Designer Babies: An Ethical Dilemma

Updated on February 29, 2020
Margaret Pan profile image

Margaret is passionate about exploring and discussing with others humanity's ethical dilemmas and society's complicated issues.

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Genetic engineering is developing at a rapid pace, and the latest advances have raised the prospect of designer babies. This means that in the future, parents may be given the chance to choose specific traits for their children. Producing designer babies is a controversial issue, to say the least. It's one of the most complicated ethical dilemmas today's society faces and has the potential to bring as many positive changes to our world as negative. Personally, I'm going to be as objective as I can in analyzing this complicated matter, and I advise people not to rush when deciding whether they're for or against it.

What Are Designer Babies?

Most of you have probably already at some point encountered the term "designer babies." For anyone who hasn't, the term refers to babies whose genetic makeup has been altered, by including or eliminating specific genes—in the latter case, usually genes associated with a particular medical condition.

How Are Designer Babies Created?

Designer babies are made using biotechnology. More specifically, scientists introduce the desired genetic material either into the father's sperm or the mother's egg cells, or into the embryo itself.

With the help of genetic engineering, the traits future parents could be able to change in their baby include their gender, personality, level of intelligence and physical features. Most importantly, parents would be given the chance to eliminate certain genes associated with diseases.

Pros of designer babies
Cons of designer babies
Prevention of genetic diseases and inherited medical conditions
Humans interfering with nature
Prevention of discrimination faced by people with disabilities
People losing their uniqueness
Minimize the amount of bullying
People becoming more shallow and appearance-driven
Ability to pick a baby's gender
Expanding the gap between the rich and the poor
The Pros and Cons of Designer Babies

The Ethical Debate About Designer Babies

The concept of designer babies has not only been discussed a lot, but it has also sparked various debates on whether it is unethical. The beauty of democracy is that everyone is free to form and express their opinion on any matter. The sad fact, however, is that many people tend to make assumptions, jump to conclusions and form an opinion on a topic without previously examining both sides of it. As with most things in life, the concept of designer babies has both its positive and negative effects. Let's examine them.

Positive:

  • prevention of genetic diseases and inherited medical conditions
  • prevention of discrimination people with disabilities face
  • minimize the amount of bullying
  • ability to pick a baby's gender

Negative:

  • humans interfering with nature
  • people losing their uniqueness
  • people becoming more shallow and appearance-driven
  • expanding the gap between the rich and the poor

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Prevention of Genetic Diseases and Inherited Medical Conditions

Many severe diseases have been linked to a genetic component, which means that they are caused by mutations inherited from a child's parent. Some examples of such genetic diseases are Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. On the other hand, severe medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer can be inherited.

One of the most important things offered by the prospect of designer babies is the possibility to eliminate specific genes associated with severe medical conditions from a baby's genetic makeup. This way, parents will be able to protect their children from developing severe diseases associated with genes.

Prevention of Discrimination Against People With Disabilities

Unfortunately, our society doesn't favor people with disabilities and often overlooks them and their needs. They have to cope not only with personal challenges associated with their disability, but also with a lack of proper infrastructure and assistance, and most importantly, discrimination.

A parent whose baby is born with a disability is obligated to a lifetime of care and worry for the rest of their lives as to where their child will end up after childhood. By altering a baby's DNA, however, it is possible that the development of a large number of disabilities could be prevented.

Minimize the Amount of Bullying

The truth is that sometimes kids can be extremely harsh with their peers. More often than not, when a kid has unattractive physical features, they become victims of bullying by their classmates. This leads to huge amounts of psychological distress for both the kid and its parents. On the other hand, sometimes kids who lack confidence and feel bad about the way they look, they themselves become bullies and torment other kids. If parents were to choose their kid's physical features, they could avoid severe imperfections in regards to their child's appearance, which could result in mockery and bullying from other, more good looking kids.

Ability to Pick a Baby's Gender

During the first months of pregnancy, when asked about what gender would they want their baby to be, most mothers answer that it doesn't matter to them, as long as the baby is healthy. However, there are couples that try again and again in order to have either a son or a daughter. I have a friend who dreamed of having a baby girl, which resulted in her trying and getting pregnant four times; all of them, however, turned out to be boys. With the help of genetic engineering, parents could fulfill their dreams of having a son or a daughter.

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Humans Interfering With Nature

Opponents of designer babies argue that by altering a baby's genetic makeup and choosing specific traits for it, humans assume the role of God and interfere with nature at great lengths, something that could consequently result in unexpected, undesired side effects.

People Losing Their Uniqueness

It is known that our imperfections are what make us unique. The prospect of designer babies, however, would have as a result the creation of perfect individuals, which means that people would lose their uniqueness and therefore, their beauty.

People Becoming More Shallow and Appearance-Driven

There's no denying that the world is already full of shallow people who only care about the superficial. For them, appearances are everything and the only index for their own and other people's value. The ability to create perfectly looking individuals would only make matters worse, since people would be tempted to change their child's characteristics just for the sake of appearances. "Wouldn't it be great if I made my child look like Brad Pitt?", someone could think. Society should educate and urge people to look below the surface and not encourage them to care more about the way someone looks.

Expanding the Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

The procedure of "designing your baby" would most definitely be an expensive one, which means that only the rich would be able to take advantage of it. That, consequently, would expand the gap between the rich and the poor people, with the privileged, rich and perfect-looking individuals marginalizing the less privileged ones.

The World's First Gene-Edited Babies

In 2018, a scientist in Hong Kong named He Jiankui announced that he made the world's first gene-edited human babies, Nana and Lulu. He claimed to have altered the genetic makeup of seven couples' embryos, whose fathers were HIV positive whereas the mothers where HIV negative. His purpose was to create a specific trait: resistance to HIV infection. He Jiankui claimed that the babies were born completely healthy. Whether human gene editing will end up being an acceptable practice in the future, it remains to be seen.

Are You For or Against Designer Babies?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Margaret Pan

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