By Jon Holmlund
The Wall Street Journal recently asked “Is it ethical to choose your baby’s eye color?” This can’t be predicted precisely, yet, because the inheritance involves several genes, but in principle it’s at least possible to play the odds by trying to predict the probability of eye color. The article in question discusses how one clinic, Fertility Institutes in Encino, CA, is offering an “eye color probability” test (my term, not their) as part of embryo screening, for $370. From the website, it looks like Fertility Institutes offers the whole 9 yards of reproductive technology—egg freezing, embryo sex selection, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGC), surrogacy, and so on.
Also mentioned is a New Jersey-based company, Genomic Prediction, that is offering “expanded” PGD to predict which embryos are at high risk for developing heart disease or diabetes.
I suppose by including the links to these entities I’m providing them free advertising, but I thought it important to document where information can be found. I am NOT endorsing their services.
I take a conservative position on these technologies, and have been suspicious of IVF itself, since before its advent in 1978 (when I was in college), as fundamentally separating sex from procreation. Here, however, the larger point is that, as we use PGD to predict an increasing range of traits, we adopt, little by little, an attitude of requiring that children entering the world are “the children we want.” Even if one argues for PGD to screen for very severe genetic defects that would be incompatible with robust life—or maybe life at all beyond a few days or even hours—it is harder to argue for screening out people who may be at risk for diseases like diabetes but who otherwise could live very full lives. Ditto for risk of heart disease, or breast or ovarian cancer, or the presence of Down Syndrome, or even Huntington’s disease. And selecting for sex or eye color is a step further down the road as well.
Watch GATTACA if you’ve never seen it. That’s the extreme, sci-fi scenario—but as with gift giving, it’s the thought, the motive, that counts.