Jeremy Laurance is Health Editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Thursday 18 November 1999
But what is wrong with designing babies? I can think of no measure that would contribute more to human happiness than the elimination of the gene for quarrelling from infant siblings.
This week, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority lifted the lid on the debate with its consultation paper on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis - genetic screening of embryos to eliminate those with defects - while dissociating itself from any suggestion of design. In the sense in which most people understand designer babies - infants endowed with strength, beauty or intelligence - this is, of course, true. These qualities are determined by thousands of genes and the chances of finding an embryo with the right combination from among the handful available in in vitro fertilisation would be much worse than winning the lottery.
There are, however, some nasty medical conditions caused by a single defective gene which might be screened out by the method. That may not make a designer baby but it does amount to choosing a disease-free embryo.
For the pro-lifers, with their accusations of eugenics, this is already beyond the pale. But even for those who support parental choice, there are questions to be faced.
One issue is sex selection. This is not up for discussion in the HFEA paper because it has been banned for social reasons since 1993 and the authority sees no need to reconsider that position. It may be forced to, however, with the imminent advent of sperm-sorting techniques which will make the choice of a baby's sex possible without IVF. Sorted sperm - containing only the male Y chromosome - can be used in artificial insemination which falls outside the control of the HFEA.
The HFEA does allow sex selection for medical reasons. A family with a history of haemophilia is better off having girls (who are unaffected) than boys (who are). But what of the carriers? Is it appropriate to select embryos on the basis, not that they will be affected by the condition but that, depending on their choice of partner, their offspring may be affected? The chain reaches dizzyingly into the future.
Arts & Ents blogs
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakes in bed one night to discover that the yew tree outside his house has ...
It’s hard not to feel sorry for doe-eyed Andy. He spends months pining after Louise, has huge nostr...
Fragility of life looms large over an episode that closes with the scarring on Julie's stomach. Whil...
Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender's secret life as a Mossad and CIA agent revealed
Theatre review: Daniel Radcliffe gives an admirably honest performance The Cripple of Inishmaan - but his Irish accent isn't quite there
Russell Brand takes his Messiah Complex to the Middle East
Art review: The BP Portrait Award 2013 reveals our endless fascination with self-scrutiny and the human face
Vice pulls 'breathtakingly tasteless' fashion shoot glorifying the suicides of famous female authors from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf
- 1 Diary of Second World War German teenager reveals young lives untroubled by Nazi Holocaust in wartime Berlin
- 2 Bosses of collapsed banks should be sent to jail, banking standards commission tells George Osborne
- 3 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 4 Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender's secret life as a Mossad and CIA agent revealed
- 5 Vice pulls 'breathtakingly tasteless' fashion shoot glorifying the suicides of famous female authors from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf