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NOT A DESIGNER BABY: Embryo Selection Provides Tissue Match for
Sick Sister

Genetic Crossroads
October 16th, 2000

Prominent and often misleading media coverage greeted the early October
announcement of a baby born after the embryo from which he developed had
been genetically screened and selected for two different traits. Using a
procedure known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), technicians
selected, from among embryos produced by in vitro fertilization, one that
would result in a baby who would be both unaffected by Fanconi's anemia,
and able to serve as a source of compatible tissue for his sister, who
is affected by the disease.

Many reports referred to Adam Nash as an "engineered" baby. A CNBC news
show called him "the world's first designer baby." But the embryo from
which Adam grew was selected. It was not "engineered." The Nash case in
fact demonstrates that it is unnecessary to engineer, design, or in any
way modify the genes of a human embryo in order to bear a child who is
free from a serious gene-related disease.

Other news reports accurately described the procedures used to bring
about Adam's birth, and while supporting their use in this situation,
appropriately raised concerns about a "slippery slope" to a world of
genetically enhanced children. This prospect is unfortunately made
more likely by the confusion between PGD and germline engineering so
amply demonstrated in accounts of the Nash case.

The lesson we believe is best taken from this case is the urgency of
implementing a global ban on human germline engineering, in order to
provide a clear stopping place on this slippery slope. Many countries,
but not the US , have already passed such laws.

Another important lesson is the need for effective and accountable
regulation of other human genetic and reproductive technologies. Again
unlike some other countries, the US currently lacks social oversight
of many controversial procedures. In the UK, the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Authority allows PGD only at licensed facilities. It
must approve each use of PGD, which it does only when there is a
serious medical condition.

It's important to recognize that PGD and prenatal screening are far
from unproblematic. Among those questioning them are disability rights
activists who fear that their widespread availability encourages
intolerance for anyone perceived as having an "imperfection." They
oppose human germline engineering, but do not accept PGD or prenatal
screening for particular traits. Other opponents of human germline
engineering feel that although PGD can be (and prenatal screening
has been) horribly misused, they are justifiable for the prevention
of serious gene-related disease.

More on the Nash case:


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