Two months ago, the Fertility Institutes, an assisted reproduction company headquartered in Los Angeles, began advertising the "pending availability" of genetic tests that would offer "a preselected choice of gender, eye color, hair color and complexion" in artificially conceived children. On Thursday, Gautam Naik of the Wall Street Journal reported that "half a dozen" potential clients had contacted the company to request such tests. As of today, the tests still aren't for sale. But several trends are converging to make aesthetic trait selection an impending business.Is there any way of stopping this rush to jump into the precipice?
1. Embryo screening has become permanently entrenched. By now, tens of thousands of embryos have been screened for quality and potential disease, thanks to preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Culturally and politically, there's no going back.
2. Screening is steadily expanding to traits that are less medically important. We're examining and discarding embryos for flaws that are less lethal, less harmful, less likely to cause disease, and less likely to strike early in life. Two years ago, British regulators approved PGD to get rid of embryos that might become grotesquely cross-eyed. At the time, the head of the clinic that pioneered this use of PGD predicted, "We will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions."
3. Aesthetic screening is spreading. Once you're screening for "severe" cosmetic conditions, you can no longer rule out other cosmetic criteria. The principal gateway to aesthetic use of PGD is sex selection. Worldwide, the number of embryos and fetuses discarded for being the wrong sex is in the millions. In this country, the number of clients paying for sex-selective PGD is in the thousands and growing. Nearly half of U.S. clinics that offer PGD have used it for nonmedical sex selection, and 40 percent of Americans approve of this practice. The Fertility Institutes explicitly frames eye, hair, and skin color selection as an extension of sex selection. Read more
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Brave New World
~hat tip to Adoro via Twitter. Screening embryos at Slate: