Are “designer baby” fears actually prolonging children’s suffering?

Paul Raven @ 23-03-2009

baby feetMedia hysteria about “designer babies” maintains ethical pressure on IVF genetic screening techniques and keeps them from becoming more widely used. Michael Le Page at New Scientist suggests IVF-PGD should in fact be mandatory, comparing a refusal to use the technique to the actions of parents who refuse medical treatment for their child on religious grounds:

We now have the ability to ensure that children are born free of any one of hundreds of serious genetic disorders, from cystic fibrosis to early-onset cancers. But children continue to be born with these diseases.

All would-be parents should be offered screening to alert them to any genetic disorders they risk passing on to their children. Those at risk should then be offered IVF with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (IVF-PGD) to ensure any children are healthy.

Why isn’t it happening? Because most people still regard attempts to influence which genes our children inherit as taboo.

He goes on to point out that IVF-PGD can’t be used for ‘designing’ a child, and takes the view that if every life is a gamble, screening for inheritable diseases is a way of stacking the deck in your favour… and in the child’s.

Of course, that view is contrary to the “pro-life” philosophy, but even someone more moderate than that might see Le Page’s approach as callous. And there’s the argument that it’s immoral to attempt to eradicate disability entirely; remember the deaf couples who use genetic screening to select in favour of a child with deafness? [image by lepiaf.geo]

What do you think – should we use science to engineer away our physical defects before they happen, or to make life as comfortable as possible for those afflicted with them?