Boy or girl? Blue eyes or black? Blonde or brunette? In less than 2 years, would-be parents will be offered the chance to select traits like the sex, eye and hair colour of their offspring. A US Clinic, pioneer of IVF (in vitrio fertilisation) in the 70’s, is now offering this service based on a procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.
PGD is a technique whereby a three-day-old embryo, consisting of about six cells, is tested in a lab to see if it carries a particular genetic disease. Embryos free of that disease are implanted in the mother’s womb. Introduced in the 1990s, it has allowed thousands of parents to avoid passing on deadly disorders to their children. However, this method has now been extended to select those genes which will result in a desired trait, like color of eyes.
Its not all glamour and bells & whistles. Coming soon after the birth of octuplets (eight,yes eight) in a single pregnancy by a Los Angeles mother in January this year after an unrelated fertility treatment (see here), this technology too has attracted its share of critics. BBC News reports UK fertility experts are angered that the service will distract attention from how the same technology can protect against inherited disease. Moral, ethical and legal issues will arise when babies are turned into commodities that you can buy off the shelf. Also, in the UK, sex selection is banned under present laws.
As a reflection of changing times and rapid medical advances, the UK will soon introduce legislation that will allow IVF mothers to name anyone as “father” on the birth certificate – even another woman. Confusing? Welcome to the world of designer babies..
Also see “No Girls Please, We’re Indian”