Monday, February 16, 2009

Demand for human trait selection creates a market

The Wall Street Journal published an article last week on the topic of human trait selection -- a pending reproductive procedure that's more commonly (and pejoratively) referred to as designer babies. In the article, "A Baby, Please. Blond, Freckles -- Hold the Colic", writer Gautam Naik describes those laboratory techniques that screen for diseases in embryos and how those techniques will soon be offered to prospective parents.

Click for larger image; credit: Wall Street Journal

As previously noted here on Sentient Developments, demand for the non-medical application of PGD, while small, does exist and it's increasing. As Jeff Steinberg of LA's Fertility Institutes says, "This is cosmetic medicine...Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it." Trait selection in babies "is a service," says Dr. Steinberg, and "[w]e intend to offer it soon."

The WSJ article prompted respond with a list of reasons why human trait selection is an important topic today:
  1. It’s a hive of ethical issues
  2. The technology isn’t here yet
  3. We all have a stake in the issue
  4. Questions raised go beyond designer babies
"I love the topic of designer babies," writes Hinsch, "because difficult questions need to be asked about all kinds of emerging technologies from nanotechnology to therapeutic and reproductive human cloning." It can be overwhelming, she ways, "but the only thing we can count on is change–that the nature of the technology will evolve while the challenges remain."

According to Hinsch there are some key questions that need to be answered as we move forward:
  • Should we ban it?
  • Should we regulate the technology to allow only certain applications?
  • Should we promote the widespread use of this technology?
Some believe, for example, that genetic modification holds tremendous promise for preventing genetic diseases and that society should pursue policies to promote or encourage its use in the future, despite what other sideline “designer” applications are developed as a result.

There's no question that these are challenging isues. But what's important right now, argues Hinsch, is that we get the conversation started.

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