Designer embryos sign progress

Many advances in modern medicine are pushing ethical and moral boundaries farther than ever before. According to an ABC article, “Embryo Bank Churns Out Designer Babies,” infertile parents now have the opportunity to choose certain characteristics of their baby that are important to them. Parents can select physical and personality traits from donors.

Many people see the parents’ ability to choose donors based on specific traits such as race, hair color and eye color as unethical. Many are concerned that science has made it possible to turn babies into a product which dehumanizes them tremendously.

“Human beings are not commodities,” said Robert George, a bioethicist at Princeton University. “They’re not products.”

The Abraham Center of Life reports that it is the first human embryo bank in North America. Couples can “adopt” unused embryos from another couple or create new embryos from donors’ sperm and eggs.

The embryo bank gives infertile couples who want to experience pregnancy a valuable alternative. It does not seem outrageous that parents would want to decide on some traits they hope their child will have if given the opportunity to do so. When a couple desperate to have a baby of their own is asked to select which donors they want their embryo to come from, the last thing on their mind is creating a “designer baby.”

Jennalee Ryan, who runs the center, said, “People that come to me aren’t doing it because they want designer babies; they just want a baby.”

Hopeful parents spend $14,000 to $18,000 on this option. One woman said she is not looking for genetic perfection, she just wants a child who will look more like her to make the process even more fulfilling. The Abraham Center of Life is accused of creating “made-to-order babies.”

In a Jan. 8 article of The Washington Post, John Robertson, of the University of Texas at Austin, said, “I know some people say: ‘This is shocking. Embryos made to order.’ But if you step back a little bit, you realize that people are already choosing sperm and egg donors in separate transactions. Combining them doesn’t pose any new major ethical problems.”

Being able to choose traits in a baby by knowing what the embryos’ biological parents look like is nothing like picking each trait for the child. The term “designer babies” is too extreme. Couples are allowed to see photos of donors as babies and children to help them choose the donors who are right for them. Scientists are in no way manipulating or harming the embryos to ensure specific traits in a child beyond fertilizing an egg.

According to Reason Magazine, creating embryos from sperm and egg donors instead of using left over embryos from a fertility clinic has its advantages. “Made-to-order” embryos are higher quality and do not have to undergo as much legal scrutiny as a leftover donated embryo. Leftover embryos have proven successful and are still a great option, but keep in mind, they are created by couples who are struggling to have a child and may not be as successful as a “made-to-order” embryo.

Couples today have a tremendous opportunity to overcome infertility and have a baby of their own. They cannot design the baby to look exactly how they want, but they can choose a few traits that are best for them and their future baby. What parent wouldn’t want the best for their child?

Michelle Anderson is a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Tyler. Her column appears every Friday.