It’s another round of “We can, but should we?” According to this article, a leading bioethicist believes that new research will lead to people having children via DNA sample, like a skin scraping, which will then be transformed into eggs and/or sperm.
Further, we’ll do this rather than have children via sex altogether, as it will permit us to have control over the process of procreation. Within 20-40 years, the genetic selection process will be quite advanced, permitting parents to screen the embryos and decide which one is the best fit based on traits and characteristics.
Yes, I think we will see an increased and broad use of embryo selection. I would be careful to set the time frame at 20-40 years. I think we’ll actually see a world where most babies born to people with good health coverage will be conceived in the lab. People will make about a hundred embryos, each will have its whole genome tested, and the parents will be [asked … “Tell] us what you want to know and then tell us what embryo you want.”
There are economic arguments for this approach too:
I think it should bring down health care costs, and, in fact, one of the advantages to it is that it would be so beneficial for public health care costs that I think it would be provided for free. If it costs say, $10,000 to start a baby this way, 100 babies is a million dollars. If you avoid the birth of one baby with a serious genetic disease, you’ve saved $3 [million to] $5 million. […]
The concern about the state or the insurance company or someone else, forcing you to pick particular babies, worries me a lot more than having parents make choices, though that raises its own set of questions.
A few considerations of course. For those of us that agree with science that life begins at conception, the hypothetical 99 embryos that would be rejected would actually mean that 99 human lives are ended. In one fell swoop. (Unless of course they’re donated for parts and research which is another nauseating issue.) And of course we’re now dealing will full-blown consumer eugenics.
As the bioethicist also notes, it’s possible that this process wouldn’t be covered by insurance in all jurisdictions, so a type of two-tier human caste system would exist: those children whose parents had means and/or insurance to ensure their genetic superiority…and the rest.
I recently read a fiction series that dealt with this issue. The books were set in 2060 and predicted that parents who chose to have children the old fashion way were treated as second class citizens, and had a hard time finding doctors willing to treat their families since they brought on their children’s health problems themselves. They should have done IVF and chosen a healthy embryo instead of the child they had through sex.
Further, if their children were born with certain conditions, there was no one to treat them as money for research dried up as these conditions could be screened out in the IVF process. If the children were treated, they were considered an unnecessary drain on the crippled healthcare system (the book also predicted that the American economy would be in rough shape 40 years from now.)
The series was written a few years ago, but what the author envisioned lines up with what this bioethicist predicts. I can’t help but wonder if the author will be right about the attitudes towards those of us who would not take this approach to family planning.
And I understand part of the appeal – no parent wants to see their child suffer. My 5 month old daughter was born with two heart defects. There was one dark night when my midwife held me in my dark bedroom as we watched my daughter sleeping. I was crying and she promised we’d work through it if she needed heart surgery as a newborn.
But what’s the cost? What’s the impact on the children born and for society as a whole? How are we going to change when we decide that “imperfect” humans are a drain (or at least could have been selectively avoided), rather than co-citizens that we’re called to love and care for?