In the wake of the recent controversy sparked by the supposed first ever genetically-edited humans, many have raised qualms about utilizing genetics to modify our species.
However, genetically selected babies have already been readily available in the US and around the world for years, and a company is even hoping to now use the technology to select for intelligence. Amelia’s family enrolled in a study that is deciding the DNA of babies, as researchers explore whether gene-mapping one day should become a part of newborn care.
In 1977, the first human in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was carried out, and an entirely healthy baby was born. In the decades to follow, millions who couldn't conceive naturally have benefited from the procedure, where the sperm is injected into the egg in a test tube. However, the sequencing of the human genome, fully completed in 2003, opened up a whole new can of worms. We were know learning which sequences of DNA (which mutations) corresponded to fatal congenital diseases. Eliminating those mutations could mean saving millions of lives. Today, DNA editing technology simply isn't their year.
But for years, many have been choosing to undergo preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), wherein IVF embryos are screened for mutations, and the healthiest one is implanted into the mother. This technology has been especially valuable for those who are carriers of rare genetic mutations that they don’t wish to pass on to their progeny, or to mothers above 35 years old who have a greater risk of chromosomal nondisjunction disorders (like Down syndrome).
Of course, PGD has not been without its critics. While curing deadly, congenital diseases is one thing, the possibility of modifying our children to our liking raises many ethical questions. Where to draw the line has become a matter of fierce debate. For instance, Iceland’s campaign to eliminate Down syndrome (via fetal testing and abortion) has received criticism from many on the political right, including Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, who have compared it to “eugenics” and called it “the death of humanity.”
On the other hand, there have been cases of deaf parents stacking their odds of having a deaf child, or dwarf parents looking to ensure dwarf children. While some see this as promulgating a disability, others consider that stance “able-ist.” Although the above cases blur the line between health and disease, PGD has largely remained confined to preventing crippling hereditary illnesses. The technology could, however, allow interested parents to "choose" a child in their own image, of low stature or high intelligence in the not so distant future.