Are 'Customized Babies' Our Future?

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Thursday, September 29, 2016

Are 'Customized Babies' Our Future?


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US doctors in Mexico recently helped Jordanian parents give birth to a baby boy. The fact that three nations were involved in this event is not what's making news today. It's the fact that three parents were.

The mother carries a genetic condition that usually causes the child to die within two to three years. The couple has already suffered four miscarriages as well as the death of two children. This time, doctors combined the DNA from the mother's egg with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg, creating a healthy new egg they fertilized with the father's sperm. The result is a baby with 0.1 percent of the donor's DNA but without the genetic defect that would have killed the child.

Technology is not only making possible designer eggs, but designer sperm as well. For instance, the London Sperm Bank has released a mobile app that lets women filter potential sperm donors based on ethnicity, occupation, personality type, eye color, etc. Women can also create an alert that will notify them when a donor with their preferred characteristics becomes available.

Doctors can already warn prospective parents if they are carriers of genes that cause Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs, and other disorders. We can imagine a day when potential mates are chosen for their genetic capacities and reproductive potential.

Millions of so-called "test tube" babies have been conceived through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Scientists can test embryos for a variety of diseases, then implant healthy embryos and freeze or discard the rest. Soon they may be able to test for capacities such as intelligence and body type.

The ethical implications of "customized babies" are staggering.

One: If you believe life begins when the sperm and egg are united (as I do), you view embryos created in laboratories as humans. Destroying or freezing such lives because of diseases or capacities is a momentous moral line.

Two: The costs and necessary laboratory conditions associated with IVF and genetic testing are significant. As a result, wealthier couples and countries will be able to customize their children; poorer cultures will not. The gap between the rich and the poor will widen significantly. 

Three: The law of unintended consequences is significantly relevant to this issue. What would a world without Down syndrome children be like? How will present medical decisions impact future generations? Is this "playing God"?

My personal belief is that IVF is wonderful technology for enabling infertile couples to have children. However, I believe such couples should implant every viable embryo they create. And I believe we should refuse the temptation to use IVF and/or genetic technology to improve the aptitudes and capacities of children.

God alone is the Creator and giver of life. We can join David in proclaiming to him, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). Max Lucado is right: "You weren't an accident. You weren't mass produced. You aren't an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the Earth by the Master Craftsman."

When last did you thank your Maker for your life and life eternal?

Note: I will be speaking on my latest book, State of Our Nation: 7 Critical Issues, at the Dallas Arboretum on October 4 at 7 PM. Cost is $10 and includes a free signed copy of the book. Click here to learn more and to register. I hope to see you there.

 

Publication date: September 29, 2016

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