A question I am asked more often than you might think comes from proud parents wanting to know the ultimate eye color of their newborn child. In fact, even after reminding them it may take a few months (if not longer) before we know the true color of their child's eyes, some parents can't refrain from asking this question at every possible opportunity. But I'm now beginning to wonder whether it will be me who asks the question of eye color thanks to some relatively recent technology known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
Simply put, PGD allows for determination of the genetic make-up of an early embryo. And while it is similar to amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) in that it provides genetic information about a child before his/her birth, it differs from these two more well known procedures in that it is performed prior to the embryo's implantation into the uterus rather than during the course of the pregnancy.
Now up until recently, PGD allowed for detection of certain single gene defects (such as Fragile X, Cystic Fibrosis, ALS, Sickle Cell Anemia, among others), abnormal chromosome numbers (including Trisomy 21, Trisomy 18, and Trisomy 13), and gender. And while we can debate the significance of knowing one's gender at such an early point in time, I'm sure many realize the benefit for parents to have access to this technology if they know they are carriers of specific genetic mutations or chromosomal abnormalities or have older children with a particular disease increasing the risk in future children as well.
But fresh on the heels of the birth of the octuplets, it appears our moral and for some, religious core, will be tested once again as a fertility clinic in Los Angeles is now willing to create designer babies...ones where the parents can choose eye, hair, skin qualities as well as the baby's gender. And while I believe there is true value in the technology of PGD, I am more than alarmed it is now being offered as an opportunity for parents to cherry pick certain features in their children.
What will be next? Only implanting embryos with the potential of having IQs above 150 or felt to have Olympian promise and just discarding the rest? Selecting those only with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin?
So while we wait for U.S. laws to govern the use of this technology, I find it imperative we take it upon ourselves to step up and make sure our voices are heard.