Bad DNA? Not a Problem For Much Longer

As it happened, before I ever heard about “designer babies,” I already knew a great deal about them. My seventh grade science teacher screened the 1997 movie Gattaca for us one afternoon. Gattaca anticipated today’s growing debate over designing future generations of human beings. Vincent, the protagonist, portrayed by Ethan Hawke, is conceived out of love — that is, naturally. But he lives in a world in which genetically engineering babies has become the norm. As his family doctor explains, they select only the best genetic parts of each parent to create a new baby.

I remembered this movie long after I forgot its title. What stuck with me was the injustice inflicted upon Vincent. Though he was the most passionate candidate to become an astronaut, had he not hidden his predisposition for heart failure, he never would have been chosen for the space mission. And yet, he could achieve so much through his own efforts. As he said, “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.”

Present Capabilities
But isn’t this science fiction? We can question the timeline for when custom-order offspring will become ubiquitous, but with increasing vigor, bioethicists are calling for new efforts in debating the ethics of designer babies.

One voice among the growing group of scientists is that of Dr. Anthony Perry of the University of Bath, who helped pioneer the field of DNA editing, and continues to research CRISPR technology. In his lab, Perry and his team edited the mouse genome using what are essentially “molecular scissors.” But even as he makes progress in the biotechnological field, Perry agrees that society must soon decide at which point the —> Read More