Designed by Science
Given the opportunity, would you choose the qualities of your unborn baby? Their gender? What if you knew your family had a history of a certain illness or cancer, what if you could choose a child that did not carry traits for that illness, and you could basically guarantee they would lead a long healthy life? That doesn’t sound too bad. However, what if that choice were given to only affluent or privileged families, leading to genetically perfect people who have another advantage over the poor or those without access to this technology? Lets dive into the possible future of genetic selectivity and perfection. It’s happening already.
In Vitro Fertilization
In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, helps women with fertility problems conceive a child. It mainly consists of an egg from a female and sperm from a male fertilizing outside of a human body in a lab setting. Once fertilization takes place, the embryo is then implanted back into the female’s uterus in order to grow into a baby.
IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.
The Modern Rich and Famous Pregnancy
John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen underwent In Vitro Fertilization to be able to have a child. Controversially, Teigen and Legend took this technology a step further and were able to determine the gender of the embryo, among other choices, and to select a female for their future child.
Preimplantation Genetic Screening made this possible. It is a process by which one or more cells from an in vitro fertilization embryo are removed, and tested for chromosomal normalcy, and a genetic diagnosis includes testing for a specific genetic condition.
How A She Becomes a He
It has been known for many years that the gender of a pregnancy is determined by the sex chromosome carried by the sperm. Sperm bearing an “X” chromosome, when united with the “X” from the female (females only produce “X”) will result in an “XX” pregnancy that produces a female. If a sperm bearing a “Y” chromosome (men have both “X” and “Y” bearing sperm) unites with the “X” chromosome from the female, an “XY” pregnancy will result that gives rise to a male offspring. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46.
It may seem completely fine, or even exciting to think of the options available to us in a controlled environment where choices aren’t left up to fate. Especially when illnesses and genetic diseases can put financial strain and heartache on someone’s life from the start. However, those choices are not an option for those who do not have the funds for the very costly IVF. The average cost of IVF is anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000, not including medication, and that only provides one round. Typical successful cases require three rounds. Plenty of women undergoing IVF are simply hoping for a healthy pregnancy, not to determine the characteristics of their unborn child. For those who wish to choose a gender or diagnose other features, the costs are even more staggering. Therefore, this kind of genetic selection is something that many families cannot afford.
Dare to Dream
Taking this technology to a mainstream level, what if more and more people will be able to afford this procedure, say in 20, 30 years. What would a world be like where many of those who live among us are considered genetically “perfect”?
There is a film that has already explored this plausible world, Gattaca. This film was made in 1997, and it features exactly this scenario. The haves and the have nots are split between those who are genetically perfect, compared to regularly conceived humans. Perfect humans are given privileges, get better jobs, lead better lives. You can imagine the moral implications of a world like that. We may get to experience it first hand in a few decades.
Public Health Benefits
There are benefits of this future though. The less people who have genetic disorders, the less medical costs those people would incur. There may be whole economic shifts because of a large population of effortlessly healthy people. Public Health issues are also important to consider. Where is the line between the highly personal nature of individual genetic data, and the wide ranging benefits of that data as it pertains to public health?
While some people argue that the uniquely personal nature of genetic information requires an individual rights approach that limits public health use, others view genetic data as just another type of population data that can be collected, aggregated, and used along with other surveillance and environmental data to produce social utility. Still others focus on the significant power of genetic advancements to improve individual lives and, from a distributive justice perspective, emphasize public health’s responsibility to not only ensure access to genetic information throughout the population but more importantly to provide genetic services for the disadvantaged. Public health must address these and other competing ethical claims when developing public health genetics policies.
So where do you stand? Is this the future of human evolution or are we at the brink of greater divide between the have and the have nots?