Monday, June 22, 2009

The best solution :D

After contemplating the four solutions presented earlier, our group feels that the best solution at the moment is restricting PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to couples who have the possibility of conceiving embryos with ‘dangerous’ genes, such as the down syndrome. Although there are many grey areas, we feel that if regulated correctly, it is the best solution that can effectively prevent the exploitation of this technology and at the same time, create a new generation of healthier children.

To employ this method, however, values such as integrity and responsibility are very important and will determine if this solution will indeed be the most justified. The decision makers have to decide each case on a case by case basis and possess the moral integrity to approve or disapprove of each case based on the situation instead of the couple’s financial or social status. The less famous or powerful should not be deprived of this option because of corrupt officials who only care for wealth and status. The decision makers are responsible for every embryo that is genetically engineered and every life created. If they should choose to only grant this technology to only the affluent and famous, a superior race would be created which would no doubt give rise to many social problems. Hence, we feel that the decision makers in this case have to be carefully selected by the government to be morally upright. There should also be a fixed group or department that couples have to go to if they are contemplating PGD to minimise confusion. However, it is also overly idealistic to think that humans can be totally objective. As such, the government could agree on a list of hereditary diseases that allow for this technology to be used as a guideline for decision bodies to make sure that the decisions made are fair and impartial. The government could also restrict PGD to public hospitals and polyclinics so that it can be better regulated and controlled, as compared to private clinics where the doctors have more autonomy to make decisions that may not comply with the government regulations.

Additionally, this solution does follow by the values of integrity and responsibility, because it does not allow parents to insert desired genes, such as raising the IQ or creating larger eyes. Should parents be allowed to do that, it could be deemed socially irresponsible as it could result in the creation of a superior race. Also, inserting desirable genes at will could be termed ‘playing God’, which would then also be a breach of integrity. Though this solution prohibits parents from inserting genes, it does not totally withhold the technology by allowing parents to cancel out harmful genes, thus helping to provide children with healthier lives, and this is a demonstration of integrity. Thus, this solution is indeed a choice that does not compromise responsibility and integrity.

Furthermore, we have chosen this solution because it is beneficial to more than half of the identified stakeholders, namely the babies, the parents and the government. Firstly, humans know little of PGD, especially in the area of introducing genes. Thus, it would be unwise to legalise it and allow babies to become ‘guinea pigs’. If mistakes occur, these babies would be affected for life. Hence, by choosing this solution, we are effectively protecting the babies, and at the same time, allowing those babies who have hereditary diseases a new lease of life. Therefore, babies are one of the stakeholders that stand to benefit from this solution.

Moreover, the parents are another stakeholder that can obtain benefits from this solution. Those whose genome contains ‘dangerous’ genes will be able to remove these genes from their children, allowing their children to live a healthier and disease-free life. All parents would want the best for their children, thus benefit to the child would also be benefit to the parent.

Lastly, this solution would also make the government’s job easier. Establishing a list of hereditary diseases dangerous enough to warrant PGD, and restricting the practice of PGD to government hospitals and clinics would make it easy for the government to keep the PGD practice in check, and ensure that medical practitioners do not use PGD for anything other than rectifying genes that can cause disease. It has been covered in earlier posts that should there be any negative effects, the government would have to shoulder the blame. Thus, this solution helps the government ensure that they can control the situation, and prevent the negative effects from occurring. It is thus beneficial to the government.

As can be seen, this solution we have chosen - restricting PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to couples who have the possibility of conceiving embryos with ‘dangerous’ genes, can meet the values of responsibility and integrity, and at the same time, benefit at least 3 other stakeholders. It is therefore, the best and most viable solution.

Cherise and Clarissa

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Solutions and Consequences Part 2

In continuation from Cherise’s post about the possible solutions and consequences regarding the issue of designer babies, I will now introduce another two proposed solutions and their possible consequences.

Firstly, I feel that the government can provide funding for PGD and designer babies to make the technology more affordable to the masses. This will help to prevent a rich-poor divide and a superior race from emerging, where those who have been genetically engineered to contain superior genes all come from rich or powerful families. Currently, this technology is very expensive and normal people would not be able to afford it. Hence, even if some couples have a family history of recessive genes, designer babies would not be a practical option to them at all because of the cost. I feel that by providing subsidies to such needy couples, the government is able to ensure that this technology does not become exclusive the rich and will not be exploited.

However, this solution is not free of its shortfalls. The money that the government uses to fund this technology is basically the taxpayers’ money. So by right, if the government wants to use this money, they actually have to get consensus from all, if not the majority, of the citizens, which is only fair because the taxpayers have the right to know where their money is being channeled to. However, it is impossible to ensure that every single citizen approves of designer babies in the first place. Even if they do, they also might not feel that government funding would be the best way to deal with the situation. Hence, the citizens may feel unjust that the money they pay is going towards a cause that they are not supportive and feelings of displeasure towards the government might surface. If not controlled properly, this could result in many social problems such as strikes and riots, and the emergence of many opposition parties. By funding and subsidizing designer babies, the government could in fact complicate the situation further.

Secondly, I propose that a worldwide discussion between the leaders of all countries can get together for a discussion to come to a consensus whether or not to allow this technology to continue to be used and developed. If allowed, they could also come up with a set of international regulations for this technology agreed upon by all countries, to create a worldwide stance of the issue. At the present, some countries are for this technology to be developed while others are against it. Hence, there are many loopholes in the law. Let’s say, if a couple is unsuccessful in creating a designer baby in Singapore due to the restrictions in the law, they can simply choose to go to another country where regulations are more lax to create their baby. This is not solving the immediate problem but merely pushing the blame to others and allowing the problem to snowball into something bigger. This will not prevent the emergence of a superior race but could lead to the exploitation of this technology, similar to how surrogate mothers in India are being exploited. Couples who are unable to conceive children themselves turn to such surrogates in third world countries who are more than willing to help them bear their child at a fraction of the cost that would be required to hire a surrogate in the first world. By allowing such international exchanges to take place, the government is also unable to regulate the creation of such genetically engineered offsprings because they are unable to track them down. This would no doubt create a next generation of ‘robots’ where many different genes are unthinkingly inserted into an embryo without regulation in a bid to create the ‘perfect child’. Hence, if all the countries in the world can agree to enforce a certain set of rules and regulations worldwide, then this technology can be used more carefully and to better causes.

However, there are also some shortfalls to this solution. Firstly, it is very difficult to find a time and place to get the leaders of all the countries in the world to meet up together to come to a consensus on this issue. To some countries, they have more pressing issues on hand and they may be unwilling to spend manpower and effort on this issue as it pales in comparison to their existing problems, for example, Africa’s battle with HIV and poverty. Even if in the unlikely case, this meeting works out, it may also not be fair because the leaders may not truly reflect the views of the people. For example, the people of a country could be extremely against the ideas of designer babies but the government wants to develop this technology as a money making option. In the end, the point of view that would be discussed during the meeting would be that of the leaders instead of the people, which is rather biased and skewed. Also, poorer and less dominant countries like Africa also may not be able to have their viewpoints heard or taken into consideration. Such large scale meetings would be organized by the first world powerhouses and they would naturally gain more dominance over the rest of the countries because of their affluence and power. The weaker countries may choose to support the stronger country’s stance because they are heavily reliant on these powerhouses to fuel their economy and are afraid to offend them. All in all, the success rate of the worldwide leaders’ discussion is quite low.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Solutions to Designer Babies - Part 1

The controversies behind designer babies have been presented, and indeed, the most important thing now is to come up with the solutions.

In my opinion, one solution could be restricting PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to couples who have the possibility of conceiving embryos with ‘dangerous’ genes, such as down syndrome. This would be allowed for this group of people as these ‘dangerous’ genes have an enormous impact on the child’s life and health. However, couples who wish to use PGD technologies to insert desirable genes or alter their child’s gender would be disallowed. This is because the insertion of genes or gender alteration holds heavier social and moral consequences – the creation of a genetically superior race amongst the rich people, social inequality, gender stereotypes and the moral values involved with ‘playing god’. Availability of the technology to a wider portion of society means that there would be greater and more dire consequences involved. By only allowing PGD to rectify diseases, a win-win situation can be created – PGD achieves the goal of improving the lives of humankind, and at the same time, humankind will not be faced with the more dire consequences as mentioned above.

However, this solution – restricting PGD to removing potentially harmful genes, has its own negative points. Of course, a compromise, or a win-win situation can be achieved, but there are many undefined grey areas. For example, down syndrome is a disease that impacts an individual’s life greatly, as he/she is unable to participate in society and often have short life spans. However, in the case of ailments such as colour blindness or eczema, there have been many affected individuals throughout the course of history that have led an equally fulfilling life. Different ailments and diseases have very different impacts on the individual involved. Moreover, if couples applying for PGD were to be screened as such, depending on a case-to-case basis, everyone would have different takes on the severity of the disease and therefore have varying judgements on whether or not the couple is eligible. Some may view colour blindness as harmful and rule in favour of PGD, while others may view it more lightly and rule against PGD. As such, since it is impossible for a single person or institution to make the decision on eligibility, there would be many prevailing and differing opinions, resulting in a system of unfairness. Thus, there is a definite grey area here – what are the diseases considered severe enough to remove via PGD? Since this is so subjective, how can we keep things fair?

Additionally, those couples who have been denied PGD, and compelled into living with undesirable genes could feel that they have been cheated of a privilege someone else has been given.

Moving on to the second solution, I would propose that governments allow research facilities to continue with their research on PGD and gene therapy, but disallow its use in medical institutions at the moment. It is only after the technology has been sufficiently developed and humans have gained a further understanding that we should consider making it available to the general public. Some may say that this is futile, as the research going on seems to be useless if it is not used, or that since it is a matter of time before the technology is made available, why not sooner than later? In my opinion, human race has never before experienced PGD or its consequences – we cannot blindly jump headfirst into it because it appears to have many benefits. At the moment, scientists and researchers see many possibilities in the technology, such as altering IQ, and these issues are definitely controversial. However, I feel it is only wise that we wait for these technologies to be developed first, and after the facts have been established, discuss the possibilities of allowing it. Right now, much of what we know is unreliable speculation. When solid hard facts have been established, good governmental policies can then be created to counter the possible negative effects of the PGD being available to the entire population.

Of course, though this second solution provides the government with the benefit of retrospect and with clear facts to deal with, it is not without its own consequences. The second solution proposes that research be allowed first, and the PGD allowed only when there is sufficient research. Once again, as mentioned earlier, it is difficult to define the grey areas, in this case - determining exactly when research is considered sufficient.

This, moreover, is especially since one research possibility may lead to another. This second solution was established to counter the ‘speculations’ human beings are facing regarding PGD, and to establish hard facts. However, in research there is always the ‘unknown’ factor and it could be futile for humans to chase after establishing all these ‘unknowns’. Thus, it may be doubly hard to determine exactly when research is sufficient, and when the PGD technology can be offered as medical treatments to the public.

Lastly, this second solution involves restricting the medical use of PGD and allowing only the research sector to delve further – thus the entire development of PGD lies in the research sector. This may lead to slow development, as there is no time guarantee in research. It can take a month, but it may also take 10 years.

(To be continued by Clarissa)


Values that affect decision making

The idea of genetically engineered babies is a highly controversial issue and the value system that undermines the decision making process consists of many higher values. Higher values are values which influence wider causes, such as freedom, democracy and liberty, as compared to lower values which influences more individual causes, such as efficiency. Government bodies, research institutions and couples contemplating PGD should take these values into consideration before creating a designer baby.

The concept of human rights is extremely relevant in this case. In today’s competitive society, the responsibility to give birth a fittest possible child also comes under the responsibility of the parents. However, in this bid to conceive the ‘perfect child’, parents also have to understand not to tinker with their child’s freedom of life. Perfect is highly subjective. What the parents view as perfect traits may not necessarily be what the child defines as perfect, and by forcing the child to accept and live with whatever his parents chose for him, his human rights have indirectly been violated. This is akin to creating a character in a video game; something which can be manipulated to suit the gamers’ needs. If we agree to democracy, that all humans have equal rights, then we should not be manipulating another human being even before birth. Philosopher Francis Fukuyama once said that genetic enhancements may change our descendants to such an extent that they lose their humanity. Perhaps, the price for one’s super intelligence may be the experiences that give human lives meaning. There isn’t a specific right and wrong in this situation. The outcome would be whether the parents choose to value democracy and liberty or their so-called perfect traits.

Decision making should be on a case by case basis, and overseen by a responsible government body. This is important because there are 2 main motivations for creating a designer baby, therapy and enhancement, which prompts a question: Is there a moral distinction between treating or preventing diseases and enhancing traits? Some feel that therapy is justifiable but not enhancement. The problem is that it is difficult to make the therapy–enhancement distinction principled. It is hard to find definitions of disease suitable to serve as a moral guideline for genetic technologies. For example, suppose we were to discover that homosexuality was a consequence of malfunction in the part of the brain responsible for sexual attraction. Should this rather obscure fact about biological functioning count more than the fact that many homosexual people seem to be living excellent lives? Hence, integrity and responsibility should be practiced on the side of research institutions and government bodies, to ensure that the insertion of additional genes, if needed, is towards a good cause and not just a convenient option for parents seeking to produce a perfect offspring or an extra privilege exclusive to the rich and powerful.

Also, authorities have to practice responsible regulation to ensure that there would not be an emergence of a superior race because of the dominant and more affluent first world nations. There might be some developments such as extra-fast athleticism, super-durable sportsmen, and extra-strong anti-social elements. In addition, there is a possibility that, those who cannot afford to have the genetically modified babies will continue to produce the ‘normal’ ones, leading to a divided society based on some new factor. If not controlled, the above could lead to many social problems like exploitation.


Stakeholders in Designer Babies

With the issue of designer babies becoming increasingly prominent each day, the possibilities and consequences have been exposed. At the same time, it has come to affect a wider pool of people – not only the parents and babies involved, but also society, medical or research institutions, and the government. As such, I feel that the four main stakeholders here are the babies, their parents, the government, and the research or medical institutions.

Firstly, babies, as the targets of the PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis), are the most affected stakeholders. As embryos, they would have been unable to make their own choices, or give autonomous consent to the decisions their parents are making. The gender or trait assigned to them may not be what they desire. There is also a possibility that the baby grows up to disapprove of these human genetic engineering methods, by which he/she has also been created. Conversely, there may also be babies that have benefited greatly and thus approve of all that has been done. In that case, the babies would still have to deal with these issues for an entire lifetime.

The second stakeholder would be the parents. To most Asian parents, the ability to change their children’s gender is a matter of high importance – continuing the family name, or having a boy, is seen as a responsibility to the family. According to an online poll, most American families have been shown to prefer having males as the firstborn. Additionally, removing undesirable traits or inserting desirable traits into the child’s DNA is also important to parents, as parents usually want the best for their children. However, in the case that the PGD turns out to be unsuccessful, the parents, after investing a great amount of money into the treatment, would have to deal with the consequences themselves. There is after all, no absolute guarantee in the success of the PGD.

The third stakeholder is the government. The government is accountable for all the decision making in the country, and holds the power to rule for or against PGD. Furthermore, no matter what view the government expresses upon this issue, if there are positive impacts, the government will get the credit, but if there are negative impacts, the government would have to bear the blame. At the same time, in order to be accountable to the public, the government would also have to provide viable solutions to rectify the negative impacts. Moreover, in the case that the government allows PGD to continue in the country, it will also be expected to provide government funding for the research.

This leads me to the last stakeholder – research and medical institutes. Without government approval, these research and medical institutes may not even be able to continue their work. For example, according to a January issue of the Time Magazine, the Bush Administration had banned stem cell research, and research institutes had to move to other countries where their work was approved of. This of course, slowed research development, until the ban was lifted by President Obama. As of today, most governments have not approved of designer babies. However, in the case that government approval has been provided, successful researchers can also gain a great deal of fame and credit. Additionally, medical institutes offering PGD stand to become highly sought-after by parents, and as this treatment is expensive, this is a potentially profitable trade for them.

Stakeholders are people who play a pivotal role, and stand to either gain a lot, or lose a lot. The human race has never experienced the possible impacts of designer babies, thus there are still many grey areas – no one can say for sure whether the negative impacts would outweigh the positive, or vice versa. Regardless of the outcome, the babies, parents, government and research or medical institutes are the people that will be most impacted, and hence, they are the four main stakeholders in this issue.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Designer babies-Who will get affected?

Let's say that there is a possibility of having designer babies, many people would definitely get affected. Obviously parents and doctors would have to bear with the direct consequences and outcomes. The designer baby and the society would also have to deal with the different circumstances faced.


Parents that chose the option of having a designer baby because they had an unhealthy embryo seriously affected by a deadly disease

It could be a relief to these parents as they would not need to be burdened by the heavy price of having to pay for the endless treatments that their child have to undergo should they decide to choose the designer baby. They could be relieved from this huge financial burden that could be taxing on their lives because they have to keep on thinking of ways to earn more money to cope with the financial crisis that they are facing. They could also avoid all the pain and heartache that they have to bear seeing their precious child undergo agonizing treatments and knowing that their child could never get well again. Choosing the option of having a designer baby to avoid their child from having a preventable disease could prevent the parents from regretting their decision of not consulting a doctor at the first place and ultimately relieve them from the financial, emotional and physical burden.

Parents that chose the option of having a designer baby due to their personal preferences

Well, then they will have to bear the consequences if their child do not turn out as 'perfect' as they think. Parents that have their hopes raised high should be mentally prepared for the worst because the success of the designer babies is not guaranteed. I feel that parents should not be selfish in thinking that they are doing something great by bringing a 'perfect' child into the world because one man's meat can be other man's poison. My advice to parents is to just let nature take its course because every child ought to be perfect in every parent's eyes and seeing a child living happily right before a parent's eye is pure joy because the child is the parent's flesh and blood. Forget about creating the ideal child, embrace nature because beauty is inner deep.


The responsibility of a doctor is to help parents along their journey to parenthood, to advice and guide parents to produce a healthy baby naturally. This is the responsibility of a doctor and should always remain the same. A doctor should never in any case encourage parents to choose the idea of having designer babies over having babies naturally just because of the parents' personal preferences. A doctor can only suggest this method of having a designer baby upon finding out that the embryo is being affected by a deadly disease. It is not the duty of doctors to decide for the parents on what is right but to let the parents know the available options that they have. Having doctors that would carry out the orders of the parents to have a designer baby without telling them the full consequences of the actions changes the values and the duties of a doctor and this is no different from a salesman trying to sell a product to a couple.

Designer babies

Strictly speaking, I feel that designer babies are no different from robots invented at labs that are designed specifically to people's ideas. Even though they are humans, they will ultimately still be very different from ordinary kids that were born via the natural procedures. They can be much superior and have greater advantages over the other normal kids, forming the new power level. This could lead to the isolation of the designer babies because people know that they are not normal in a way that their features were being specifically chosen to cater to their parent's desire. Thus, this could form an invisible barrier between the designer kids and the normal kids, leading to a great emotional burden because they know that they are different from others.

On the other hand, designer babies that were developed because the parents' previous embryos were unhealthy would be able to lead a normal and healthy life because only the gender of the healthy embryo is different from the previous embryo.

The society

As mentioned earlier, only the rich could be able to afford the designer babies, there would be a future division of the rich and poor population. The rich would get richer and more powerful while the poor would just remain at their present status. This results in a tense environment for human beings to live in because the rich do not want to be near the poor and the poor are afraid to be near the rich. There could also be the further discrimination of a certain human population due to a certain feature that is not acceptable in the society; this is a problem which the human race tries so hard to avoid over the years. We fight for the equality of the human race and the invention of designer babies to suit parents' preference would only aggravate this problem.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Facts and Ethical issues of designer babies

What is a designer baby you may ask? It is defined as a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics. Through gene therapy, designer babies are created. Gene therapy is the insertion of genes into a person's cells. Successful therapy causes the inserted genes to become part of the cell's genome, and give the cell a new or different characteristic. The technology used is Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) and is an expensive procedure. People use this PGD to avoid passing on a disease to their child by having a collection of embryos created for them by IVF. Some also use this new technology to choose the gender of their child. Parents are given a range of embryos to choose from, for possible diseases and gender. These embryos are grown to the eight-cell stage, at which one or two cells are removed and checked for genetic variants associated with the disease. Only embryos lacking these variants are introduced into the womb.

Despite the benefits of designer babies, there are many ethical issues that have to be taken into consideration. Firstly, there is a high possibility in the future, that with new improving technology, parents would also be able to choose the cosmetic appearances of their child. For example deciding if the child should be tall, have blue eyes or blonde hair. Since PGD is supposedly used to prevent or treat diseases, a question can be asked: Is there a moral distinction between treating or preventing disease and enhancing traits? Some say that prevention of disease is justifiable while enhancement is not. However, the problem is that it is difficult to make the prevention-enhancement distinction. It is hard to find definitions of disease suitable to serve as a moral guideline for genetic technologies. The definition of disease may vary according to the individual. For example, social constructivists consider diseases to be states to which society takes a negative attitude. Cancer fits this description perfectly, but some may also say homosexuality is a disease. The problem with this way of defining disease is that people may want to undergo the PGD for almost any reason that they feel is a disease that may be passed genetically. It is difficult to draw a clear line between preventing a disease and enhancing. Hence, the whole Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis should be banned in the first place to avoid such gray areas and complications.

Another issue would be the long term effects of such designer babies and if they are entirely safe. This PGD technology is still fairly new in the world and no one would know what might happen to these designer babies 10 or 20 years down the road. Would they still be living healthily like a normal human being? Or would they start to have problems with their genetic material which may cause death? No one would dare have a definite answer to these questions. Although such things may have been done on animals, no matter how alike humans may be to animals, there is still a difference. This might cause the child to suffer as he/she grows up and may even endanger a life. In order not to put too many lives to danger, to risk this new technology, the best solution would be to have only 1 or 2 such designer babies and closely monitor them as they grow. Only when there are no negative symptoms and impact in the long run then should this Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis be allowed.

Also, since the gender of the child can be chosen with the invention of PGD, would society have gender imbalance in the future? Currently there are still countries and societies who have a gender preference. For example, some Chinese believe that boys are better as they are smarter and can earn a living for the family in the future while girls are good for nothings and are meant to live at home to due household chores. In such cases, as gender can be chosen, most would choose to have only boys, resulting in imbalance of gender in the society and even sex discrimination. Also, it makes it more difficult to get rid of the gender-role stereotypes that are still prevalent in the mindsets of certain societies. It will also result in a difficulty in ensuring the continual of species as there aren't enough females for the males to reproduce with.

Another ethical issue that can be raised would be: is this actually playing God? If you look at things in a religious perspective, children are a gift from God and how they are to look like is not under their control. So, if a parent chooses the gender and in the future perhaps the external features of the child, they are playing God. Also, the parents do not have the right in defining what is considered to be pretty or acceptable. Does it mean that tall, dark black hair and brown eyes are beautiful and others are not? This may lead to a stereotype of beauty. Hence, even if PGD is allowed, it ought to be only used to prevent diseases, not for choosing cosmetic appearances.

One may also ask, what happens to designer babies that turn out wrong due to certain errors in the whole genetic procedure should such a thing occur? Also, since there are a range of embryos that parents can choose from, for possible diseases and gender, what would happen to those embryos that no one chooses? Do they just get destroyed and "killed"? Isn't that equivalent to murdering and killing a live, depriving that soul from living? So is it morally acceptable? No. Killing is not right which is why murderers have to go jail as a punishment for killing. The choosing of embryos ought not to be allowed so as to prevent embryos from being left behind, being rejected.

Think about it, will such genetic-enhancement or genetic-modification lead to a discriminatory society? For example, the movie "Gattaca" depicts a future in which genetically enhanced people take the lead, viewing unenhanced people as fit only to clean up after them. Will this happen in reality if PGD is allowed for genetic enhancement? It is highly possible. Designer babies may get more and more common among the rich, since this procedure is highly expensive. As such, not everyone is able to afford this "luxury". By being able to choose the genetic material they want to include in their children, people are trying to construct humans that are genetically superior to others. For those who have no means of affording this technology, it also spells doom for them. Their children would be discriminated and considered as outcasts of society as they are not as beautiful or as smart as those who are genetically modified. This great disparity in society would further cause extra social problems that would not have resulted in the first place, if designer babies were not allowed. Hence, the use of PGD should be banned in order to avoid problems of social discrimination.