Share This Page

Fábregas: Designer babies a bold move

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Even though I don't have a dog, I've always had a liking for crossbreeds — Goldendoodles, Labradoodles and puggles. Some of them don't shed, are allergy-friendly and have fewer health problems. They're also quite cute, if you ask me.

In this world of pricey designer dogs, it's no surprise that scientists are talking about the possibility of genetically modified babies. First Goldendoodles, now Goldenbabies.

The Food and Drug Administration is considering trials of an in vitro fertilization technique that uses DNA from three people to create healthy embryos. Mommy, daddy and mommy.

Here's how it would work: Doctors take a mother's egg and remove any defective genetic material in the mitochondria, known as the powerhouses of the cell. They replace the bad stuff with healthy DNA from another woman. The egg is fertilized with the father's sperm and implanted in the mother.

Scientists call the technique “three-parent IVF.” The goal is to make babies free of inherited, mitochondrial diseases that are disabling or fatal. The diseases can lead to loss of motor control, muscle weakness and pain, liver disease and many other conditions. But take the faulty mitochondria out and, voila, a healthy baby is born.

Problem is such manipulation could open the door to genetically modified children, critics say. In other words, designer babies. While you're tweaking those faulty cells, why not tinker with the baby's eye color or height? Want a tall child with blue eyes? Or would you prefer a dark-skinned girl with brown eyes and a high IQ?

The Center for Genetics and Society, a California nonprofit, says the technique “raises grave safety and social concerns.” The group worries that the technique carries “a wide range of predictable and unpredictable risks for any resulting children and for future generations.”

In other words, this technique might not be the end of it. Approving it might lead to other ways to modify embryos.

Three-parent IVF has supporters. Advocates say it could allow parents to have healthy children. They object to the term “designer babies” because mitochondria has nothing to do with traits such as height or eye color. To their point, who wouldn't want a perfect child, one who isn't susceptible to a lifetime of pain and suffering caused by horrible diseases?

Supporters argue no one is altering the mother's DNA, but rather allowing it to grow in a healthy environment. They argue that gene-based treatments are being tested for some forms of cancer.

This is much more radical, however. If the FDA moves it forward, it would mark the first time scientists change the genetic material of humans in a way that would affect generations. Though this is a procedure with a noble goal, it's one with enormous social and ethical implications that ought to be considered. We're not talking about cute dogs, after all.

A bigger question must be asked: Why is the FDA even considering this controversial procedure, when there are more pressing matters to examine? It takes years for the FDA to certify medicines and vaccines and approve medical devices that could save lives. Should we worry more about living humans, instead of focusing on unproven technology?

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.