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    Posted May 29, 2014 by
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    Designing Perfection: A Take on the PGD Process

    How far would you venture to create a perfect child—free from disease, defects, and abnormalities? The prospect of engineering this new breed of babies has been propelled into a reality, but the method used to distinguish favorable traits has come under sharp criticism.

    To illustrate one of the more controversial concerns PGD contributes to, we must consider the fact that this process extirpates the right for capable embryos to develop. This is true as the preliminary screening requires multiple embryos that are manufactured through in-vitro fertilization, and those tainted with diseases or imperfections are immediately rejected (IMEW Briefing).

    David Wasserman, an ethicist at Yeshiva University, argues that "eliminating embryos with such genes is essentially saying that someone [with the defect] should never have been born." The essence of Wasserman's argument is that the process is meticulously aiming to prevent the creation of a human with a disease that many other people are living with in our society, and this termination of defective embryos poses many concerns through the disabled community that might see this process as excluding their kind. Adding to this argument, I would point out that destroying the remaining embryos signifies that we our disallowing a potential life to develop and prosper, and this is unacceptable as all humans should be given the ability to reach their full potential.

    The ramifications of PGD increase in significance as the process hands over the ability for parents to determine the sex of their child. By allowing such a decision, the parents are choosing to deviate from the random selection of sex provided by the natural reproductive process, and are discriminating against the sex which they didn't choose. Jennifer Walker further expands on the discriminatory nature of PGD by hypothesizing that if the process is legalized in developing countries that currently exhibit gender inequalities, "the worry is that it may have drastic consequences for the population dynamics."

    In making this comment, Walker is warning us that the ability of sex selection will augment the problems faced by countries that are already struggling with gender roles, income disparities, and overall imbalances among sexes. Adding to this argument, we have witnessed the horrendous social consequences faced by China when their One Child Policy was implemented as the country saw a tremendous increase in female infant-abandonment, abortions, and the murder of female babies due the preference for male children (Hesketh). In order to prevent another reiteration of this situation among other developing countries, regulations on PGD are necessary because the application of this process towards sex selection may further deteriorate the imbalances faced by countries today.

    Although the prospect of having designer babies through PGD screening can give rise to several consequences, there are some significant benefits that emanate from their use. This is illustrated through the life saving opportunity PGD provided for a patient that was suffering from Eanconi anaemia—a deadly disease that inhibits bone marrow from being produced (NHLBI). In order to combat this disease, PGD was used to create a "saviour sibling" that had an identical human leukocyte antigen tissue as the patient.

    These HLA cells played an integral part in eliminating the disease because the body's immune system would normally reject the cells if they weren't completely identical to its own (Walker). In conclusion, this case emphasizes one of the many miracles PGD can preform in order to save lives of dying individuals, and applauds the applications of this process towards medical purposes.

    The medical marvels of the PGD process are only part of the story as the screening can be implemented to enhance a baby's characteristics without having any intention to correct a health disorder. With new technologies propelling the advancement of this screening, the era of a true designer baby may emerge in our society.

    Gautam Naik criticizes some of the aspects of a major development in embryo screening patented by 23&Me, which allows for an unprecedented amount of precision towards allowing specific physical features to be selected in a baby. Naik points out that this advance draws a future where one could "choose cosmetic traits such as complexion and hair color or even physical characteristics such as athleticism" closer to reality with "widening societal divisions."

    In making this comment, Naik is condemning the potential implications of the PGD process to undermine the natural reproductive cycle and have a society where predetermining traits could isolate certain groups and increase social inequality. Furthermore, these conclusions provides a basis towards limiting the influence that PGD can have on a baby, so that our society never experiences the devastating consequences that arises with designer babies.

    The applications of PGD are virtually endless, and can serve many purposes for those who wish to pursue the process. Most importantly, we must understand that giving parents the option to use the treatment should not be viewed in a negative light as parents already influence much of their child's life ranging from their cultural preference, what they eat, and various aspects that children learn to grow up with.

    Nicholas Agar, a specialist in ethics concerning bio-science, connects the ways that parents make choices for their children to the use of PGD to select certain characteristics for them, and argues that parents who take advantage of PGD are "simply making use of another means of design." In other words, he sees the use of PGD as nothing more than another way to influence our children. Adding to Agar's argument, the nature versus nurture theory supports these views that many of our learned attributes can be credited to the role our parents played in our development as a child.

    This theory provides a new perspective on the decision that parents would have to make if they were to have a designer baby as they already control many variables in their baby's life, so why can they not have the decision to apply genetic engineering to create their next child?

    Although parents shouldn't be denied the right to undergo PGD screening, they should be limited to what they can actually manipulate about their baby because when granted unlimited access to their baby's DNA the decisions made by the parents are highly subjective, and this may lead to socially unacceptable uses of PGD that stem from the parent's ignorance. This can be seen with a deaf couple's application of PGD to "negatively enhance" their baby in order to remove the ability to hear. D. Shaw, who well-documented this case, argues that the decision to engineer this disabled baby comes from the fact that the couple are "incapable of impartiality about hearing versus deafness." According to Shaw, their lack of perspective on non-deafness swayed them into believing that their baby would have a better life in their family setting if born deaf.

    However, the imposition of deafness will restrict many aspects of this child's development ranging from employment, communication, and overall quality of life. Furthermore, this case presents criticism towards parent's judgement in the use of PGD, since the effects of this procedure are irreversible and will have a lasting impression on a baby's life.

    The creation of preimplantation genetic diagnosis is truly a medical breakthrough that can potentially better the lives for many individuals. However, the unethical applications of this process are starting to create a slippery slope that poses many consequences threatening the stability of our society. In order to prevent these social catastrophes from overwhelming our society, we must act together to limit the use of this screening technique.
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