Genetically Modified Babies May Very Well Be Inevitable
The FDA conducted a public hearing last month to discuss the ethics of permitting mitochondiral manipulation technology, a technique that can create one human from the DNA of three humans. In the past, in vitro fertilization treatments (IVF) to prevent genetic disease used the DNA of only two humans, but this new development would mean that a person may be able to have a third "genetic parent" in the future.
With more than 61,000 babies having been produced in a lab dish in 2012 according to CNS News, citizens need to think carefully about the implications of creating genetically modified humans.
IVF refers to the process by which the sperm and egg are combined in the laboratory, incubated, and the resulting embryos are then transferred into a woman’s uterus after three to five days. In IVF, a women’s reproductive system is shut off using birth control, and then fertility drugs are administered to prevent ovulation. Egg retrieval is then guided by ultra sound where a needle is stuck through the vaginal wall, into the ovary. Fluid is sucked out whereupon an embryologist will retrieve the egg from the fluid to be combined with the sperm sample.
This technology has been used in varying capacities since the birth of Louise Brown in 1978, but as our grasp on science and technology expands, IVF treatments are becoming increasingly advanced, or as critics may argue, "unnatural."
IVF is performed for women up to 55 years old who assume elevated risks of pregnancy given their age, including high blood pressure, diabetes and genetic defects. To reduce the risk of genetic defects, the best developing embryo is selected to be implanted into the uterus. Once there are 100 cells making up the embryo, the embryo can be biopsied to examine the normalcy of the chromosomes.
According to the results of a personal survey regarding the positions on IVF treatment held by 16 male and 21 female students at the University of Southern California (USC), half of the students support the treatments and 40 percent neither support nor disagree with IVF. The remaining 10 percent disagreed or provided no answer. Among participants' responses arose a common belief that the ethics of IVF treatments are not black and white, but rather depend on the circumstances.
While Benjamin Wilkinson, a USC sophomore majoring in Film Production believes that “whatever makes anyone happy without causing another pain is a good thing,” Patricia Silva, a USC junior majoring in Communications fears that IVF treatments will make it so that “rich people will have all these wonderful babies, leading to increased social inequality.”
Executive director at Reproductive Partners and clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine, Dr. Arthur Wisot, explains that the purpose of looking at the chromosomes before the embryo is implanted into the woman is “to prevent babies with defects” from genetic diseases like Down syndrome, Cystic fibrosis, or predisposition to ovarian cancer.
“If you eliminate disease in a family, you are doing a good thing,” explained Wisot. “Now that the human genome is mapped, there is no genetic disease that we can’t detect.”
The actual modification of genes involves taking organelles—such as mitochondria or nuclei from an egg—and putting them into a different egg. It is at this point in the process where the fear of creating a “designer baby” comes into play. The worry is that people will begin choosing the sex and altering traits like hair or eye color in their children. Zhao Bowen at biotechnology giant BGI leads a multimillion dollar research effort to determine which genes are associated with intelligence to create higher functioning children.
“We’re reaching a point in society—regardless of your culture—where these things are possible,” according to Dr. David Finke, an OB/GYN and patient education advocate, who refers approximately four people for IVF each month. “I understand the argument that without diversity, we sort of lose a lot… empathy, compassion.”
IVF costs $10,000-$15,000 per cycle and is not covered by insurance. This means that IVF is limited to people with this money already in their pocket.
“Adoption is a wonderful option for people who want to do that, but if people want to create a child in their image, they should have that right,” said Wisot. That people should adopt children if they cannot conceive is one of the more commonly proposed alternatives to infertility treatment.
Margaret Kelly, a sophomore majoring in Theatre echoed the idea that “if in vitro is a person’s only option, then it is their right and a privilege for society.”
IVF patients can become blinded to the risks of pregnancy or their true inability to conceive by their desire to have a child. Another issue is how the selection of traits would vary in different countries. In a country that prefers one sex over another, the sex ratio would become even more disproportionate.
A woman can leave an IVF surgical center after a few hours and recover in bed at home over two days. Pregnancy supporting hormones are taken and a pregnancy test is administered after a couple of weeks.
Infertility treatment exists in a competitive market of private organizations. Most students are uninformed about the actual procedures of IVF. Without the basic background knowledge on the part of the citizen, the regulation of what genes can be changed will be loose. This is unavoidable because the technology is developing internationally; genetically modified babies are likely to be inevitable.
How would you feel about an IVF procedure within your family?
sart.org provides information about the locations of all the reproductive centers around Los Angeles, which exist in abundance especially on the west side.
Contact Staff Reporter Christine Ann Walsvick here.