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Hastings Center News

‘Designer Babies’ (You Say That Like It’s a Bad Thing)

Advances in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, genetic testing, and genome editing have renewed discussion about the ethics of “designer babies,” or children selected or engineered to have certain preferred traits, like superior intelligence or tall stature. But the same techniques used to create these “enhanced” children could help prospective parents avoid passing down debilitating genetic conditions, like Tay-Sachs, to their children.

The feasibility and ethics of creating or selecting for embryos with particular characteristics was the subject of “’Designer Babies’ (You Say That Like It’s a Bad Thing),” a panel discussion at Sarah Lawrence College on February 25 featuring Hastings Center director of research Josephine Johnston. James Grifo, the program director of the NYU Langone Fertility Center, and Laura Hercher, director of student research at the Sarah Lawrence College Joan H. Marks Program in Human Genetics, were also panelists.

Johnston commented on how the social pressure to select for traits unrelated to medical conditions could impact the parenting experience. “I’m not nervous about a future where people screen for Tay Sachs,” she said. “I’m nervous about people always feeling like they have to go to extremes” to create the “best-possible” child. Grifo, who pioneered techniques in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, objected to the term designer babies, arguing that assisted reproductive technologies have helped people have healthier babies. Hercher raised concerns that these technologies are only available to “people with money,” and that new technologies could further exacerbate social inequalities. Watch a video of the event, filmed by Sarah Lawrence College.

Photo Credit: Dana Maxson