What are designer babies?
Designer babies are children with a change in their original genetic makeup. The genetic makeup they got from the egg and the sperm is isolated and altered, usually to remove or influence genetic materials responsible for causes diseases or other adversities in the body. It is a lengthy and expensive procedure that involves an analysis of the genetic materials and their adverse manifestation on the body, after which by the use of technological advancements, genetic makeup is altered.
This alteration of genetic material can be done before fertilization or after fertilization and can be broadly divided into two categories: somatic cells genetic editing and germline cells genetic engineering. Designer babies usually go the second type and were first performed in 2019 where the genetic material of twins Lulu and nana was edited.
Edited genes for designer babies can be delivered through editing germline cells or by introducing the desired genes into the fertilized cells themselves by using highly rehearsed genetic editing techniques. These genetic changes are passes down to the offsprings which alter the natural selection of the process.
It has the potential to revolutionize how humans treat diseases but also comes with huge risks. It is not yet legal to change the germline but it will be a method of treatment in the future. It is hugely controversial whether these genetically influenced individuals will be a boon or a curse for society.
The controversy comes from the possible degradation of society due to its unprecedented future and its expensive price tag. The expensive price of genetic therapy is due to how it is done.
So how are babies designed?
Designing babies means changing their genetic makeup. This is done by delivering the genetic material into germline cells or into the embryo itself. The technology to do so is quite lengthy, expensive, and requires extreme precision. The whole genomic sequence has to be studied to find the location of the section of the DNA for the restriction enzyme to cut into.
Plasmids have to be removed from bacterias or other vectors have to be extracted by using specific enzymes. A recombined DNA is formed and the vector helps the transformation process. The vectors used to transfer the genetic material are usually viruses, bacterias, or liposomes.
The process of cloning the DNA and keeping the required genetic material into the vectors is another tiresome process. All of these difficult phases of genetic engineering coupled with the failure to work makes this procedure extremely expensive.
What are the ethical concerns of society with designer babies?
The possibility of designing a baby is very near. The recent development in technology has opened windows to a multitude of possibilities. These possible actions come with concerns about what may happen and what adversities we might face by using this technology. Designer babies therefore too are widely debated because of their ethical concerns.
The major ethical concern regarding the development of possible superhuman is that this enhancement technique will intervene in natural processes and the world will be pushed towards more chaos. The decision to allow genetically engineering of babies will irreversibly destroy the existing social constructs and raise a myriad of other bioethical problems.
The other major concern regarding this engineering is that countless possible lives ( embryos) are destroyed in this process which is a threat to life itself. The world is shaped around love and emotions and creating a world where the formation of a child is seen more as a scientific approach rather than a process involving intimacy threatens the present standing society.
The only logic-defying all these ethical issues are that this technology has the ability to completely revolutionize the human quality of life and will open doors to new scientific realities.
The answer to the question of whether designer babies will be a boon or curse for society is unpredictable. There are multiple spectrums about which we don’t have the slightest clue.
These babies therefore may be better for society because :
Security to parents – Genetically engineering a baby will allow parents to be more secure and aware of what to expect from their baby. They will be able to control how the baby will turn out to be and thus stay less stressed during and after pregnancy. This security will ensure a better mental state and thus a higher quality of life.
Increases life expectancy – Genetically engineering a baby will allow termination or replacement of the faulty genes that cause problems in the body later in life. Removal or replacement of such genes can increase the life expectance of many people by means of decades and also the lower onset of troublesome symptoms due to old age.
Influence on the child – Editing the genetic material of the baby will for sure lower the probability of onset of various genetic as well as nongenetic diseases influenced by genes but also influence the take the child has on life. A child with fewer problems will most likely have a positive take on life and thus the world might have a larger population of happy individuals.
Eradication of diseases – Genetic modification technology helps in treating genetic disorders. If babies are designed by replacing or removing the genetic material that causes various genetic disorders. It will permanently treat the disorder in the baby’s genes and thus cure the disease for generations to follow. This way, genetic disorders might be extremely rare.
These babies might be harmful to society because :
Probability of error – The technology to edit genes is still in its nascent stage. There are many aspects of this technology still unknown. This shows that there is a margin of error in this process. The replacement or removal of that genetic material might cure the illness but might give rise to a whole another problem. Such errors outweigh the positive impact that this technology will have had on the individual and society.
Violation of the baby’s right – Designing a baby translates to deciding what the baby should look like, feel like, i.e controlling every aspect of the individual that the baby will turn into. This is stealing the right of a person to decide what he or she wants to be like. Nobody is other than that the individual has the right to decide for them and designing a baby might cause chaos in the society.
Creation of a marked gap in society – It is a known fact that designing a baby is extremely expensive. Allowing designer babies will cause the creation of a marked gap not only in terms of wealth but also in terms of physicality. The rich population will be able to create designer babies that might be superior to normal human babies. This will cause the superior baby to excel in life compared to a normal human baby. This will accentuate the gap and create a whole division of the race.
The possibility of this technology to solve problems of society sounds extremely exciting but at the same time, the possibility of this technology going haywire is extremely scary.
There are possible reasons why it might benefit society and equally, if not more, reasons that suggest otherwise but judging from years of evolution, it is safe to say that every technological advancement always had ethical issues concerning it but the knowledge that its exploration gives us will benefit the society and therefore, even if designer babies are not allowed to be created, it should be allowed for scientific purposes in order to benefit the society.