Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Designer babies" in the news

Over the last week there have been several newspaper stories, mainly from the UK, about "designer babies".

The Sun (UK) proclaims its sensational headline Designer tot is world first. On closer examination we learn that the couple in question screened their embryos to produce a baby free from a hereditary illness that has inflicted their first child.

Even The Times (UK) published an article entitled First baby in Britain designed cancer free about a couple who have again used PGD to screen their embryos for a form of eye cancer.

The use of the words "design" and "designer" evokes images of people using these technologies to screen embryos not only for disease but for positive attributes such as intelligence and preferred hair or eye colour. It is this Gattaca like image that fuels debates over the ethics of using PGD to screen embryos.

Dr Alan Thornhill, Scientific Director, London Fertility Centre and Honorary Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University College London via Bionews has a more realistic view:

"To get the desired combination of high intelligence alleles in just one baby, more than 5000 embryos would need to be tested. It would take a woman 40 years of continuous IVF with PGD to achieve this. In short, 'designing' babies using PGD is a non-starter."