|We just finished watching the Hindi film VICKY DONOR. A well-made film about a sperm donor, that not just entertained but left me with a hypothetical question. Wouldn’t the parents of children conceived using donor sperm in the movie, now feel superior since their kids are bound to be healthier, smarter and with better looks than other kids who were born normally?After all the “sperm doctor” in the movie, painstakingly goes to such great length to secure top quality sperms! If so, then wouldn’t normal parents also prefer this route as well? I can already imagine a sequel to Vicky Donor with another family drama with roles reversed. This time the anguish and heart break is among families who produced children the traditional way, since they know their kids will have tough time competing with all these “thorough bred” sperm donor kids! Whether Vicky donor has a sequel or not, the truth is that the age of designer babies has arrived.I recall reading about a Hollywood actress when I was a kid who had said “Of course I love my husband, but if I have to have a baby why should I not choose the smartest guy around?” After reading this, I guess a lot of women would look at their own husbands objectively and then agree with her, even though they would never dare to admit it in public! Finally, it seems science has allowed that to be achieved in a more socially acceptable fashion. A natural progression from creating genetically modified seeds to genetically modified babies to eventually creating a genetically modified race. A natural progression that comes from living in a world of never ending “ upgrades” from computers & mobile phones to now relationships.It all started as long back as 1958 when structure of DNA was uncovered. For decades now a technology called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD, has enabled In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics to screen embryos for more than 100 potentially debilitating and deadly diseases before the embryo is implanted into the mother. PGD also allows scientists to screen embryos for other genetic traits as well. Gender was the first major genetic trait beyond genetic diseases to be widely manipulated through PGD. After all, so many parents prefer to have the right to choose the sex of their babies. And so today, Fertility Institutes see hundreds of couples who are perfectly capable of having normal deliveries preferring the route of conceiving baby in a test tube so they could choose sex of their baby. Gender selection has already become a big business today with the procedure costing under US$20,000.Recently, Fertility Institutes went one step further and started offering additional genetic trait screening choices to their customers. More specifically, they now offer to screen their embryos for eye colour, hair colour, and complexion! Can you imagine the dramatic impact this can have in a complexion sensitive country like India? The uproar against it by general public made them to withdraw the offer till now at least. However, the march towards creating designer babies seems inevitable.
Hence in future, it may be possible that streets will be filled with people whose features have been decided by their parents and crafted by doctor’s with clinical precision. Will that help reduce or increase the current rush to cosmetic surgeries and beauticians? Good looks will certainly start becoming a display of your parent’s preferences and money. Eventually in a world where everyone is looking good, good looks will start getting overlooked. Movies and advertisements will have to move beyond just showcasing stunning good looks and move towards their core message in a more creative manner to attract attention. May be we will eventually end up creating a society that is less superficial.
As science progress, there will come a time when we may even be able to alter IQ of a baby. Parents will finally be able to produce a “superman” version of themselves in their children. Will anyone want to produce a “normal child” after that, since that will be like producing a child with a disability! How different will families with designer children be? Will the emotional bond be any different than in normal families where parents view their children as God’s gift and their fate instead of a product of their ‘creativity’ and taste? How about the couple’s love for each other? What’s left of the marriage without the mystery of creating a new life together? Will marriage be more about couples living together because they like each other’s company and raising children lot like how raising family pets today? Can we say the quality of life will be greatly enhanced?
I am an incorrigible optimist and so possibly focus more on the positives. However I understand the fears some of us may have as well. Will we create a society that will lead to producing a super-race of children born to people wealthy enough to afford artificial reproduction? Of course we will also make laws to protect this from happening and keep modifying and adding to them to keep pace with science as it moves into new, unchartered territories. I guess mankind has always living dangerously, however eventually the self-preservation instinct kicks in and we don’t just survive, but evolve and improve. So thinking of future should make up for more excitement than fear.
If by now you are imagining a world that will one day be full of beautiful, smart people, consider this: A few years back there was a debate in the media, when a deaf lesbian couple from Chicago wanted to use PGD to choose among the embryos they’d fertilized for one that inherited a form of deafness. They said that deafness is a perfectly benign condition, and that living in the hearing world is like living in the white people’s world as a black person!