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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Customized Kids

Published March 17, 2009 3:34 PM by Barbara Mercer

When my husband and I talk about someday having a child, I often joke that I hope our offspring will end up closer to his 6 foot height than my 5 foot 2 inch frame.

It would also be great of the little tyke got whatever gene is responsible for my mate's perfect vision, since my eyesight has gotten progressively worse since I was 9 years old.

We discuss these possibilities in jest, but what if there was an opportunity to ensure a baby would have particular traits?

The possibility became closer to reality when a fertility clinic announced a new service by which parents could choose their baby's eye color. While the clinic has since suspended the program, the concept got bioethicists blogging

It also presented a prime opportunity to put a spotlight on the oversight of the fertility industry in the U.S.

What's more, in a March 3 television appearance, Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, expressed concern about the emerging trait selection issue: is counseling provided to individuals using such services? And what could the ramifications be for a child born without the desired - and paid for - trait? Would the child be seen as a "faulty product?"

There are so many layers to this issue, it makes my brain ache. I mean, if a physician told me I could discover if my child had a medical condition, I think I would want to know so I could plan and prepare.

Ok, that sounds good.

If I could choose whether to have a boy or a girl, what's the harm in that? I've always thought it would be great to have a boy.

Hmmm, maybe I would ponder that a bit.

Since we're choosing the baby's gender, let's look at a few more options. Blue eyes or brown? Brown hair or red? Tall or short?

Whoa.

Here's the part where the alleged ability to predetermine cosmetic traits seems somehow different from medical conditions and gender. But I'm not sure exactly how it's different, or why the idea makes me squirm a little.

I asked some friends for their input, people who recently had a perfect baby - i.e., a healthy child with the correct number of fingers and toes, and all her vital organs in the appropriate places - following a fertility procedure.

These parents chose to go with a wait-and-see approach. They also learned that preimplantation genetic prediction comes with a hefty price tag, something Caplan touched on in the video link above. If these types of choices become available but can only be afforded by a small segment of the population, doesn't that place the well-off in a unique position? A position where they can ensure heirs who are attractive, intelligent and without fear of chronic medical conditions and beyond

This issue raises a lot of questions. Unable to answer them, I am satisfied with knowing that if the time comes, I'd prefer to leave the physical traits of my future child to chance. Even if presented with an option to choose, I think whatever gender, eye color or hair color our genes create will be just fine.

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