Humans have been making babies the same way pretty much since the dawn of time. Yes, in the past few decades there have been some advances in the field–sperm donation, artificial insemination, surrogates–but it’s safe to say that most new humans are still made through good ol’ hanky panky. New research shows that we might not be able to say that for much longer though. Respected scientist, Hank Greenly of Stanford University says that within 30 years, significantly more people will be opting for making babies in the lab instead of in the bedroom.
Greenly suggests that with the advancements in stem cell research, doctors will be able to create several embryos with different DNA make-ups using parents’ skin cells. The couple would then be able to choose from those embryos the one they want to implant and make a baby with. This technique is already possible, though it’s incredibly expensive and generally used to screen for genetic disorders. While health is the primary concern now, it’s also possible to hand-pick genes like hair and eye colour. Greenly predicts the process will become much cheaper in the coming years and more families will opt for the certainty of selecting the features of their babies.
Interesting in theory, yes, but there’s a whole host of ethical, legal and even religious concerns that selecting embryos brings into question. The idea is that doctors will create multiple embryos for parents to choose from. Like, dozens of them. Creating embryos means actually fertilizing an egg and, depending on when you believe an egg becomes a person, that might mean “killing” a lot of babies. Either way, it seems like a lot of unnecessary waste for something that’s been working pretty well for thousands and thousands of years.
Then there’s the question of inequality. Even if this method of conception becomes way cheaper, there will still be people who can’t afford it. That just creates a more pronounced class divide: those who can create hand-selected children, and those who can’t.
Once this becomes the norm, we’ll see further inequalities between the designer humans and those who were conceived naturally. There might reach a point where taking chances with biology actually puts your kid at a disadvantage. Where is the line between selecting an embryo to avoid having a child with a genetic disorder and creating an advanced human?
There are still quite a few questions we need answered before designer embryos become the norm. Just because the process is cheaper, doesn’t necessarily mean people will opt for it. Last time we checked, the old way was completely free. Until the baby comes along, that is.