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The Power of Two

Designer Clothes to Designer Babies

Published May 22, 2014 2:12 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

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 decades later.

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?

posted by Eleanor Wolfram

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