The One Minute Case for Designer Babies

The term “designer baby” is a derogative term for the use of reproductive and genetic technologies to accomplish an optimal recombination of the parents’ genes. This case argues that the voluntary use of genetic technologies, as well as prenatal screening and abortion is both moral and desirable. It does not address the morality of abortion (defended in this case) or the safety of particular technologies – an important consideration, but not a fundamental issue.

Parents ought to want healthy children

While there are many valid motivations to become a parent, in choosing to create a human being, parents assume a moral obligation to provide for and educate their children to become independent, mature adults. Beyond the legal obligation of providing minimum care, to the extent that parents love and value their children (and there is no reason to have children otherwise), parents ought to strive to maximize their child’s ability to become fully functional adult human beings – physically, spiritually, socially, romantically, etc. This means providing both appropriate education, and taking care of their physical needs.

Health can be objectively defined in relation to the requirements of human life

It is possible to make judgments about which mental and physical states are objectively superior in relation to other states. For example, a broken leg, a bout of flu, or a headache are undesirable because they prevent one from accomplishing a whole range of actions which are required for human life. We recognize this when we use technology (medicine) to help people overcome and heal from their injuries and illnesses. The same applies to genetic physical and mental deformities, which adversely impact one’s ability to accomplish his values. If someone suffers from clinical depression or schizophrenia, we offer them drugs that improve their ability to use reason to deal with reality and achieve the values they desire. If healthy, successful, productive human life is a value, then it is moral to use all available technology to maximize human potential to achieve the values they desire.

Biotechnology adds new tools to an ancient arsenal of genetic techniques for better offspring

If health is desirable and can be objectively defined, then parents ought to choose to have healthy children. They do this in a variety of means: Genetically, humans instinctively seek mates likely to produce healthy offspring – this is the basis of selective sexual attraction based on physical traits. Consciously, parents choose partners who share their child-rearing values. They also take measures to prevent child defects, such as abstaining from drugs during pregnancy and choosing to have children earlier in their life. Genetic counseling and prenatal screening are just two new tools for enhancing an ancient process.

The Gattaca objection confuses the potential for the actual

The Gattaca objection to screening undesirable traits is that people with undesirable traits have made many valuable contributions, and are capable of living fully productive lives. Supporters often give examples of great scientists like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawkins with genetic or developmental abnormalities, or of people with serious impairments such as Down Syndrome who nevertheless hold jobs and assume most of the functions of normal adults.

This objection confuses between the seen and the unseen. What we see is that many people with undesirable traits are unusually successful, either in relation the average person, or to people with their symptoms. What we don’t see are all the people who failed to achieve their values because of their symptoms. If their genotype or embryo had been eliminated before birth, the unhealthy people would not exist, but an equal number of healthy people would. Unless the undesirable symptom itself contributed to their success, the percentage of unusually successful healthy people would be far higher than the number of extraordinarily successful unhealthy people. Certainly, healthy people would have a better chance at a normal life than someone with a chronic syndrome such as Down Syndrome, Tay-Sachs, or Spina bifida.

Genetic diversity is valuable – but only if it is used to enhance human life, not impair it

The “neurodiversity” movement opposes genetic screening on the grounds that atypical neurological development should be recognized and respected. The movement has a valid point insofar as neurodiversity has played a critical part in the development of human civilization. If every human being had exactly the same intelligence and developed in the same way, we would have no great scientists, artists, intellectuals, or entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, the neurodiversity advocates only support “diversity” when it is due to ignorance, not conscious choice. They support a baby being born with Autism, Parkinson’s disease, dyslexia, or other disorders because the parents had no choice in the matter, but they oppose giving the parents the power to choose to have a child which is healthier than he would “naturally” be. If most parents could consciously choose what traits to give their children, they might prefer more intelligence, curiosity, a longer life, or stronger muscles. These are also varieties of genetic diversity.

Objections to genetic counseling and gene engineering are ultimately objections to technology

Few parents would choose to have their children be born blind, deaf, retarded, or crippled. Yet this is precisely what the “diversity” advocates want: to prevent parents from being able to improve on the “natural” forms of biodiversity.  Traits due to  sexual selection, random genetic mutation, and embryonic variation are acceptable to them, but traits due to conscious human choice are not.

Genetic screening via sexual selection has been practiced since the dawn of life itself.  No one suggests that we should pick a mate entirely at random, so the objection to genetic screening and engineering is due to the element of technology. Their objections are not to “designer babies” as such, but to the use of technology to improve the lives of human beings. They apply equally to a child whose genes are altered after birth, or to an adult. The logical conclusion of this neo-luddism is the opposition of all man-made improvements to human life as “unnatural.”


Filed under Politics, Science

8 Responses to The One Minute Case for Designer Babies

  1. Pingback: On Down Syndrome and other self-inflicted tragedies | Truth, Justice, and the American Way

  2. Randy

    I am a graduate student at MIT, and I am putting together a digestible science magazine intended for the general public to cover science news in an objective and meaningful fashion. For the first issue, I am considering the topic of genetic screening (specifically the subject of designer babies) as one of a few lead pieces. The format of the article would be a general expository piece breaking down the science of genetic screening and the instances of its inclusion in pop culture (from a renowned PhD expert in the field), followed by a forum from two opinion writers for and against its use. The articles should be objectively stated, and will be edited to reflect this. If you are interested in submitting a piece similar to this blog entry, please email me with a short CV, and we can start a dialogue.

    Randy Carney

  3. Arnold T

    A GM baby is the only moral way to improve man’s evolution. With all the advances in medicine, natural selection, in the normal sense, no longer works effectively to improve the evolutionary track of man.

    The fact is, modern medicine allows genetic defects to thrive and spread throughout a population. No longer do the weak and defective die before passing on their genes to the next generation.

    This is good. We all want to live full lives. We all want the advantages modern medicine provides. So what is the solution for our children and grandchildren as more and more disease and defects are passed on to future generations?

    The GM baby is the solution. Getting rid of a bad gene so your child will not have to live with it is the best option.

  4. dont you think designer babies is wrong?
    god should design your baby its human nature
    and for those who are creating a child with the same skin cells as ur previuos child to save them thats wrong!
    to break another child down into parts for save another!
    its gods will to take your child or not i know it hurts trust me! i lost a brother to cancer!
    but to create a child nd thier only purpose to be born is for spare parts
    thats wrong!
    god puts us on this earth for a reasion
    not so we can be spare parts!
    i understand donating
    but creating a child and breaking them down in to parts basically! yall r sik!

  5. john

    @brianna —

    it’s human nature that god should design your baby?

    That doesn’t even make sense.

    And what are you basing your judgment of being wrong or right on exactly? Presumably you’re christian (just a guess from your lack of punctuation – oh and you’re complete lack of logic), which means that you shouldn’t be passing judgment at all.

    Secondly, if god gave us free will, why can’t we use it to improve our condition? How do you know that isn’t god’s plan? Maybe he gives people cancer to inspire others to search for a cure. Cures for cancer aren’t some man-made unholy curses, they are naturally occurring medications and processes. By your criticism I’m assuming you’ve never taken Tylenol for a headache? Never received a shot to prevent a disease? Never washed your hands with soap to kill germs? God didn’t make toilet paper, so I’m assuming you wipe your ass with leaves when you go to the bathroom? You can’t possibly watch TV or enjoy anything that didn’t exist in biblical times, eh?

    The whole problem with your argument is simply a lack of scientific understanding. How does your god’s gift of discernment and free will any different than genetic variation? Besides it’s not like your taking a newborn and chopping it into bits to put into another baby, are you crazy? I suppose when you eat eggs for breakfast you call it chicken?

    Now, all of this is really crap anyway because there is no such thing as god, and people like you really stand in the way of scientific progress. Unfortunately, once you die, NOTHING happens, it’s just over. So why the hell would you not want to postpone that?

  6. josh

    @ john
    What an unfortunate thing to say. Now i’m no christian radical but neither you nor I can disprove the existance of god. She CLEARLY is not making a shot at you and probably is not a neo-luddite. She DOES have apoint though. How would you feel if your parents told you that the reason you were born was to keep your sibling alive?

    you stated:
    “And what are you basing your judgment of being wrong or right on exactly? Presumably you’re christian (just a guess from your lack of punctuation – oh and you’re complete lack of logic), which means that you shouldn’t be passing judgment at all. ”

    ^^ this is an illogical statement… this reasoning doesn’t hold up.

    “By your criticism I’m assuming you’ve never taken Tylenol for a headache? Never received a shot to prevent a disease? Never washed your hands with soap to kill germs? God didn’t make toilet paper, so I’m assuming you wipe your ass with leaves when you go to the bathroom? You can’t possibly watch TV or enjoy anything that didn’t exist in biblical times, eh?”

    ^ why would you say any of these things. we are talking about prenatal genetic engineering.

    I’m sorry but you make yourself sound more ignorant than brianna ever will.

  7. Calliope

    Okay, I believe there’s a chance that this new technology could be used for good. In theory, it’s a great concept; however, we need to account for human nature.
    Anyone else remember communism? It was a beautiful idea on paper, but once in practice, it turned into a horrible tranny, all because of some greedy people.
    I’m not saying that everyone is corrupt, but that power itself corrupts people. If we’re allowed to ‘design’ our babies, we aren’t going to stop at just preventing diseases, and anyone who says that is either extremely naive, or -pardon my language- full of shit.
    I’m not Christian radical, but I do believe a higher power exists. I’m not saying that they should be allowed to pick our children for us, but we should all accept what we’re given. If your baby didn’t come out the way you wanted, and that prevents you from loving them, then you shouldn’t be reproducing to begin with.

  8. Gabriel

    The chief problem with altering the genes of an unborn person, aside from preventing disease, is the subtle denial of freedom.
    By another human being choosing another humans beings physical capabilities, that person -obviously someone with their own imperfections- has effectively chosen the outcome for their future, unlike a persons unavoidable influence upon another being they have appointed themselves to a position of nothing less than creator.
    Its simple how can we say that imposing our will upon anothers possibilities as person is ethical if we ourselves our not immaculate in judgment?

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