Friday, January 30, 2009

Picking the perfect baby   posted by Razib @ 1/30/2009 08:21:00 PM

A few years ago I had a semi-serious post up making fun of Armand Leroi for broaching the topic of neo-eugenics. Now there are reports of elective pre-implantation screenings:
Genes determining sex, hair and eye colour can be identified, alongside any DNA red flags for diseases such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and Down's Syndrome.

"Basically any genetic ailment, and there are thousands of them. We find the genetic error responsible for that in the embryo," Dr Steinberg says.

Only those embryos free of problem genetic markers and matching parental wishes, if stated, are then implanted in the mother.
"To deny them the ability to do that when the technology is there is to me unethical," Dr Steinberg says.

"You can say eye colour and hair colour are not diseases, no they're not, and there is a cosmetic element to it, but we fix crooked noses all the time.
He says he's concerned Australian women are risking their health by undertaking IVF overseas for "frivolous" reasons, using a process that raises the moral issue of "deliberate embryo loss".

"But the main issue is the idea of treating the child as an object, as product for which you are seeking quality control," Dr Tonti-Filippini says.
1) Part of this is publicity, you can get only so much information out of genetic tests right now (see Genetic Future). Take a look at Genetic determinants of hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Europeans, and note how much higher the odds ratio (20-30 vs. ~5) for OCA2 "blue-eye" markers are vs. the ones which might give some information about hair color. The same differences in effect size apply to disease loci. I suspect many people will balk at paying up when confronted with the provisionality of some of the inferences.

2) It isn't as if these fertility technologies aren't without downsides (not to mention the cost).

I'm tempted to say we're barely past the Difference Engine era when it comes to these technologies. But it probably does make sense to have the bioethics people talk through these issues through now, the general outlines are already discernible. Of courseĀ it isn't as if many parents didn't view their children as accessories before these sorts of technologies.

Note: The link above is to an Australian newspaper. So I don't take everything they report literally...perhaps they spiced up a quote here and there?