Designer babies – ‘eugenics’ 21st century style
Science fiction has been preoccupied with technologies to
control the characteristics of our children since Aldous
Huxley’s Brave New World. Now, experts say, human eugenics and
the dream of creating genetically-engineered superhumans is
about to become reality.
As a species we’ve always looked for ways to be faster,
stronger, smarter, and live longer. Many enhancements we take
for granted today; blood transfusions, vaccinations, and birth
control, seemed unnatural or immoral when first introduced. Yet
over time we’ve become accustomed to these controls over our
minds and bodies, and have used them to better ourselves and our
At the turn of the 20th century, eugenics in America took the
form of state-mandated sterilization for people with mental
retardation, or somehow deemed to be a dreg on the public.
Margaret Sanger started Planned Parenthood during this time to
help rid society of the genetically unfit. In Nazi Germany
during World War II, eugenics took the form of the Holocaust.
Though the idea of creating designer babies goes against much of
our bioethical thinking, over the next two decades, says
Futurist Magazine writer Eric Swedin, we will see an ever
increasing number of humans born with enhanced genetic
Some level of eugenics exists today as evidenced when parents
wish for a specific gender in their child. More than 2,000
couples have spent $20,000 each for gender-selection treatments
offered by pioneer Doctor Jeffrey Steinberg at clinics in Los
Angeles and Phoenix.
‘Family balancing’ is the refrain heard most, Steinberg says;
"usually couples have four or five children of one sex and
desperately want a child of the opposite sex”.
Using a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD);
doctors remove several eggs from the mother and fertilize them
with the father’s sperm. They extract one cell from each embryo,
determine its sex; and then implant a fertilized egg with the
desired gender into the mother’s womb and bring the baby to
Bioethicists argue that the technique could aggravate world
gender imbalances. The process also alarms those with concerns
over the fate of unused embryos, since many believe human life
begins with creation of the embryo.
Steinberg stresses that his clients mostly opt to keep unused
eggs rather than discard them, and he stresses that the
technique is more humane than aborting fetuses, or practicing
infanticide – the killing of female babies – which has become
routine in India and China.
Researchers also use PGD to screen babies for cancer and other
genetic afflictions. It doesn’t make sense, proponents say, to
bring a diseased child into the world to suffer horrendous pain
and cause financial hardships for the family.
The age-old science of eugenics is taking on a new, more
positive 21st century shape. Swedin sees a rush of
record-breaking athletes, science geniuses, and entrepreneurial
wizards on the horizon. New biomedical technologies make it
inevitable that society will soon experience startlingly new and
profound changes in its offspring.
A breathtaking time is unfolding over the next two decades as we
strive to use biotechnology to make ourselves stronger, smarter,
less prone to violence, and longer-lived. Can humanity achieve
these incredible goals? Forward-thinkers believe it can – and
many alive today will live to witness this "magical future”.
This article appeared in various print media and blogs; comments
always welcome. See other published work by Dick at