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Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

Posted March 11, 2009 12:03 AM by Sharkles

When a couple is expecting a child, there are many exciting questions leading up to the birth. What sex will the child be? Who will the baby look like? Will the child be healthy? How about musical, sporty, and/or intelligent?

Back in 2007, I wrote a blog called Designer Lifestyles and Genetic Engineering that discussed the possibility of being able to create "designer babies". Now, almost a year and a half later, the topic is back in the news.

The Fertility Institutes, an organization based in New York City, Los Angeles, and Mexico, is claiming that it will be able to do more than help couples choose the gender of their child. The parents-to-be can select hair and eye color, too. The Institutes claims that this service is made possible by using an existing procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or PGD.

The Fertility Institutes aims to begin offering this service in as soon as six-months.

What is Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis?

PGD allows scientists to look for potential genetic diseases and chromosomal problems in embryos before these embryos are implanted in women via in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Typically, a couple would use PGD if a genetic disease or disorder runs in the family, or to know whether to expect complications during the pregnancy.

Because PGD can be performed only on in-vitro embryos, the woman will take hormones to speed egg production. Women usually produce only one fertilizable egg a month, but the hormones can stimulate the ovaries to produce between 10-15 eggs. Doctors then remove the eggs and fertilize them by injecting sperm into the egg with a needle.

Once fertilized, the egg is left to grow for two days. During this time, the egg divides into eight identical cells that are removed by a doctor and tested for whichever disease or disorder the couple is concerned about. Once embryos are determined to be "good", they are implanted in the uterus to grow - unless the parents are considering gender selection.

PGD and Gender Selection

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis can be used for more than testing for health threats in an embryo. PGD can also be used to determine the gender of the unborn child. Some people choose to determine the sex of their child for "family balancing" purposes. In other words, they already have x-number of one sex, and would therefore like a member of the opposite sex.

According to the Fertility Institutes' website, PGD has a sex selection accuracy rate of greater than 99.9%. To determine the sex, fertility specialists separate sperm so that only sperm carrying the chromosome of the desired gender (X for female, Y for male) are exposed to the female egg. The embryo is then screened to determine if it will result in the desired genetic outcome before being implanted into the woman's uterus.

The idea of using PGD for procedures that are not medical necessities is outrageous to many. In addition to religious objections, some people feel that choosing a sex or "family balancing" is blatantly unethical.

But what if you could choose more than gender – what if you could pick cosmetic features like eye and hair color? What if you could know if your baby would be a super-athlete or an artist? These are topics we will discuss next week in Part 2 of this series.

Resources:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=designer-babies-preimplantation-genetic-diagnosis-pgd

http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/3054/Designer-Lifestyles-and-Genetic-Engineering

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29496350/

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29478274/

http://www.fertility-docs.com/

http://www.fertilityproregistry.com/content/pgd_sex_selection.asp

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#1

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/11/2009 3:54 PM

Right after I finished writing this entry, I found a news article stating that The Fertility Institutes - who planned on offering cosmetic options of PGD - have suspended the program.

Explanation is offered on their website:

Though well intended, we remain sensitive to public perception and feel that any benefit the diagnostic studies may offer are far outweighed by the apparent negative societal impacts involved. For those patients with albinism or other ocular pigmentation disorders, we continue to offer preimplantation genetic diagnosis in general but will not be investigating the genetics of pigmentation of any body structures.

I am guessing that even though the Fertility Institute has suspended their program, that it's not the last we hear of the concept. Even if they don't pick it back up, I think another organization somewhere will.

Thoughts?

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#2

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/11/2009 7:20 PM

Why not? I can assure you that it is already being done in many places including South Asia, but more crudely. Girl babies or babies with genetic damage are discarded regularly..

In addition if you take Darwin's biology to its logical ends, then this is just a form of natural selection. Humans have evolved the ability to reinforce traits that are desirable or produce higher survival odds. We have just taken a short cut through the Darwin's blood bath, so why not?

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#3

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 6:48 AM

After watching the movie "Gataka", I most certainly would not. Other then that, I'm pretty skeptical about human judgment and trust more nature's and God's ways...

However I do believe that it's possible for that service to become common one day, even if I hope not.

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#4

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 8:10 AM

This is a tough decision and I'm sure that some individuals would be all for it while others are firmly against.

My friend recently underwent three in-vitro procedures. Growing up she had some problems that left her thinking she wouldn't be able to have a baby. It turned out she was fine; it was her husband who was the "problem" because the treatments he'd had for leukemia in his early 20s had left him sterile. "Luckily", they'd saved some of his sperm for future use.

After what she told me about the hormones and treatment, I know it's something I could never undergo. Apart from the roller coaster ride of the hormones, her disappointment from not conceiving the first two times was terrible. She is now pregnant with triplets - not octo-mom status, but certainly straining their small budget and new marriage.

Back to the selection topic - I do think it's a great tool for screening against genetic diseases. I know I personally have a history of chronic illness I would not want to pass on to children. Since my mother and grandmother had similar (but different) problems, it does appear to be genetic. I often feel that ethically I should not have children because I would not want them to go through what I/we have been through. But would this tool make life more "fair"?

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#5

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 9:06 AM

Who wouldn't want to guarantee their child would be healthy and smart?

There is a goldmine waiting for whoever can do this successfully as long as they can get through the religious nuts.

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 10:21 AM

With regard to South Asia, China sounds like a tough place to get a date these days. The one-child-per-family policy has resulted in not enough daughters for China's sons.

So do we trust humanity to make the best decisions, individually and/or collectively, with regard to Sharkles' story?

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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 10:24 AM

Those of us who went to RPI faced way worse gender imbalances than that!

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#8

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 1:25 PM

I'd want my son or daughter to have wings. Will this be covered in Part 2?

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#9
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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 3:11 PM

You can screen for gender and certain medical conditions, but that's a million miles away from guaranteeing healthy or smart. It's a scam to suggest that 'athletic' children will develop from embryos screened for one gene. As for 'smart', we're stuck with nurture. Knocking boots with someone who's characteristics you find appealing is a whole lot cheaper and more effective if you want specific physical traits in a child. Avoiding life-crippling illnesses is one thing, anything further is another - folly.

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#10
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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 3:13 PM

Athletic... how about an Olympic rider? I'd love to go to all of the Olympics for free.

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#11

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/12/2009 7:22 PM

I threw out that first post, just to see what the reaction would be. But since I am one of those "religious nuts" here is a second crack at it.

What are the evolutionary consequences of wings? Or of every baby being blond hair blue eyed? Or of eradicating every negative genetic consequence? Of short circuiting nature?

The answer is no one knows. It could very well be that at some time when the entire human population has blond hair and blue eyes, the evolutionary pressure that moved the majority of the population of the world to dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes will rear its ugly head, and the human population will suddenly be gone. Dead as dinosaurs from some virus that only likes people with blond hair, blue eyed, genetics.

I think a little spiritual awareness wards off a lot of scientific arrogance. We live in a world consumed with short term objectives, and with no consideration for long term consequences.

This is one area where we should have a lot of concern for long term consequences.

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#12
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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/13/2009 1:19 PM

IOW, be careful what you wish for.

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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/16/2009 2:36 AM

I agree Steve,

Variation is what makes us so adaptable. Limit variation and reduce our long term possibilities.

One genetic defect greatly increases your survival of cholera. If both your parents have it bad news.

Who is to say that some expression carried by a carrier of this defect may save us as a race.

We know way to little to play unnatural selection yet.

Brad

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#14

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/21/2009 4:12 PM

Hey Sharkles -

This way of thinking was tried before, both here in the U.S. and in Europe - it was called "Eugenics".

Folks don't call it this anymore, because of the association with the Nazis, but it's still the same idea. The pinnacle of the movement was the Lebensborn project, and to this day, there are grown children, mostly in Europe, who are living victims (not the mention all the other millions of victims of WWII).

I guess the thing that bothers me most with current IVF and similar genetic selection technologies is that they are only available to the fortunate few - I guess you could them the wealthy - whose health insurance plans have coverage for it.

Also, selfish choices are sometimes made to use - and abuse - IVF and similar technologies, that impact all of us, like choosing to have eight children all at once with no way to finance this effort! With 40 million or so un-insured in the U.S., how moral a choice was that for the "Octomom" woman?

I'd like to think the U.S. is a little more moral now than it was prior to WW-II, and more moral than the Chinese or other countries that don't have any mis-givings about messing with mother nature. Also, the use of womens' bodies in other countries for surrogacy - like having a poor woman in India act as a surrogate for a wealthy woman from the U.S. - strikes me as surpreme exploitation of women in the developing world.

I'm a believer in a woman's right to choose, and screening for genetic defects, but going beyond that is where I personally draw the line.

Thanks for letting me share.

- Larry

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#15
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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/21/2009 4:42 PM

Hey Moose - China's a tough place to get a date, partly because of people like me who adopted from there, but so was Clarkson - another engineering school like Kaplin's. :)

It seems to me individual rights - male or female - are largely a function of population. When China exceeded 1 billion citizens, it had to do something, otherwise human suffering would have been all the worse.

So if we in the U.S. would like to retain our individual rights to the degree we have them now, we should do as the folks in Italy and other parts of Europe do, have smaller families, and employ more automation in our factories.

My fear is that we're on the path of 400+ million Americans, which is out-of-control, and we'll be losing more liberty, and damaging our environment, as we go down that path.

- Larry

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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/22/2009 4:05 AM

By quirk of coincidence, I watched Gattaca last night. Not the only related film, but thought provoking all the same.

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#17

Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/26/2009 2:10 AM

Hair and eye color don't matter, right? So then it shouldn't matter if people choose a certain hair or eye color. Doesn't help or hurt anyone.
People should have the right to control their own genes.

How is this like Gattaca or Nazis?? This is randomization. People are individuals. They won't all choose the same, and if we had a state party telling people what they could and couldn't do with their own bodies and genes, that would be the real state-controlled situation. So, as long as it's in the hands of individuals and not the government, I don't see anything wrong with it.

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Re: Knowing Exactly What You Want For Your Baby (Part 1)

03/26/2009 1:12 PM

People should have the right to control their own genes

A lot of people exercise the right by having sex.

What if some totalitarian state begins collecting peoples genetic material ? Next time I'm arrested, I'll ask the officer about all this. He might offer up "the samples are quite safe with us, and are only used for criminal investigation purposes. Nobody could ever use them for nefarious genetic engineering projects". He's unlikely to say, "You have a point there, Kris. Tell ya what, we won't take blood/urine/saliva samples and stash them away". That's a bit far-fetched, but genetic material is already a commodity, and nobody can be certain where it will end up or how it might be used.

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