Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Designer Baby Patent Makes Scientists Uneasy

A private company, 23andMe, has patented a method of creating “designer” babies by allowing the selection of sperm and eggs that are most likely to produce traits chosen by the parents, such as eye colour or athleticism, and also allows screening out of sperm and eggs likely to lead to genetic disease.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

23andMe will develop a genetic service to screen egg or sperm donors for desirable traits. Egg or sperm donors are already screened for transmittable infectious diseases and for a range of genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis. Screening more widely for other genetic disorders can make sense, but there is a point where screening becomes futile because many diseases are more likely to be driven by environmental factors rather than by genetic influences.

As an IVF doctor I worry that some seem to forget that the true value in parenting lies not in designing the perfect child (they may disappoint greatly anyway) but to be there, always, for the needs of the child as it comes.

It is also unclear who will hold 23andMe accountable for the claims they make. It is a very profitable no-lose proposition for the company. When prospective parents in Australia base their donor choice on currently available information they are very likely to have a healthy donor-conceived child with many of the selected traits anyway, so for 23andMe to claim all these “matches” as their success is drawing a long bow. Furthermore, when things turn sour, the company can easily hide behind their disclaimer that they don’t guarantee a desired outcome, they merely increase the probability of such an outcome.

It is obvious that there is a clear need for regulatory oversight to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.