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Book tackles the bioethics of “designer” babies

cartoon-1099728_1280As fertility research advances far beyond the mere mixing of eggs and sperm in a dish, the scenarios envisioned in Hank Greely's new book, The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, are not that hard to imagine.

Greely, JD, is a leader of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, and an oft-cited bioethicist. A writer for Stanford Lawyer chatted with him recently about his book, which will be available May 9. From the article:

Greely describes a scenario: A couple wanting a child would create 100 embryos and receive a DNA dossier for each. This would reveal the presence of genes for serious life-threatening diseases as well as markers that confer increased risk for less serious conditions, but it also might include genes for physical features, including eye and hair color, height and body type, and markers for behavioral traits such as athleticism or musical ability. The hopeful parents would then select which embryo to implant based on its expected characteristics.

"Right now, the technology as envisioned in the book is still 20 years away," Greely said. "But there are pieces of it available today."

That scenario alone poses innumerable ethical quandaries: Choosing to avoiding deadly diseases and painful disabilities seems like a no-brainer. But designing a baby from scratch? It's unsettling to ponder.

The book tackles many of the associated issues head-on. What about fairness? What if the child ends up different than anticipated? In a world populated by designed children, how would life change for people with disabilities? From the article:

Greely seeks to spark broad discussions about policies regarding these issues.

"I think something that changes the way we conceive babies affects everyone in such basic ways that it's not a topic that should be left solely to the law professors or to the bioethicists or to the ob-gyns or to the fertility clinics," he said.

Previously: Cautious green light for CRISPR use in embryos in the U.K.; Stanford's Hank Greely weighs inMedical practice, patents, and "custom children": A look at the future of reproductive medicine and Stanford study: "Squishiness" of embryo may predict its viability
Image by Prawny

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