Designer Clothes to Designer Babies
There is a hidden camera television show series that
periodically airs on American Broadcasting Company (ABC), titled “What Would
Your Do?” The television host sets up various unethical scenarios to test the
moral character of onlookers. The behavioral outcomes to the ethical dilemma
are generally 50/50. Half of the onlookers respond in an ethical way, while the
other half generally decides just to observe or walk away without intervening.
As healthcare professionals, we are faced with ethical
decisions daily. Dilemmas surface whether you possess a direct (clinician) or
indirect (researcher) role. As a result of a recent development of biomedical
companies patenting “designer baby” technology, one of the newest ethical
topics is being debated within the genetics arena. The debate is whether or not
a fertility procedure should be allowed to blend the genes from multiple
persons with a goal to create a baby free of defects. Some circles are calling
this method the designer baby approach.
To try and get a handle of the process, potential outcomes
and the professional/laypersons’ opinion, the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) are reviewing findings from similar mitochondrial blending approaches
conducted on monkeys about a decade ago. The regulatory agency’s main focus is
on the science of this combining method and not the ethics.
Although scientists posed the beneficial possibilities as
early as 2001, and now the quest has been heightened due to technological
advances, the FDA has informed researchers that they need special permission to
perform similar procedures in humans since, to date, the outcomes of the
earlier studies were limited to lab animals.
There are numerous medical research scientists that are in
the front of the line to jumpstart the process. The central benefits
highlighted to gene combination from multiple donors are that it will give
mankind the power to prevent and/or repair genetic errors before the child is
born. It is believed that a side benefit would be reduced future healthcare
costs treating and curing illnesses. Other scientists are airing on the side of
caution due to concerns of unwanted mutations, that may other be revealed
Nothing is ever pure black or white science. So, given the
power to bring down the decision gavel to approve or disapprove the process, as
a lab professional, what would you do?