One of the bioethical issues of most importance and diffusion around assisted reproduction is the selection of embryos through preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which has been the subject of debate among bioethicists, many of whom consider it acceptable if it is to avoid a hereditary disease, whatever it is. Certain bioethical trends go further, stating that it is the parents’ duty to avoid these diseases, which is why they suggest that assisted reproduction should always be used even in the case of fertile couples (see Bioethical debate on the principle of Procreative Beneficence).
Designer babies is a term that refers to the selection of a compatible embryo, useful to cure a sibling with a certain disease (read HERE) and also the possible “technical selection of gametes according to the particular characteristics of the respective donors aiming to improve the desired characteristics, such as intelligence, performance and physical attractiveness of the new human being to be produced.” Read “Designer babies. Searching for the perfect child” and Has the ‘holy grail’ of ideal embryo selection been found?
Designer babies current advances
Advances in genetics have made it possible to identify genes related to certain pathologies that can be inherited. New techniques are even proposed that also use artificial intelligence to identify genes related to certain diseases. Around these studies, a business has been developed for the sale of genetic tests to the public. On this subject, we have published an article showing that with the genetic data that can be obtained today from these tests, their results are very limited or even counterproductive.
Last July, Scientific American journal published an article reviewing the latest data on this subject entitled “A New Era of Designer Babies May Be Based on Overhyped Science”. This article analyzes how certain fertility clinics are selling a package with genetic tests and IVF to choose a healthy embryo (see HERE) despite the little scientific basis of this proposal.
Undoubtedly the great advances that we are witnessing in embryonic genetic diagnostic tests represent, according to the article, a new era that is a decisive step for man to control reproduction.
Increase of Preimplantation genetic diagnoses
Preimplantation genetic diagnoses are being used by couples at risk of having a child who inherits a genetic disease such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, using genetic screening together with embryo selection to transfer a healthy embryo through of IVF.
The aforementioned article shows a new trend, which consists of the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis and IVF by healthy and fertile couples to produce a child less likely to develop heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes Type 1 or 2 and five other conditions that makeup Orchid’s current common disease risk portfolio.
This project, promoted by the co-founder of 23andMe and investor in Orchid, Anne Wojcicki, proposes as its first product its “Couple Report”, at a cost of 1,100 dollars. In a second phase, scheduled to launch later this year, embryos conceived by IVF are examined, allowing the couple to choose their potential child, which has been defined by Orchid CEO Noor Siddiqui as “embryo prioritization “.
One of the criticisms the project has received from geneticists is that genetic diseases are rarely attributable to a defect in a single gene. Hundreds or even thousands of genes contribute to its appearance. This makes it very difficult to establish with certainty the relationship between certain genetic abnormalities and the real possibility that this may lead to the appearance of a certain disease in many cases.
In addition to this objective technical limitation of preimplantation genetic diagnosis methods, the eugenic nature behind these proposals should be objected to. The selection of the “supposedly healthy babies” necessarily implies the elimination of the “supposedly sick”, which deserves condemnation from a well-founded bioethical analysis (read HERE).
The use of genetic diagnosis aimed at correcting detected defects, when possible, constitutes the only bioethically acceptable use of these techniques, whose application in the selection and discard of embryos must be denounced as discriminatory.
Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences
Catholic University of Valencia