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A new pro-life battle: designer babies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Medical science has ushered in a brave new world in childbearing. A fertility clinic in Los Angeles recently announced it was ready to offer would-be parents designer babies.

After a public outcry, the clinic reversed course, but the fact that it even was considered is appalling.

L.A. Fertility Institutes, which currently screens embryos for certain diseases and even offers gender selection services — unethical as those are — put the word out it expected a “trait-selected” baby to be born next year. Dr. Jeff Steinberg, who runs the clinic, dubbed his service “cosmetic medicine.”

This, though, is no face-lift.

His clinic’s website advertised the opportunity for parents to make “a pre-selected choice of gender, eye color, hair color and complexion, along with screening for potentially lethal diseases.”

British fertility expert Gillian Lockwood warned against “turning babies into commodities you buy off the shelf.” At first Steinberg deflected the ethical arguments, saying, “It’s time for everyone to pull their heads out of the sand.”

But the clinic drew so much publicity and criticism, it pulled back. Its website now says the clinic has suspended its “eye and hair color program.”

The technology to pre-select ones offspring’s qualities has been around since the 90s, but most doctors are squeamish about treating babies as commodities. This fertility process was developed to screen out diseases. Then, fertility experts began to screen for quality-of-life-diminishing disorders like blindness, deafness or mental retardation. Next came gender selection. Now there’s this possibility for trait selection.

The technique for all of this is called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, PGD. It’s described in a widely-circulated Wall Street Journal article titled, “A Baby Please. Blond, Freckles — Hold the Colic.” Here’s how it works: A woman’s eggs are fertilized with sperm in a lab. A cell is then removed from each embryo and tested for a certain genetic disease, gender, and the biomarkers associated with the desired traits. Embryos free of the disease, or holding the desired traits, are implanted in the mother’s womb.

There are multiple ethical questions, including: What happens to the spare embryos? The ones carrying diseases or disorders are likely to be discarded. The Wall Street Journal’s hypothetical baby is female with green eyes and blond hair. So what does a couple do with their brown-eyed brunette male embryo? Discard him? Freeze the embryo hoping someone who prefers those qualities will adopt him?

There were people ready to take advantage of the clinic’s “trait selection” service. Several signed up for Dr. Steinberg’s services. And gender selection is in full swing in this country. Infertility specialist Daniel Potter says the top reason American women pursue high-tech gender selection is “the unrequited longing for a baby girl.”

Some countries, like the UK, ban sex selection. The U.S., though, does not. Congress ought to take this up, and add a ban on trait selection. The war to protect the sanctity of life has a new battlefront.
Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on “Point of View” syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody Radio Networks. She also serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas.

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  • Penna Dexter