Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pushing back against genetically designing babies

Excerpted from "You Can't Predict Destiny by Designing Your Baby's Genome." commentary by Megan Allyse and Marsha Michie, published in The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8, 2013 - In the 1997 film "Gattaca," wealthy parents regularly use what's called preimplantation genetic diagnosis to pick children with the most desirable characteristics. Using in vitro fertilization, PGD creates several embryos and then uses the most genetically promising one to attempt a pregnancy.

As distant as a Gattaca-style dystopia may seem, recent developments suggest it's not as far-fetched as it once was. California genetic testing company 23andMe announced in October that it has patented a method for determining the traits, including eye color and height, a hypothetical child would inherit from its parents.

Sperm donors deemed genetically inferior--or invalid, in Gattaca terms--will presumably be rejected and have to pass on their genetic material the old-fashioned way. These innovations expand on an existing service for prospective parents called carrier screening. The screening detects gene variants that, when present in both parents, significantly increase the risk of certain diseases in offspring.

The question is no longer whether we can design our offspring, but if we should-and what happens when we try. It may seem like creating the perfect child will eventually be a matter of who can pay for it. But predicting whether a couple's offspring will be the next Mozart or Einstein is about as easy as predicting the precise location and airspeed of a hurricane nine months in advance. That's because our genes are too complex to predict.

Parents have always tried to control their children's destiny, and complex gene algorithms are merely the latest manifestation of those efforts. But these techniques will only reveal that human life is too multifaceted to be reduced to a mathematical formula.


David PrenticeCMDA Member and Senior Fellow for Family Research Council David Prentice, PhD: “Our genes are not our destiny. Even with the ultimate genetic selection technology—cloning—the cloned animal offspring are not exact duplicates of the progenitor from which they were cloned. Yes, despite the fact that the cloning process uses the exact DNA of another individual (technically ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer’ is the most common form of cloning attempted) in an attempt to replicate that individual, the few clones that survive show that we are all more than just a readout of a genetic menu. One of the clearest examples of this lack of ‘genetic determinism’ is CC, the ‘carbon copy’ cat, which was cloned in 2001. She has a different coat pattern than the cat from which she was cloned, and different behavioral patterns.

“We are not our genes! Epigenetics (which genes are expressed, when and where) and environment have a huge effect. Even our experiences in the womb help shape who we are.

“This newest eugenic attempt to control our children and their outcomes, whether by ‘screening out’ less desirable traits or individuals, or ‘designing in’ what we might consider more desirable or fashionable traits, is a self-centered exercise that lacks respect for the uniqueness of each individual’s genetic endowment. The new human becomes the created property of another, designed and crafted to meet the maker’s desires; it is man making man in his own image, yet without any higher standard to which the craftsman is held. A key ingredient is lacking—love. Each new human individual is a gift to be loved. We are each of us fearfully and wonderfully made!”


CMDA Genetics Resources

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