“Keep in mind this child is still you, simply the best of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result.”
– Geneticist, Gattaca
One of the more interesting pieces of news to break this week was that of an American fertility clinic offering the ability to select some of the cosmetic traits of children. This means that for those couples that either through necessity or choice have IVF procedures in order to conceive a child then it would be possible to screen the genetic make-up of the resulting embryos (multiples tend to be created to maximise viability) for particular traits such as hair and eye colour. The ability to do this stems from technology developed to screen embryos for genetic anomalies or diseases that would compromise the viability of the embryo. This clinic saw that there was the potential for using this to also screen for other genetically determined characteristics that their clients might find appealing.
The clinic in question, The Fertility Institutes, has after the public uproar decided to withdraw the controversial service. Even so is it immoral, as many maintained, to select the characteristics of your children? What human moral code is contravened in using this technology? In addition many of the stories centred around this topic put forward the example of everyone selecting blond blue eyed children as if it was some sort of universal ideal that everyone will choose seemingly ignoring that not only personal preference will likely not all be for this one option and that the technique can only be used to select for existing traits, not introduce new ones. If the parents are black then a blond baby is probably not in the cards, no matter how much you screen the embryos. Despite the fact the clinic decided to bow to public and beat a hasty retreat from the forefront of this field I do think it is likely inevitable that this sort of manipulation of human traits will happen. Starting with this simple selection technology and progressing to more direct altering of our heritage.
Is this future advisable or not? It really depends on the particular situation in question and how much thought is given to the consequences. As the quote from Gattaca above is meant to illustrate, this particular technology itself is nothing drastic and the number of people who might take advantage of it is small, globally it is trivial. It does raise the issue and serious thought must be given to it, while a knee-jerk negative reaction is understandable it is the rational arguments that should win the day. So, what do you think?