Design­ing Babies: How Tech­nol­o­gy is Chang­ing the Ways We Cre­ate Children

January 1, 2013

Since the first test tube baby” was born over 40 years ago, In Vit­ro Fer­til­iza­tion and oth­er Assist­ed Repro­duc­tive Tech­nolo­gies (ARTs) have advanced in extra­or­di­nary ways, pro­duc­ing mil­lions of babies. About 20% of Amer­i­can cou­ples use infer­til­i­ty ser­vices and that num­ber is grow­ing. Such tech­nolo­gies per­mit thou­sands of peo­ple to have off­spring. Prospec­tive par­ents can also trans­mit or avoid pass­ing on cer­tain genes to their chil­dren, includ­ing those for var­i­ous dis­eases, and prob­a­bly soon, height and eye col­or too. In the US where the pro­ce­dures are prac­ti­cal­ly unreg­u­lat­ed, a large com­mer­cial mar­ket for buy­ing and sell­ing human eggs is swift­ly grow­ing. New gene-edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy known as CRISPR allows for even more direct manip­u­la­tion of embryos’ genes. Design­ing Babies exam­ines the com­plex eth­i­cal, social, and pol­i­cy con­cerns sur­round­ing these new tech­nolo­gies explor­ing how indi­vid­u­als are decid­ing whether, when, and how to use ARTs – and the eco­nom­ic moral and social chal­lenges they encounter. He reveals the broad­er social and bio­log­i­cal impli­ca­tions of con­trol­ling genet­ics ulti­mate­ly argu­ing for clos­er reg­u­la­tion of pro­ce­dures which affect the lives of gen­er­a­tions to come and the future of our species as a whole.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Robert Klitzman

  1. Thou­sands of prospec­tive par­ents are now choos­ing the sex of their child. Would you ever con­sid­er doing so? If so, why and when? Do you think oth­er peo­ple should be allowed to do so?

  2. New gene edit­ing tech­nolo­gies will soon allow prospec­tive par­ents to add genes to enhance” their child with traits such as height, per­fect musi­cal pitch, and intel­li­gence. Would you ever con­sid­er doing this? If so, when— for what traits? Do you think oth­er peo­ple should be allowed to do so?

  3. Only three coun­tries in the world— India, Rus­sia and the USA— allow peo­ple to buy and sell human eggs. Should the U.S. con­tin­ue to allow it? Why or why not?

  4. Most egg and sperm donors are anony­mous, with no infor­ma­tion about them kept by doc­tors or reg­istries. Most peo­ple who are born using donor’ sperm or eggs will thus have no estab­lished way in the future of learn­ing any infor­ma­tion about their bio­log­i­cal par­ent. Sev­er­al years ago, Great Britain out­lawed such anony­mous dona­tion. Should the U.S. still allow it?

  5. Most states legal­ly ban paid ges­ta­tion­al sur­ro­ga­cy— in which prospec­tive par­ents who are unable to use their own womb to car­ry a child (e.g., because of bio­log­i­cal prob­lems, or because they are gay men or sin­gle fathers by choice) pay a woman to car­ry their embryo in her womb. Should these states change their laws?

  6. Insur­ance plans tend to cov­er lit­tle infer­til­i­ty treat­ment, and often do so only for het­ero­sex­u­als, argu­ing that infer­til­i­ty does not harm the patient’s phys­i­cal health. Should any of this change?