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“Embryos Made to Order”

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A new market is now being created in which potential parents can bypass their own DNA and choose a pre-engineered, “genetically superior” child.

The Washington Post reported that the Abraham Center for Life in San Antonio, Texas, is the first commercial dealer of “embryos in advance.” Clients can evaluate potential egg and sperm donors by seeing computer-enhanced pictures of their future offspring as babies, children and even adults. After egg and sperm selection, the clinic creates an embryo and arranges for a fertility specialist to transfer it into the womb of a client or surrogate.

Where artificial insemination was once used only by those who could not conceive or by mothers who simply wanted an anonymous sperm donor, it is now available to everyone.

For some, the practice is an unsettling development, as it includes payment of egg and sperm donors based on the popularity and selection of their DNA, and promotes the “pre-engineering” of children based on traits such as gender, intelligence and appearance.

These womb-ready “designer babies” are a disturbing step “forward” and have raised alarm among many fertility experts and bioethicists.

“We find this very troubling,” said Steven Ory, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “This is essentially making embryos a commodity and using technology to breed them.”

“It’s like you’re ordering a computer from Dell,” said bioethicist Mark Rothstein from the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “You give them the specs, and they put it in the mail. I don’t think we should consider mail-order computers and other products in the same way we consider children.”

However, many disagree with this assessment, believing the pre-engineering of children is a positive progression toward a wonderful future in gene and mate selection.

“I know some people say: This is shocking. Embryos made to order,” said John A. Robertson of the University of Texas at Austin. “But if you step back a bit, you realize that people are already choosing sperm and egg donors in separate transactions. Combining them doesn’t pose any new major ethical problems.”

With embryos now available only from Caucasian donors, the clinic has startling future plans. With more than 150 African-American couples on the mailing list, Jennalee Ryan, founder of the Abraham Center, is looking to create more “pre-planned” embryos including more races and more diverse mixes of races.

Ms. Ryan rationalized the clinic’s activities by stating, “People will say, ‘You’re trying to create the perfect human race.’ But we’ve always done gene selection just by who women choose as their husbands and men choose as their wives. This is no different…We’re just trying to help people have babies,” she said.

Moral issues such as cloning and human genetic engineering are no longer on the horizon—they are already here. With ethical boundaries being torn down, where will humanity draw the line?


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