Vanity license plate
People can customize things from license plates to babies. Photo Credit: Gareth Simpson/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY

In the past decade, people have decried the idea of “designer babies” — using genetic manipulation to produce children to parents’ specifications. The practice was born from practical applications, but much controversy exists over modern methods of designing human beings.

Brave new world of fertility services

Many people find the notion of “designer babies” revolting. Well-to-do parents can have fertilized embryos and sperm genetically engineered to produce the traits they desire, such as hair color and gender. Screening tests have been available for a fetus in the womb for some time, but the ability to screen embryos prior to in-vitro fertilization is fairly recent.

A Time magazine article from 1999 mentions IVF clinics being able “in the past few years” to screen embryos for gender, so it first became a commercial activity in the late 1990s. It also says that gene therapy for embryos is “a few years away.” Now it’s here.

Build the perfect baby

Designing babies requires the use of IVF treatments. An embryo has to undergo genetic manipulation to produce the requested traits. However, once a couple decide to go the artificial route, they have an increasing range of options and many services to choose from.

The science of Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnostics, or PGD, has existed for years. Ordinarily, it’s used in screening for genetic diseases, such as Down’s syndrome or Tay-Sachs. According to the 1999 Time article, the genesis of these screening techniques was to find X chromosome-linked hydrocephalus, or a type of the “water on the brain” condition that usually occurs in male children.

PGD, according to CBS, has been used for years to pick the gender of a baby. The head of the Fertility Institute, a Los Angeles-based fertility clinic, announced in 2009 that the clinic would be able to predict gender 100 percent accurately and eye color with 80 percent accuracy by 2010 using PGD.

Ivy League embryos available

A 2007 article by ABC tells the story of Jennalee Ryan and her company the Abraham Center for Life. Ryan sources sperm from a sperm bank that only collects samples from men with Ph.Ds and gets eggs from beautiful 20-somethings with college educations. She then sends the samples to a lab to make embryos, which sell for $5,000.

According to a recent article in The Telegraph, the London Sperm Bank recently updated its donor database, so people searching for a sperm donor can see personality and appearance as well.

Sperm banks are highly selective these days, partially because it’s far easier to get sperm than eggs. According to CBS, it’s easier to get into Harvard than to successfully donate sperm. Ideal characteristics include above-average intelligence, six feet in height, brown or blond hair, blue or green eyes and a “medium” complexion.

Sources

Time: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,989987-1,00.html

CBS:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/03/earlyshow/health/main4840346.shtml

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/women_shealth/8658851/Sperm-bank-to-promise-well-dressed-donors-in-new-online-catalogue.html

ABC:http://abcnews.go.com/Business/LifeStages/story?id=2895615&page=1

CBS:http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10007254.html?tag=page

 

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