe that we are going to have parents clamoring for 6'6" children with blond hair and blue eyes. Most parents would want their children to resemble themselves. And are children and adults really comforted by the understanding that "Hey it was the luck of the draw." Or would they perhaps be more comforted in knowing that they look this was for a reason? Besides, strength, mental agility, stamina these are optional non-medical traits that parents would more likely desire and be willing to pay for.

And yes, the thought of a world full of cosmetically designed humans sickens me.

Why? Look around you. Most people are trying to conceal their flaws and enhance their physiques. Most women (At least in the US) wear some cosmetics. Many of these women are striving for some cosmetically designed "Look." If this is what we are going to strive for the rest of our lives (Physical perfection) why not give a child a hand up? What exactly is the drawback to genetically perfect children? (Please note that I am not saying genetically identical.) Latino children with all of the genetic disadvantages removed will still look/be Latino. A Caucasian child will still be Caucasian, just without the flaws inherent in any type. (Like pimple rashes for adolescent Caucasians.)

Will we be removing variety? Yes. Will we be somehow diminishing human beings? Maybe. I think the question is what are the disadvantages to a genetically perfected (but still diverse) population and what are the advantages to a genetically unaltered population where 6-10% have debilitating genetic diseases?

Another question raised by Gattaca was what will happen to those who are not genetically altered or screened?

Is it possible to have a genetically refined society and still have genetic diversity?

Registered to die for the government at 18, and had to pay postage on the registration form - AnalogBoy
[ Parent ]

Man was not meant to play God! (5.00 / 2) (#52)
by dbc001 on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 02:08:37 PM EST

We should just let nature run it's course - we can't go manipulating things through this so called "science"! The consequences could be dangerous! Genetic manipulation is dangerous. So is electric lighting and flying aeroplanes.

Seriously, though, people were just as scared of electricity, telephones, automobiles, etc. Are there ethical questions? Sure. We deal with ethical questions every day. Will my grandfather be in pain if we leave him on life support? What if he comes out of his coma in six months? Should it be illegal to take people off life support? Definitely not. Nor should genetic manipulation be illegal. We have to deal with a lot of tough decisions in life.

If genetic manipulation (I'm using the term loosely to refer to the whole of genetic meddling) is illegalized, I gaurantee you it will be available on the black market. I'll be one of the first customers. I will probably screen my kids for height, maybe intelligence too if it's possible. I'll definitely screen for genetic diseases. Eye color and hair color? Who cares about that superficial stuff.


yes but if god's not going to, someone should :) (none / 0) (#64)
by migrantatheist on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 02:28:03 AM EST

Play god, I mean.

Seriously, though, I think in the long run this is good news. There are plenty of families, I'm sure, who'd love to be able to end a particular 'family curse', be it cancer, alcoholism, or some other genetically-influenced disease with thier current generation.

This particular case isn't terribly heartwarming though. The lady in question is expected to be completely senile in another 2 or 3 years, due to the accelerated Alzheimer's. She will be, according to one article I saw a while back, completely unable to recognize her daughter/son, or even be aware that she has one.

I wish doctors would use a little discretion in shopping around for test subjects. This is like the 60-something year olds that wanted kids. No one seems to care that these kids will never know thier parents as healthy people, and one the Alzheimer lady's case, the kid will probably have to be adopted off or put in foster care unless family can be found to take it in.

[ Parent ]
What arrogance (none / 0) (#58)
by Demiurge on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 11:07:35 PM EST

You're so eager to condemn thousands in future generations to suffer from treatable genetic diseases because you want the world to be like how you think it should be. Einstein and Da Vinci were abnormal because they were so skilled, so intelligent. What if it's possible to make every baby born an Einstein or Da Vinci?

re: What Arrogance (1.00 / 1) (#61)
by Mysidia on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 03:24:22 PM EST

What if it's possible to make every baby born an Einstein or Da Vinci?

What reason is there to believe their skill or intelligence had anything to do with genetics? There's certainly the likelihood of cause by other factors... the sort of individuality that the people developed which got them so much fame. Genetics only goes so far...

-Mysidia the insane @k5
[ Parent ]
World's First Designer Baby | 64 comments (46 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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