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Designer Babies – Fact or Fiction? Sheila Dziobon Café Scientifique 4 April 2005.

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Presentation on theme: "Designer Babies – Fact or Fiction? Sheila Dziobon Café Scientifique 4 April 2005."— Presentation transcript:

1 Designer Babies – Fact or Fiction? Sheila Dziobon Café Scientifique 4 April 2005

2 Designer Hat

3 Designer Building

4 External Originality Same functionality? Do we object to ‘designer babies’ because it turns the baby into a ‘product’? Are they externally within range of similarity? Are they internally within range of similarity? Are we really designing babies? Consider some ‘famous’ designer babies

5 Louise Brown born 25 July 1978

6 Diane Blood and baby Stephen

7 Mr & Mrs Nash

8 So, what’s new? Selecting a mate for the purpose of reproduction? Do we select on physical characteristics? Do we select on personality? Do we select on health, financial, social status? Have we always had the power to design?

9 Genes.. Is this what we imagine?



12 What is a gene?

13 Artificial Reproductive Technology In vitro fertilisation –Louise Brown 25 July 1978 Features –Embryo implantation –Normally creates ‘spare’ embryos –Gamete (sperm/ova) donation possible –Embryos can be selected preimplantation

14 Genetic Testing Not limited to embryo testing preimplantation during IVF –Genetic testing used on prospective parents –Genetic testing used on the foetus in the womb May influence the choice to have a child, or have a particular child – both may be described as ‘designer’ and the make-up of the next generation



17 Zain Hashmi Charles Whittaker

18 Some of our fears Prenatal tests will be devised in order to detect and eliminate foetuses with particular behavioural traits or physical features Increasingly routine abortion of ‘abnormal’ foetuses will have deleterious consequences for disabled people

19 Genetic testing Prenatal screening and abortion might be employed not only to prevent disease and disability but also by prospective parents anxious to maximise their offspring’s intelligence, beauty and conformity to conventional behavioural norms. There is no single indentifiablegene responsible for intelligence, attractiveness or sexual orientation, but this fear remains strong.

20 Some choices might be OK, others might not be OK Preventing avoidable suffering? Debilitating genetic disease v trivial or non-therapeutic reasons Diagnosing a serious sex-linked disorder, such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy v selecting the sex of offspring for ‘social’ reasons Reducing pain and suffering v attempt to subvert the natural randomness of human reproduction

21 Some facts… In the year 2000 there were about 572,800 ‘natural’ live births in the United Kingdom and 4,362 live births following ART: that is 0.76%. There is no evidence to show that babies born following ART suffer more physical or psychological harm than other babies

22 The ‘Disability’ Question Suggests that science presupposes a crisp separation between normal and abnormal human development which does not exist Argues that what is ‘normal’ is socially constructed. A child of the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ sex is also a social construct Concludes that as a society we ought not to reinforce these constructs

23 Will we do routine genetic testing? Impractical. Why? Principle way to get foetal tissue is invasive and carries a comparatively high risk of miscarriage Embryo selection following IVF lengthy, expensive and presupposes prior knowledge of risk So many genetic abnormalities that it would be impossible to screen for all of them. Only meaningful now because of background knowledge - such as family history

24 Cloning Dolly & Bonnie

25 The Arguments Safety Dignity Identity Family relationships Diversity Slippery Slope Confidentiality

26 Let’s keep it in perspective By reducing poverty levels we could radically alter the physical and mental health of the existing and future generation to an extent unimaginable through ‘designer babies’ Why do we seem so fearful about our capacity to single out certain individuals who present a genetic risk, and untroubled by our ability to make predictions about ill health likely to be suffered by children born into poverty? Let’s bring all aspects of child health into the public arena for debate

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