January 23, 2021

BY SARA HANAFI

We’ve seen genetically modified foods, plants and animals, but now humans are being added to the list.
That’s right. You can design your own baby.
Despite the ethical debates and high cost (around $19,000 US), parents are hand-picking nonmedical traits for their babies, including hair and eye colour. The option to choose your baby’s gender is also available.
This is good news for middle and upper class families, since now they can create the perfect child they’ve always dreamed of. The rest of us who can’t – or won’t – pay that much money, well, I guess we’re stuck with our natural gene pool.
I see this as a colossal waste of money and effort (do you really need a baby girl with blue eyes and blond hair?).
But wait! There’s more. And it’s much less superficial.
Recent breakthroughs in the field of germline modification have led scientists to create a microchip that can test 1,500 genetic traits at once to look for conditions that could be potentially life-threatening. Because of this chip, genetic errors can be fixed through either drug therapy, which repairs damaged genes, or genetic modification, which would remove threats of disease in the DNA.
Diseases such as HIV and diabetes could be avoided through a process called gene targeting, where the defective genes and cells are knocked out. Parents who have serious genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, can conceive a healthy baby. In the future, the use of gene therapy can increase our lifespan to an estimated 100-150 years.
In addition, women who have trouble conceiving can give birth thanks to extra genes from a female donor being inserted into the mother’s eggs.
Yes, there are kids out there who now have DNA from three adults, and their extra genes will be passed onto their offspring. Altering the human germline could one day lead to new races of humans with highly desired characteristics, such as intelligence or strength.
Sounds like a science fiction movie, right?
But as cool as creating the perfect human being sounds, there is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of the procedure. Scientists say that trying to eliminate one disease may cause them to accidentally introduce another one.
There are also many ethical dilemmas surrounding this medical breakthrough. Do parents have the right to modify their unborn children for superficial purposes? Could this be the beginning of a race of unnatural super-humans?
I believe parents should have the right to prevent their children from suffering through life with an inherited disease, and if gene therapy can help them achieve this, then why not give it to them?
So the question isn’t “should we do it?” but rather, “how far do we go before it becomes playing God?” Do I think protecting your children from devastating “impurities” worth the time, effort and any accompanying risks? Yes. Making sure your kids have brown hair or green eyes?
Probably not.