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Baby Modification and Designer babies: Should this be legal?

Genetically modifying organisms has been a controversial subject since 1973, which was when bacteria was first modified. Since then, genetic engineering has been used to modify mice, insulin creating bacteria and even mass made pets called GloFish! Most recently, it has been debated whether genetic modification could or should be used to create designer babies.

Genetic modification can be used in two main ways: clinical and cosmetic. There are many defects in human DNA which can lead to conditions such as cystic fibrosis. Genetic engineering could then prevent this.

More controversially, some cosmetic traits can be changed when the foetus is only made up of a few cells. These can include: height, hair colour and eye colour. Some biologists have even gone so far as to suggest that they can enhance qualities such as intelligence and athletic ability. They have patented a microchip that can scan for an incredible 1500 traits instantaneously. Surely, expecting parents should accept their child the way they turn out to be?

We interviewed an expert in Biology from Beaconsfield High School, who told us, ‘In this day and age, I think a lot of people aren’t happy to accept anything that’s not perfect. People want to be able to choose if they will have a successful child or an attractive child; something that they would find important rather than leave to chance.’ However, what good is an attractive or clever child if they are not taught to be compassionate, kind and accepting? Even if the parents wanted to genetically engineer their child they would not be able to as this is still illegal.

It has been debated that genetic modification of humans could cause harm to our gene pool whereas others have said that this could save future generations and remove undesired traits from the human race. This could cause harm by preventing humans from evolving any further naturally. This could become a dangerous Achilles’ heel for humans if there is a large scale change in the general climate such as another ice age. For example, if future generations are all modified to become slimmer then they wouldn’t be able to adapt to cope with such extreme weather quickly enough. Though this type of genetic modification may hinder natural evolution, it could be used to eradicate lethal and degenerative diseases that cost many lives.

An American biologist, Lee Silver, has anticipated an interpretable dystopian future where ‘superior’ humans that have been modified look down on humans without genetic enhancement. This is not considered an abstract idea as many books have been written based around this projection such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Genetic modification could turn out to be the redeeming factor or the hamartia of the human race as it increases the prospect of greater inequality and segregation between humans; this is definitely not what we want to happen. Our biological expert said ‘It’s a very competitive world’ and using genetic engineering for cosmetic reasons may widen the gap between people that are considered ‘different’ from the norm. Also at this moment we do not know enough about modifying human life and what those implications or long term effects may be. Overall, we believe that genetic engineering should not be legalised for cosmetic reasons and should only be available for clinical reasons.

By Iqra and Leanne