Designer babies will soon be a reality, but at what cost?

Many couples would love to choose their baby's gender, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to designer babies. Imagine being able to choose personality traits, hair colour, skin colour and weed out genetic weakness that can lead to ill health?

But designer babies are an ethical minefield. Modern science is both wonderful and disturbing when it comes to this field which will allow parents to pretty much build the child of their dreams from the ground up.

And can undesirable behaviours such as criminal tendencies and lack of concentration really be predicted?

Do you want a child who can sing? Check. How about a daughter who is good at art? Check. A son who excels in sport? Check. A baby that has no genetic predisposition to any type of cancer? Check.

But how accurate can this kind of science be? "Poor impulse control" can now be tested but what if, for example, poor impulse control doesn't just lead to such things as so-called criminal tendencies? What if they also represent other talents such as quick thinking, risk-taking and ultimately the kind of success that can't be predicted?

Any parent who wished for a boy and had a girl, and vice versa, will swear that they are happy they had another boy or another girl. Because each child is a gift. How are we to know exactly what we want when we consider having children or more children?

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And who decides what an ideal child is? Isn't society built on the fact there are so many different kinds of people with different passions and abilities? And don't we need them all for society to properly function?

This week, Oxford-based expatriate philosopher and ethicist Julian Savulescu, will discuss the ethics surround designer babies at a speech on genetic selection at LaTrobe University. He is expected to call for Australians to begin a debate on laws to govern the issue which are left to each individual state.

So far in Australia it is legal only to test for certain diseases such as Down Syndrome.

Savulescu told the Herald he thinks Australia is too conservative. "China is investing hundreds of  millions of dollars looking for the genes that are associated with intelligence and they're going to be doing this sort of testing in the future. There won't be any of the sort of constraints that we have in Australian and Europe."

Intelligent children? Is that what parents hope for in children? What about happiness? Does intelligence equal happiness?

The questions surrounding designer babies are endless and more keep popping up. Perhaps it is a good idea for Australians to discuss the potential further, but where do we draw the line?

Most religions are anti-designer baby, preferring to leave all things to do with procreation to the God in which they believe. For those who are religious, it is a morality issue. But what if Catholic parents can design their children to be hetrosexual if they so wish?

Victoria Palmer is an ethicist and researcher at Melbourne University. She told the Herald that people like Savulescu assumes the ability to choose which traits we want our children to have is the best choice for all. "It really overlooks questions of justice and benefit. And then there are questions of the benefits to society, in terms of designer babies or even of predictive testing for depression and other mental illnesses."

"It can lead to the idea that some lives are more worth living than others, or that some conditions have stigma and shame associated with them. It creates divisions."

What is your opinion on designer babies? Is a good idea or not, and why?

 

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