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Biotech Science

Designer Baby Given Go-ahead 65

Posted by michael
from the organlegging dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A couple in the Australian city of Melbourne has been given the legal go ahead to breed a genetically modified 'designer' baby to cure their terminally ill child."
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Designer Baby Given Go-ahead

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  • Not quite (Score:5, Informative)

    by Henry V .009 (518000) on Tuesday March 11, 2003 @11:29PM (#5490783) Journal
    Screened, not modified.
  • If only... (Score:2, Funny)

    by C0LDFusion (541865)
    ...more people would ask permission to have kids, the world would be a better place.
    • Who is there, to grant or deny that permission?
      • Here's my idea: You have to go before a "Baby Tribunal" of three guys who've raised successful children themselves. Kids who've managed to have no criminal background and have gone on to good careers. The parents-to-be must present a case that they actually have something to contribute to society by procreation.

        Just a basic outline, but I think it'd work out pretty nicely.
  • by bigsteve@dstc (140392) on Tuesday March 11, 2003 @11:31PM (#5490797)
    The summary of the this Slashdot posting is misleading. It is absolutely clear from the Melbourne Age article that this is not genetic modification. For example, it says:

    It is believed to be the first time in Australia that approval has been granted to use IVF in combination with genetic screening and tissue matching to create a "donor" child for a sick sibling.
    • by spotted_dolphin (595858) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @09:42AM (#5493077)
      I think it is the term 'Designer Baby' is somewhat misleading. It encompasses the selection and implatation of an embryo, with no potentially bad genes from the parents, of a population of them which have been fertilized by IVF.

      Although the theory is there, I'm not sure if anyone has successfully 'fixed' bad genes in an embryo.
      • Although the theory is there, I'm not sure if anyone has successfully 'fixed' bad genes in an embryo.

        I've not heard of anyone attempting this for human embryos. But I think it has been done for animals. Remember that "artist" who commissioned a glow-in-the-dark rabbit? (OK, this was adding a new gene rather than fixing a bad gene, but the techniques used would be the same.)

      • No, no one has 'fixed' bad genes in an embryo yet (unless the Raelians did it and haven't told us yet -- just kidding). The targetting of genes into a specific chromosomal location in mammalian cells is just not there yet.... it's a major sticking point in getting any kind of gene therapy (embryonic or in an adult) out of s.f. and into reality.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...it's called dating. I screened the genes of my future projeny when I asked my wife to marry me. She was screening for the genes of her children by saying yes to me and not to some other schmuck out there. Geez, you'd think that having children was rocket science or something.
  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday March 11, 2003 @11:53PM (#5490922) Homepage
    Now I have to say that I don't like the idea of cloning and genetic enginering (of humans) in the first place. But I'm very focused on the needs and well being of children, so let me ask all of you a few questions. I'm obviously against this, BTW. I think it's cruel and, in fact, just plain EVIL to concieve a child for the purpose of saving someone else's life. That right there is treating the kid like cattle. It's a human being.
    1. What happens if this kid's cells don't cure the couple's first kid? That means that they brought a life into the world with the sole intent of curing someone else's life, and it didn't work. Wouldn't that make this kid a failure? How would you like to know that you were concieved to save someone's life and didn't? How would you like to know that you weren't concieved because your parrents wanted a second kid, but because they wanted their first kid to live? It's too bad that their kid is ill, but this is a terrible thing to do to a kid. It's not like they'll be able to hide it from him. It was bad enough when that couple tried to concieve a kid a few years ago for the same reason, but at least they didn't engineer the kid. If your parrents concieved you to save the life of your older sibling, doesn't that clearly imply that they love that other sibling more? What kind of psychological damage will all of this cause to this kid.
    2. What if this new kid has health problems. Will they have a 3rd kid to save its life? What's the difference, other than they may have caused this kid's problems, as opposed to it just being a chance of genetics.
    3. What if there is a miscarrige? Wouldn't you still get the cells needed if it was far enough along? Is this then a success or a failure? Someone was concieved so that someone could live, but that first person died and the second person still lived. What does that mean? Was the first person worthless? Why not just have an abortion partway through? Then how could one possibly argue that the kid who was aborted wasn't just a "sack of organs"? What kind of person tries to concieves a child knowing full well that they will kill it if they succede? Yes, I'm against abortion, but this is one of the reasons why.
    4. If someone kills the new kid before it can save the life of the first kid, is that double homicide? On the one hand, you've doomed the first kid. On the other hand, he's already dead, so can he be killed?
    5. May I remind you all of "Brave New World", "Gattaca", and such other works of fiction?
    6. Should we even save the first kids life in the first place? This one is a thought expirament, I'm not proposing this (I'd be dead in such a case). One can easily argue that medical technology has rendered evolution mute on our species, which is probably why the rates of just about everything bad (cancer, obiesity, diabetes, heart disease, asethma, allergies, etc.) have been rising over the last century. Should we be allowed to play god (genetic engineering) to help us play god better (by curing the first kid who should, purely by evolution, not survive)?
    7. If it's cord cells they're after, why not test the cells from every baby born in a hospital, and ask the parrents of any matching kids if they'll help out by allowing the use of the cord cells. Why even create a second kid?
    8. What does it teach their first kid that they concieve another just to save his life? Does it teach him that life is sacred? Or does it teach him that kids are more like a commodity, and that he can be replaced. Does this give his life more or less value?
    That said, what do you make of this quote in the article?
    "The couple's child is believed to have a terminal illness. Its only chance of survival is to receive a transfusion of umbilical cord blood from a perfectly matched sibling."
    They don't even know if the kid has the illness and THEY ARE DOING ALL OF THIS? Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this part ALONE? How do they know that this is the only chance if they don't even know if this kid has this illness?

    I realize that this post might seem kind of "troll"-y, but these are serious questions? Even if you are "pro-choice" (a misnomer, but that's another issue), would you agree with the abortion in #3? If you think I'm a troll, please reply to this and give me logical arguements why I'm wrong (I'll just assume the "You're an idiot because you suck" posts) instead of modding me down.

    • all great questions, here is another one... 9. What do you tell the kid when he gets older. "Honey, we have something to tell you, we had you so that you could save your older brother/sister." Yeah, a teenage kid is gonna react REAL well to this. Great issues raised bay MBcook. I guess what we have to ask ourselves is how much of another persons life do we really have a right to control? Anyways, just my thoughts...
    • Huge numbers of kids are being born for no other reason than, "I got drunk and knocked up". Or, "I want a baby so that I can care for it like my parents didn't care for me." The concerns you raise are WAY down on my list of concerns regarding the *motivational* aspects of childbearing.
    • by Vellmont (569020) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @04:07AM (#5492036)
      Hmm.. I'll try to work around your obvious anti-abortion bias.
      1. How do you know that the sole purpose of having this kid was to save their other kid? I think that's a bit of a stretch to make this so cut and dry. Even if it is, does it really matter? You seem to assume that the sole purpose of having the kid automatically translates into the value of the kid after its born. Is your value tied to your parents intent in having you? What about all the children that are conceived from "accidents"?

      2. I'm not really sure what you're trying to argue here. The technique they're using wouldn't cause any health problems, it only prevents them.

      3. I don't really understand this argument either. You seem to be stringing us along for a bit toward your goal suggesting that these people would just have an abortion after they harvested the fetal blood. This couple isn't going to have an abortion, so your "what if" scenario doesn't apply.

      4. huh? While this is maybe an interesting legal question, I don't see how it applies to the ethics of this situation.

      5. Making a reference to "scary book about genetics gone mad books" is a scare tactic, not an actual argument. No one is creating genetically enhanced super-men here, and no one is creating three different classes of people.

      6. We've been playing god by saving peoples lives who shouldn't due to evolution ever since we figured out how to bandage a wound. Are you suggesting we not treat anyone so that the people with the "wrong" genes will die? To use your argument, that sounds pretty close to the theme of Gattaca or Brave New World to me.

      7. Maybe this is an alternate treatment, I really don't know. Even if it is, the existance of an alternate treatment isn't an argument that what they're doing is wrong.

      8. What does it teach him? Maybe that his parents will do anything to save him? That his parents value life? Sorry, the answers to this question seem pretty open ended to me. It all depends on what his parents teach him, which is really no different than anyone else.

    • by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @04:23AM (#5492074) Homepage Journal
      Should we even save the first kids life in the first place? This one is a thought expirament, I'm not proposing this (I'd be dead in such a case). One can easily argue that medical technology has rendered evolution mute on our species, which is probably why the rates of just about everything bad (cancer, obiesity, diabetes, heart disease, asethma, allergies, etc.) have been rising over the last century. Should we be allowed to play god (genetic engineering) to help us play god better (by curing the first kid who should, purely by evolution, not survive)?
      Evolution does not deserve our reverence. A conscious person's desire is far more important than blind nature's thoughtless process.

      And if the application of this desire results in a naturally "less fit" genotype, then so be it. A life (I'm talking about the parents' lives here, not the child's) either has no purpose at all, or one of its own choosing. If people choose (by default) the same purpose as mother nature (to mindlessly optimize the fitness function), that would be a pretty disappointing waste of brains, IMHO.

      Ah, but regarding the child's purpose... What will this kid think when he learns of his "purpose?" Well, as soon as he's old enough to think, then he'll already have new purpose all on his own. His parents' original motives become irrelevant. I just hope he knows this.

      I think it's cruel and, in fact, just plain EVIL to concieve a child for the purpose of saving someone else's life. That right there is treating the kid like cattle. It's a human being.
      By that reasoning, is there ever any justification for choosing to conceive a child? Would not any concious decision to create life, be a form of objectifying that life?

      I think treating people like cattle is horrible too, but I have no problems with abortion or genetic hacking. I reconcile this by using a perhaps (?) nonconventional definition for "people." Having human DNA isn't enough to quality (nor is it even a strict requirement, though I've never met a person who didn't have it). What matters, what gives (or doesn't give) a being the value I assign to a person, isn't what kind of meat they're made out of. What matters is how they act. Goo inside a test tube, even if it is a potential person, ain't one yet.

    • by reverseengineer (580922) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @10:15AM (#5493285)
      1. You seem to think that this kid will have only one purpose in life, but in fact, he/she will have two: to save a sibling's life AND to live. If anything, this child has more purpose going for it than the thousands of children born every day because approximately nine months earlier their parents decided to chance it and not use contraception. This child cannot be a failure; even if its cord blood does not cure its sibling, it will still be a human child.

      2. This is wildly unrealistic- that the parents would possess alleles for two different genetic ailments that can only be cured by sibling cord blood is extremely improbable. Yet, if it were to occur, and embryos could then be selected that possessed neither ailment (if any existed), and the funds for another round of IVF were available, then I see no reason to deny them the chance. If the couple is really that desperate, and you deny them IVF, it's likely that they might attempt to conceive a child "the old-fashioned way," taking the risk it would bear one or both disorders.

      3. Looking at it in pragmatic (and harsh)terms first of all, why would you abort a fetus that cost so much money to conceive? Really, if you wanted to do this, you would not implant the embryo at all- you would simply convert it into a line of stem cells.
      4. Huh? First off, the second kid does not even need to be alive to save its sibling's life- you said so yourself in #3. Second, how is the first kid "already dead?" If that were the case, everyone dying of a terminal illness would be legally dead.

      5. Look, these parents aren't creating the ubermensch, or an Alpha. To call this a "designer baby" is inaccurate- this child would not be genetically modified in any way- all of its genes will come from its parents, who received them from their parents. A chance exists that the parents could "naturally" produce a child without this genetic defect- but not a very good one. Chance favors the prepared mind, and also the parents who were able to select an embryo with IVF.

      6. Why must we kowtow to evolution? Rejecting the idea that producing children that will slowly and agonizingly die from an inherited disease is heaven working in mysterious ways and replacing it with the idea that we must let natural selection discard harmful alleles from the gene pool is merely replacing one tyranny with another. Fsck, at least God has a grand plan, or so I'm told. The examples you give of diseases that tie into our species' supposed genetic fitness decline are rather interesting- I'd say increases in the first four are much more the result of lifestyle choices than genetics (well, not if you mean Type I diabetes, I suppose) As far as asthma, I'd say that has to do more with pollution than genes. Allergies are rather interesting though- I'd suspect that in addition to environmental factors (including the pollution again), at least a small portion of that might be due to the spreading and interbreeding of long isolated groups of humans- thus spreading around genes for hypersensitivities. Anyway, the couple with a child with sickle-cell anemia raises an interesting point- this is the textbook case of a genetic disease that evolution built. Sickle-cell anemia has been known for thousands of years, and until recent advances (such as this cord blood therapy, for instance) was generally lethal at a relatively young age. However, it's stayed around mostly because it is a recessive disorder, and more importantly, the heterozygote (one copy of the normal "wild type" dominant gene and one defective sickle-cell recessive copy) has a resistance to infection by malaria. If this child survives, and then lives to procreate, it is likely that this heterozygote advantage will be conferred on them- that doesn't sound like enfeebling the human race to me.

      7. Making this one shorter, I'm sure that's already been tried- many hospitals have set up cord blood donation programs- but a blood relation- particularly a sibling- stands an excellent chance of being a precise match.

      8. Now, suppose this child were old enough to understand the present situation- what do you think the child would want? If the parents are willing to do all of this to save their child's life, it would seem that they hold that child to be rather precious. You can be cynical and claim that if the older child dies, he is merely being "replaced," but then the same is true for every other couple who wishes to conceive again after the death of a child. Surely they aren't being selfish?
      • a small portion of that [allergies] might be due to the spreading and interbreeding of long isolated groups of humans- thus spreading around genes for hypersensitivities.

        Sorry, but I must disagree with you here. My mother is half Spanish, half Italian (who is actually from Italy, and moved to Canada after her birth) and my father is half Scottish half we-don't-know (who's family moved to Canada before his birth). I think my genetic makeup is rather messy (or diverse... half full or half empty right). However, I have extreme hayfever, along with other reactions to insect bites. Oddly enough, neither parent has a sensitivy ... go figure. From personal experience, I'd guess that your first hypothesis (pollution of environment) is spot on! Achoo!
    • "The couple's child is believed to have a terminal illness. Its only chance of survival is to receive a transfusion of umbilical cord blood from a perfectly matched sibling."

      Unfortunately, foresight isn't 20/20. One can't be 100% certain that a disease is terminal until it is, in fact, terminal.
    • > Now I have to say that I don't like the idea of cloning and genetic enginering (of humans) in the first place.

      Neither of those things is being discussed in this case.

      >I'm very focused on the needs and well being of children

      OK, then, why are you spending 100's of words arguing against giving a child the treatment most likely to cure her/him of a terminal illness? Hello? Given the logic failures in your first two sentences, I'm not going to waste my time replying to the rest.

  • by Tuxinatorium (463682) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @12:23AM (#5491078) Homepage
    They are going to raise a new perfectly healthy baby, for the purpose of donating the umbilical cord blood to their sick child in order to save his life. So what if they're using IVF to screen out genetically defective embryos? The sole effect of this treatment, when allowed to go ahead, if a benefit to all parties concerned and does harm to no one. (For those of you who believe that the destruction of embryos is immoral because the embryos are people, all I have to say is that one mindless ball of flesh is not any closer to personhood than any other, because the sole characteristic that makes one a person or makes one capable of having a "soul" (if such things exist) is having a mind capable of thought and emotion, which is obviously not a characteristic of anything that has not yet developed any sort of nervous system) But I digress.

    The whole slippery slope argument about "Designer Babies" is completely bunk because sliding "down" that slope would be nothing but benefit to mankind. The world would, unquestionably, be a better place if genetically-based diseases were eradicated and people had more of a genetic predisposition to be healthy, fit, and intelligent. So what if the benefit only applies to those who can afford it; the same can be said of ALL expensive medical treatments, and yet we don't see anyone advocating banning chemotherapy for that reason.

    One of the other arguments against so-called "Designer Babies" is that genetic screening will, in many cases, be applied very narrowly (for example, to enhance physical attractiveness) neglecting more important things and actually making the person-to-be less healthy overall. So, hypothetically, the technology could be misused in harmful ways. Big deal. Antibiotics have been and are still being misused resulting in the creation of dangerous antibiotic-resistant diseases that are taking a great toll in some areas, such as Russia's problem with MDR Tuberculosis. Nevertheless, that has never been a good reason to ban antibiotics altogether, and this situation is hardly any different. The industry could be regulated to avoid abuses and malpractice, the same way other medical procedures and prescription drugs are handled today. The difference between this and other medical resources that are legal but regulated is grossly insufficient to warrant the double standard of banning genetic screening/improvement altogether.
    The third objection to so-called "Designer Babies" is an (IMO irrational) fear, spawned from science fiction, of creating a "super race" of genetically engineered humans, raising the standards for everyone and harming those whose parents couldn't afford the genetic improvement technology. Let me ask you, how is that sort of economic divide any different from the current situation? Rich people can afford to send their students to better schools, and provide them with a more advantageous upbringing in general. This results in a situation where the children of middle class and rich parents have more of a chance to succeed than the children of poor parents, regardless of their innate potential. Does this mean that all private/rich-public schools should be disbanded, and everyone should be condemned to a crappy education and a disadvantaged upbringing? Heck no. That would certainly satisfy the resentment of the poor, without really helping them, but it would harm everyone else. That is analogous to the issue at hand: Banning genetic screening/improvement would simply hold back part of society from improving themselves, without providing and concrete benefit except satisfying paranoia and class envy. Such a ban would do nothing to serve the common good.

    To quote James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA's structure, "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."
    • Dude, I just want to salute your post. Sometimes one of the best things about /. is finding like-minded people who share one's opinion on a topic. Like reading a thread on evolution and finding that the almost all of the creationist lunatics have been modded below one's threshold, so you don't even have to see them.

      I agree with you 100%. On with genetic design; Gattaca [imdb.com], here we come!

    • Another strong argument in support of this is that genetics does not determine everything about a person. It is just not mathmatically possible. You can be genetically predisposed to be athletic or intelligent, but unless you actually do the work, you won't be. DNA does not magically create knowledge or grow muscles where there is no reason to have them. A lot of people don't understand that that's what "genetically predisposed" means. It doesn't mean that you put in some code and out comes an Albert Einstein who can run a four minute mile, but it can make the work easier, and the plateaus higher.
  • I take it they have an existing child with a genetic disorder.

    Are they screening for a genetically compatible match to the existing child, to act as a blood donor, or are they just trying to have a healthy baby? What the deal with the umbilical cord?
  • How about Eugenia? (or Eugene, depending)

    Number Two?

  • by upper (373) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @04:29AM (#5492081)
    This has been going on for several years in the US. The first baby selected this way -- at least for Fanconi anemia -- was born in August or Sept 2000. I believe there have been several dozen such selected-sibling transplants since. More info here [hsg.org], here [umass.edu], and here [google.com].

    And, as others have noted, calling this a "designer baby" is very misleading. The embryos are created by letting normal sperm and egg cells do their normal thing, only in glassware, and the embryos aren't modified afterwards. The lab work is to decide which embryos would be implanted, so that the resulting child (1) won't have Fanconi anemia, and (2) can be a marrow donor for the sick older sibling. (1) is pretty common now for parents who carry serious genetic diseases and know it.

    • I read about a similar case in the UK about a month ago. There, the country's high court upheld a ruling that stopped the couple from using genetic selection to make a child capable of giving another child a bone marrow transplant.
      • There a couple cases like this in the UK news recently. Here are some links from the BBC: first [bbc.co.uk], second [bbc.co.uk], third [bbc.co.uk]. The middle article says the UK authorities' (HFEA) official position is "while it was acceptable to test and select embryos to prevent the birth of a baby with a genetic disease, it was not ethically acceptable to select them in order to help another child." The parents in one case have gotten IVF in the US, and the others have vowed to "go abroad" for IVF... I guess now they choose to go
    • > This has been going on for several years in the US.

      Yes, this is true. Thanks for the links on this. I would point out one more thing, in case it's not totally clear, which is that the use of pre-implantation genetic selection is actually an improved way to get a donor. Desperate parents, unable to find an unrelated donor, have been having new babies as potential matched donors for their sick older kids for at least a decade, but only in the past few years has it become possible to pre-screen to in

  • Screening for genetic disorder is already in place and standard practice in civilised societies. It is common knowledge that the possibility of having a child born with Down's syndrome increases with the age of the mother. Pregnant women over the age of 35 are informed of the increased risk and offered a test. Free of charge. This goes for most western European countries.

    Think of this as proper exploitation of available technology and information. No-one is harmed in this specific case, and the parents' concern for their first child speaks well of their ability to love and cherish their coming child, however much screened and whatever the outcome of this. In short, this is a happy situation.
  • Whenever this topic comes up, I really can't help but think I may never have been born had this been a reality when I was conceived. I believe that one of the defining things that shapes our personalities as sentient creatures is the various maladies we have.

    I don't think this is meddling in the work of a God, either. I believe this goes against the very processes of evolution. If we're picking the defining factors for what is good, rather than the environment we exist in, we will stagnate on the evolutionary ladder. Species that can't adapt to their environment tend to fail rather quickly.

    Of course, the other birth that may never have taken place is your own.

    --Coda from the deleted scenes of Gattaca [imdb.com]
    • If we're picking the defining factors for what is good, rather than the environment we exist in, we will stagnate on the evolutionary ladder.
      No, we just define the selection criteria to conform to our values, instead of nature's. We make the ladder climb to where we want it to, instead of the arbitrary direction in which it formerly led. That is glorious! [gober.net]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Designer Baby Given Go-ahead

    from the organlegging dept.
    An anonymous reader writes "A couple in the Australian city of Melbourne has been given the legal go ahead to breed a genetically modified ... 'designer' baby to cure their terminally ill child."

    Most of the above language has one target: evoking an emotional response in the reader that was apparently felt by the poster/submitter. Even worse, the above characterization is highly inaccurate with regard to the actual article.

    For shame.
  • What the hell, a baby is not a hammer, a screwdriver, some sort of tool.
    "Mommy, why was I born."
    "Well, you were created and allowed to live to term in order to save Billy's life. Lucky for you you happened to be the most compatible candidate, or off to the garbage disposal with the rest of the embryo's."

    Not only, "how could this not screw up both of these kids" but also do you think we could debase human life any further? Maybe they could grow a couple ears on the kids back for "just in case" scenarios.

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