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“Designer Baby” Service Criticized as Misuse of Genetic Counseling

March 02, 2009 06:20 PM
by Denis Cummings
A clinic claiming that it will soon use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to select cosmetic traits of babies has been criticized for corrupting the intended use of PGD.

Los Angeles Clinic to Offer Trait-Selection Service

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The Fertility Institutes in Los Angeles says that it will soon begin using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to allow parents to choose cosmetic traits such as eye, hair and skin color for their baby. Dr. Jeff Steinberg, clinic director, predicts that a trait-selected baby will be born next year.

PGD was initially developed in the early 1990s as a way to distinguish healthy embryos from those predisposed to genetic diseases during in vitro fertilization. By identifying genetic defects in embryos, the process allows prospective parents to select only healthy embryos to be implanted in the uterus.

It has also been used to select the gender of a child, a controversial service that is banned in countries such as Britain, Canada and China. It is legal in the United States, and according to a 2006 survey by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, 42 percent of 137 PGD clinics in the United States allowed parents to select gender.

Now the technology may be used to determine traits such as hair and eye color, even as many PGD experts object. “No legitimate lab would get into it and, if they did, they’d be ostracized,” director of Genesis Genetics Institute Mark Hughes said to The Wall Street Journal.

Geneticist William Kearns, who, like Hughes, is a pioneer in the use of PGD, says, “I’m totally against this. My goal is to screen embryos to help couples have healthy babies free of genetic diseases. Traits are not diseases.”

Steinberg rejects such criticism. “It’s incredibly exciting. I live in LA and everyone here wants to have a straight nose and high cheekbones and are perfectly happy to pay for cosmetic surgery,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “I understand the trepidation and concerns, but we cannot escape the fact that science is moving forward.”

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Opinion: Trait-selected babies a misuse of PGD

Pamela Madsen, founder of the American Fertility Association, writes on her blog The Fertility Advocate that she is disgusted by Steinberg’s work and admits that the federal government may need to increase the regulation of reproductive technologies.

“Reproductive Technologies are not about ‘cosmetic medicine’ as Jeff Steinberg so glibbly put it. Some things do need to have some sacred space around it,” she writes. “And the creation of life and the end of life is one of those things that deserves sacred space.”

Allen Goldberg writes in the Los Angeles Times that using PGD to select traits may damage the credibility of PGD and reduce its legitimate use. “Now the Fertility Institutes is corrupting this lifesaving clinical procedure by using it to help families create designer babies, and I worry that their excesses will turn public sentiment against all preimplantation genetic diagnosis. That would be wrong,” he writes.

Reference: Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis

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