General Question

nikipedia's avatar

Do you think people should be permitted to have "designer babies"?

Asked by nikipedia (27526points) April 25th, 2008

Genetics is getting more and more sophisticated, and it’s only a matter of time until we have the technology to decide to remove genes for things like depression or obesity from our children, and include genes for things like intelligence.

Would you be willing to design-a-baby? Why or why not?

What if everyone else was doing it, and your child would be disadvantaged if you didn’t?

Would you remove diseases or deformities?

Where would you draw the line?

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46 Answers

MrKnowItAll's avatar

As soon as we have designer babies, we’ll have knockoff designer babies that won’t be worth as much.

aaronblohowiak's avatar


why would you structure it that way? there is no list of things that you are “permitted” to do, only a list of rules about what is prohibited.

the government exists to protect the rights and liberties of its citizenry. GM babies do not diminish my rights. so, let it be.

Babo's avatar

What a disturbing thought!!! I think it’s wrong. People would all wind up being perfect little clones!

nikipedia's avatar

Because I think “permitted” gets at two levels of ethics: What’s the right thing to do in an ideal world? And is that belief practical enough to codify it as law?

eambos's avatar

Watch the movie “Gattaca.” Its all about this. Its also just a great movie on its own.

nikipedia's avatar

@Babo: Do you think? Does everyone have the same idea of the perfect child?

wildflower's avatar

I would draw the line at screening and if possible treatment of serious conditions in an unborn. After all, the baby is meant to be the result and mix of the parents and their genetics, not a configure-to-order product of a gene catalog. That would severely impact the bond between the child and parent.

scamp's avatar

My office manager paid tens of thousands for a donor egg because she couldn’t get pregnant. She is due to deliver any day now, and they have a second one frozen and waiting in the wings. She acts like she is getting a pet, and it makes me shiver to think of what kind of Mom she will be.

shilolo's avatar

There is another downside to “designer babies” besides the ethical. We cannot presume to know what the environmental pressures will be on our progeny, and what effects altering or removing “detrimental” genes will have on the species. Take for example sickle cell anemia. This is an autosomal recessive disease, and being unfortunate enough to receive 2 mutated alleles leads to outright disease. However, being a carrier of one mutated allele (having sickle cell trait) is protective from severe malaria, which is why this allele is so common in individuals of African origin. Hypothetically, if we were going to design babies, we might want to remove this allele since sickle cell disease is bad. But, that would put the baby (and carried ultimately into the entire population) at risk for death from malaria. Likewise, while we might want to alter certain traits, we cannot predict what the effect will be in the long term. So, I am strongly opposed to this line of genetics, ethically, morally and scientifically.

jrpowell's avatar

I would be willing to to a certain extent. I wouldn’t pick the eye color but I would certainly consider removing genes that would give the child an increased risk of disease. And a lot of it would depend on the process. Could modifications be made “in utero” or would a dirty magazine and a cup be necessary?

I can’t really give a honest answer about if everyone else was doing it would I. I would like to say I wouldn’t, but in all honesty I probably would. But I think it would take a long time for it to be considered the norm.

And imagine the lawsuits, “This isn’t the baby I ordered.”

shilolo's avatar

@johnpowell: That’s the precise problem. “Removing genes that would give the child an increased risk of disease” is a major pitfall. We neither know now, nor will we ever know which genes (which may appear to be detrimental now) will be beneficial in the future. What if the disease gene you removed might be protective from the (eventual) epidemic of influenza or the next SARS, etc.? The list of genes that appear detrimental now but which were probably protective in the past is quite long and includes the genes that cause sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn’s disease. Another example is the recently identified allele in a protein known as CCR5 which is protective from HIV/AIDS. No one knows why it exists, but its prevalence in the population is quite high, suggesting some sort of selective pressure in the past. Say there is a similar protein that will protect against a pandemic virus, but we happen to remove the allele to design babies. I don’t think that would be beneficial to the child, or the human race as a whole.

St.George's avatar

I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think humanity is not headed that way (designer humans). It’s only a matter of time when the idea of engineering our kids to survive in a super-human world will be normal and we won’t think twice about it. I’d like to hope I’ll be dead by then but, unfortunately, I don’t think so.

nikipedia's avatar

@shilolo: Never say never about technology. And if a gene is beneficial in some permutations and not in others, genetic engineering means we can optimize that—to use your example, we could produce only sickle-cell heterozygotes.

@wildflower: How do you decide what counts as a disease? Do mental illnesses count, or only physical ones? Fatal ones or non-fatal ones?

@Megan64: I’m inclined to agree with you—but why do you suppose people have such a strong, visceral, negative reaction?

wildflower's avatar

Well, that’s a public debate that would need to happen to establish the bounderies. Off the top of my head I would say anything that gives the child a <50% chance of surviving birth.

Trance24's avatar

Its hard to say. Like for instance if I could remove any potential for a birth defect or disease then I think I would do so. Or if you could eliminate mental disabilities. But to choose the eye color and the hair and other such things I don’t think I would. Its important for your child to grow and develop with what nature intended. I realize that contradicts my view on removal of disease and defects, but that differs from simple things like eye color and such. As for obesity and depression I don’t think I would either. Just because if you raise and teach your child the “right” way, then they are less likely to have these problems. Obesity for instance if you encourage your child from the being to choose healthier and wiser choices then they are less likely to become obese.

nikipedia's avatar


“Its important for your child to grow and develop with what nature intended.”


“Just because if you raise and teach your child the “right” way, then they are less likely to have these problems.”

This is only partially true. Both of these things have been definitively linked to genetic predispositions. I’m happy to find citations to support this statement.

ezraglenn's avatar

But think what great contributors to fluther they will be!
I’m definitely having the fluther gene installed in my babies.

nocountry2's avatar

Beyond screening for life-threatening diseases, picking and choosing features on your child is not letting them be their very own special person – it’s trying to make them into YOUR IDEA of a special person, which completely misses the concept. I thought one of the points of parenting was to love and accept your child exactly the way they are, not they way you may want them to be.

Besides, we’re getting to the point where people can pretty much modify anything they want to about themselves, so why not wait and let the child do what they want?

nikipedia's avatar

@nocountry2: The concept of what?

skfinkel's avatar

I would never do anything about changing what I got by nature.

And of course people will design away and, sadly, there will still be lonely, depressed, miserable people as well as happy, confident, and healthy people in the world. They can change the eye color or whatever, but they can’t improve on their own values and the environment they provide, and those are what the child will grow up with.

shilolo's avatar

@nikipedia: Sorry to burst your bubble, but science is not nearly that advanced, nor will it ever be so advanced as to be able to predict how future events will shape evolutionary pressures. I do basic science research everyday, and have been doing so for 15 years. Scientific progress is slow. In fact, just this week there was a report in the New England Journal of Medicine linking a very common enzyme, pyruvate kinase, with susceptibility to malaria. My point is that new things come up every day. Some observations overturn old ideas, while others reveal new ones. SARS was a brand new coronavirus that no one saw coming. Etc. etc.

nikipedia's avatar

@shilolo: Hi, it must be cool to feel superior to everyone else, but I’m a scientist as well, and a damn good one. As a scientist, you should be able to recognize that science is ever more able to do things that previous generations had called “impossible”. Rock and roll.

shilolo's avatar

If you say so.
We cannot, nor will we ever be able to predict future events. Our genome is shaped by evolutionary pressures that are varied and unpredictable. The more we try to constrain our own genome and become more homogeneous, the more susceptible on the whole we will become to a litany of diseases. Look at the disease susceptibilities of inbred dogs, cats, horses, and of course, humans.

St.George's avatar

@nikipedia Society can’t handle the current variations of humans or the discrimination and poverty that contribute to/result from it. I think people may be bothered by how engineering people will just make the situation worse – those who can’t afford engineering will have “regular” kids who will die of diseases earlier than others, insurance, finding jobs will be a nightmare for those folks. I think we can’t even begin to guess at how society will adjust or be different when that reality rolls around. I’m imagining Blade Runner. Also, perhaps religion plays into it. Some folks don’t want to mess with “God’s job.”

DS's avatar

it did existe not long ago they were called the Aryens and yes the government did permitted this “selection”.
I personnally don’t think that will happen again. First because no government will allow such a silliness 2nd the head of government are more and more claiming how religious they are.

mzgator's avatar

When you are blessed with a child, they are perfect to you no matter what. They are the most precious gift you could ever receive. My daughter is on her own person, extremely different in many many ways from her parents, although she looks just like her dad.

She was born with several health problems. She had two major surgeries within the first nine months of her life and spent many nights in the hospital for her first six years of life. She is totally fine now. Would I have removed the chance of having her be so sick if I could? You bet. Would I change the way she looks? Never.

I think if you could safely remove the chances of a child having health problems, that would be great, but designing a child to fit your own personal mold is sick.

spendy's avatar

How naive to believe we could ever actually “control” this (genetics). We truly know so little about the cause and effect of genetic manipulation within the human race. You don’t have to be a scientist to realize this. Why create more problems when we haven’t solved the ones we have starring us in the face right now? First, let’s find cures for – CANCER, HIV/AIDS, ALZHEIMER’S, DIABETES…crap people, we don’t even have a cure for the common cold!

We’ve probably already done enough damage to the natural evolutionary cycle of our race with modern medicine (or any medicine, for that matter). While we’re at it, let’s get in line to spit an even bigger wad into the face of Mother Nature.

Great idea. Let’s not forget…She spits back!

nikipedia's avatar

@spendywatson: Think about how many scientific achievements were considered impossible. We’ve only been studying DNA for 60 years or so and we have the technology to engineer out certain genes already. Imagine what we’ll be able to do in another 60 years, or 600, or 6000?

I never meant to suggest that this was the most pressing medical issue we have; it’s just an especially interesting one.

spendy's avatar

It is interesting…but the thought of how many additional problems could be created by delving into this specific area of modern science is frightening, considering we don’t have a grasp on the medical issues we’re faced with today. Seems like a waste to open another potentially large can of worms when we haven’t cleaned up the one we already opened, no? The human race is responsible for only God knows what as a result of modern medicine. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we have some successful medications, medical procedures, etc. (though it depends what camp you’re from…some say nature should run its course). All I’m saying is that we’re no where near being scientifically capable of finding cures for a boatload of diseases that already exist. Why take the (IMO, inevitable) risk of creating more?

scamp's avatar

The whole thing seems a half of a step away from cloning to me. If we were to make designer babies, how long before we have clones?

nikipedia's avatar

@spendywatson: So is your only problem with it practicality? Do you have any ethical qualms with it?

@scamp: What’s wrong with clones? (Seriously!)

spendy's avatar

IF we could guarantee the absence of additional diseases and create “designer babies” simply for the sake of illiminating illness…I still don’t believe it would be smart. Interesting, yes…but not smart. Tempting, yes…but not smart. Sad and unfortunate as it might be…could you imagine the population of this world without disease? They better fire up the space shuttle and start selling tickets.

To choose your child’s hair or eye color, complexion, height, metabolism…it’s just not right. Our ability to create another life…it’s a natural process. We’ve done enough to alter it (probably more than we should). Mother Nature has been b*tch-slapped out of her mind by surogates, fertility drugs, you name it. Let’s not completely strip human reproduction of its mystery and awe.

And to actually clone yourself? Holy crap. I can think of a few people that this world is having a hard enough time with one of, forget two.

scamp's avatar

Cloning creates the possibility of devaluing human life. We would no longer be individuals, or unique.There would aslo be the problem of identity. How would you be able to identify a murderer or rapist if the DNA and fingerprints match? Would both the criminal and the copy have to go to prison? And would we have a two for one special on social security payments when the clone comes to retirement age?

nikipedia's avatar

Do you think identical twins have less value?

scamp's avatar

Of course not.

nikipedia's avatar

Identical twins share 100% of their DNA, just like clones. Does that make them less individual or unique?

shilolo's avatar

@nikipedia: As you probably already know, while identical twins may technically share 100% of their DNA, somatic mutations and epigenetic factors combine to make each “half” of a twin couple unique. For example, I happen to be an identical twin and my twin brother was born with a birth mark on his butt…

nikipedia's avatar

@shilolo: Yes, but I raise the point because I expect the same events would happen in a clone’s DNA.

Neat story about you and your brother! I can just see a made for TV movie involving you two, a practical joke gone awry, and having to pull down your pants to prove your identity.

shilolo's avatar

Ummm, not sure how to answer that last part…

runtodahills's avatar

the only reason people are opposing this DEEP DOWN is the fear that some day the new race will be born genetically superior. imagine if all the new generation is born 6 2” muscular, broad, perfect skin color, small head, square shapely well defined face, perfectly textured hair, bigger penis etc and also superior intelligence.
the existing race with the exception of a minority who already have these traits will feel like SHIT. that is the bitter truth.

nocountry2's avatar

That sounds awfully homogenous to me…a large part of attraction (and for that matter, feelings of self-worth) is rooted in diversity.

spendy's avatar

@runtodahills – lol, I’m more afraid of what you just described!!! Wow…that would be one boring scenario, my friend. Variety is the spice of life, or have you forgotten? Nothing more scary than knowing you’ll wake up every morning with a million or so look-alikes. Nothing appealing about that, Mr. Smith. :) Grim outlook on your part, I’m afraid.

Hobbes's avatar

I think that there are two fallacies at the bottom of a lot of the thinking here.

From Wikipedia:

Appeal to nature is a commonly seen fallacy of relevance consisting of a claim that something is good or right because it is natural, or that something is bad or wrong because it is unnatural. In this type of fallacy nature is often implied as an ideal or desired state of being, a state of how things were, should be, or are: in this sense an appeal to nature may resemble an appeal to tradition.


“The anthropomorphic fallacy is the treatment of inanimate objects as if they had human feelings, thoughts, or sensations.”

A lot of people seem to be opposing the idea because it isn’t “natural”. It’s important to understand that nature is not looking out for us, and does not have our best interests in mind, nature “intends” nothing because nature is not a person.

@ shilolo – I think you’re being influenced by the anthropomorphic fallacy, but in a more subtle way. Some apparently negative genes might have a “silver lining”, but not every disease is a blessing in disguise. Occasionally a gene will remain in the pool because it has some hidden benefit, but it is safe to say that Harlequin Icthyosis, for example, has none. The hidden benefits of some genes are not part of a grand plan orchestrated by nature, as I’m sure you know, and though I agree that we may not always be able to predict the outcomes of our actions, trusting our future to a blind, uncaring, and utterly amoral system seems far more dangerous to me than the alternative.

shilolo's avatar

@Hobbes. Thanks for sharing those descriptions from Wikipedia. If you want to have a reasonable discussion, I suggest perhaps that you cite more meaningful sources. As an immunologist, I don’t see how I am influenced by the so-called “anthropomorphic fallacy”. I don’t believe that genes have personalities. What I do know is that there are numerous examples of genes that on their face seem deleterious, when in fact they have benefits that we are only now beginning to realize. You are right that there is no grand plan of nature, but what I am opposed to is the arrogance assumed by some people to think that we should correct nature’s so-called mistakes. Who are we to make these decisions?

Here’s an example from immunology and mouse genetics. Years ago, a spontaneous mutation arose in a mouse with black coat color that made the mouse beige. Now, it turns out that this mutation in coat color also has severely deleterious effects on immune function, which were only identified 30 years after the original mutation arose. Suppose at that time someone said, “well, I really like the beige color better than the black, let’s make all our mice beige.” What would have happened is that we would have created a uniform population of mice with enhanced susceptibility to disease (unknowingly). For reasons like that, I am opposed to genetic manipulation for purely cosmetic purposes (and I lump things like athleticism and intelligence into that category). In addition, I remain opposed to the notion that we should eliminate (what we view today, with our limited knowledge) so-called deleterious mutations. Frankly, we don’t know enough about biology and genetics to make decisions of that magnitude.

Hobbes's avatar

@shilolo – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be patronizing. The wikipedia definitions were simply in case you or anyone else weren’t familiar with them.

I entirely agree that we understand only a fraction of the immense complexity that is the human body, and that any changes we make may have unintended consequences. However, it seems to make far more sense to me to trust our futures and our health to ourselves, as we have our best interests in mind, than to rely on nature, which does not.

It is also entirely probable that we will come to understand a great deal more about our genetics than we do now. Even today, though we understand only a small part of the puzzle, we know exponentially more than we did even a few hundred years ago. In a perfect world, of course, we would know everything about a subject before acting. But since this is impossible, we can only do the best we can with what we have. We must try to gather all the information we can, but we have to act at some point, even though our understanding will only ever be partial.

astrocom's avatar

Shilolo has made fantastic comments in this entire thread, and I agree with him on many points. People should never be allowed to make superficial choices regarding the genetic make-up of their children, and we don’t want to remove any gene, no matter how detrimental it might be, from our gene pool, because we’re smart enough to know at this point that out survival as a species could one day depend on a gene that seems to be entirely detrimental. I agree that we will never be able to predict exactly which genes might be useful in the future, being a modern researcher, I think his judgment of this is limited by modern technical and ethical concerns. We might one day be capable of adapting our genes to a threat when it appears, as opposed to hoping random mutation will give us the needed skills to survive. And I don’t think there’s too much harm in causing increased prevalence of genes we know are helpful, provided we don’t, at the same time, wipe out entire alternate genes.
@shilolo: I thought we figured out CCR5 is prevalent because it was useful in preventing the spread of the bubonic plague.
All this said, I have what in my experience has been a fairly severe case of ADHD, a disorder that is believed to be helpful with a variety of tasks (including ones that were beneficial to the survival of the species), but mostly serves to make academics and various other tasks of the modern world difficult for me. I think when traits such as this exist, society should accommodate people with these traits, for the potential current and future usefulness of the trait, but knowing that isn’t going to happen in the near future, I’d definitely chose to remove the possibility of severe ADHD from my child’s life, even if it means decreasing the chance that the species survives some unforeseen event in the future.

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