Almost all parents want the best for their child. They want their child to have the best jobs, the best education and achieve as much as possible in their life. In the past this was achieved by supporting your children while they were figuring out what the maximum of their abilities is. But what if the parents could select preferred traits in their unborn child? What if they can not only select the gender of the child, but also how good the child will be at soccer or even the height of his IQ? These children will be born knowing they are supposed to be great at soccer. Are parents not removing the whole part of finding out what they are good at out of the life of their children? Instead of doing what they like as a child they can easily be told to start doing what they are made to do.
The biggest selling points for designer babies is the possibility to cure diseases and other syndromes even before the child is born. When using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to create a pregnancy the doctors can already look at the created embryo’s and select the embryo which for example does not have the genetic disease which runs in the family. This whole process is called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD. The chance a child will have genetic diseases will be heavily reduced by testing the embryo’s on a variety of diseases. The problem with PGB is that there is no real line on what is a disease and what is not. Homosexuality as an extreme case for example is considered a disease in some parts of the United States, while in the Netherlands it is not. Should it be allowed to filter for Homosexuality in our children? I think it will differ per country what should be considered to be a disease which can be cured by using PGB.
One of the biggest cons and also one of the biggest fears will be that the gap between the “genetically enhanced” people and the people born naturally. Gattaca, a thriller from 1997, was even selected by the NASA as something they think is the most plausible sci-fi film. The movie depicts a eugenic dystopia created by embryo screening, in which people born naturally suffer in the shadow of those who begin life in a lab (Abraham, 2012). At this moment we already have huge gaps in our society when it for example comes to the rich and the poor, the social and cultural gaps. The genetically enhanced will be better suited to go to college or be better suited to become the star goalkeeper of the (local) soccer team. This will make the naturally born people feel obsolete, because they will be overshadowed by the genetically enhanced people.
While we are still not using PGB to select specific traits, the NYU Langone Medical Center already did research on the general opinion about designing your own baby. If it would be available to give your baby a superior intelligence, then only 12.6% of the parents would actually decide to give their baby the superior intelligence. When this technology would become widely available for free in New York, it would create the feared gap between the enhanced and naturally born especially when the enhanced group remains this small.
Something that also might change the choice of the parents are the recent reports about the lack of jobs for higher educated people. An increasing amount of college grads are having a really hard time finding a job which requires their high level of education. When everybody is free to decide the height of their child’s IQ the jobs market will change even more. When everybody is smart, who will still want to flip burgers at the McDonald’s? Almost everyone would want to work somewhere at which he can fully exploit his or her skills (and intelligence).
Another con is that the designed babies will never have a choice in the design part. The parents can be able to design a baby and give him great piano playing skills, but what if the child does not want to play the piano? The child will be born knowing he should be really good at playing the piano, but maybe he does not like playing it at all. When parents give their children specific traits and skills, don’t they take away a fully open future for their child? Then there is also the role of the parents in the life of the designed child. Parents might change the way they raise their child when they know exactly at which things there child is good at, which will give the child a really different start in their life. This can reduce the actual happiness of the children a lot when they are raised this way, but again this does not have to be the case.
Concluding I can say that being able to design every aspect of your child is not something we (or at least I) want in our future. The only possible positive way designer babies can be introduced is when the technology is available for everybody in the world for free. But then you still do not know if the more closed future won’t reduce the children’s happiness for the rest of their lives. The only thing that I can think of that will increase the happiness is the possibility to cure diseases and other syndromes even before the child is born.
But can we actually regulate the new discoveries when it comes to designer babies. What happens when the Netherland create new rules which prohibit parents to select preferred traits. Will there not be a country somewhere close to the Netherlands in which selecting preferred traits in babies is allowed. Parents could go to another country or go to an illegal doctor which can use the existing technologies to create their perfect designer baby. The technology will be further developed , and we are simply given the choice how and if we want to regulate these new technologies.