If you were Octomom — and if you could have picked the skin color, hair texture and eye pigment for your litter of children — would you have tried to take that extra step in the genetic coding of your kids?


Racial profiling against your own festering fetuses isn’t the way of the future, it is our now and its nefarious medical label is:  “Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis.”

From my Inbox:

A new ad on a fertility clinic’s website offers a procedure to select the complexion – as well as the sex, eye color and hair color – of future children. This development, along with the birth of octuplets to a southern California woman, brings new attention to the urgent need for effective regulation and oversight of the multi-billion dollar assisted reproduction industry in the US, says the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest organization.

“Assisted reproduction in America has been a Wild West for too long,” said Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, the Center’s Associate Executive Director. “Responsible oversight of extreme reproductive technologies such as embryo selection based on skin color is long overdue.”

The website of the Fertility Institutes, a Los Angeles-based chain of fertility clinics, announces the “pending availability” of genetic tests for these traits. The testing would be part of the embryo screening procedure known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or PGD. Dozens of assisted reproduction companies in the United States offer PGD for non-medical sex selection. This appears to be the first offer of the procedure for hair, eye, or skin color.

“Screening embryos for skin color isn’t about reproductive choice,” said CGS Senior Fellow and University of California’s Hasting School of Law Associate Professor Osagie Obasogie. “It’s about leveraging social prejudices to try to give your kid a leg up. Researchers say they haven’t yet identified key genes that control skin color in people of non-Caucasian descent, but this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of how reproductive and genetic technologies could fundamentally reshape race relations.”

Would you ever want to create your own designer embryo?  Is it wrong for you to prefer blue eyes and blond hair over brown eyes and black hair and then honoring that desire by changing the genetic code of your embryos? 

Would you argue darker skin is a better protectant against sun damage than being light-skinned?  Aren’t darker eyes less susceptible to UV damage than lighter colored eyes?  Would your baby be better saved against the ravages of nature by “going dark” in all genetic indices?

If your fetus has Down Syndrome, would you want to genetically change your baby in situ, on a genetic level, to even out — or even remove — any trace of Down Syndrome?

If blue-eyed children are more successful and financially stable than, say, their brown-eyed kin — isn’t it child abuse to not give your embryos the supplemental genetic advantage of blue eyes if their lives will be better? 

14 Comments

  1. I don’t even know where to begin. Given my family background there are certainly a couple of genetic traits that I would want to permanently abolish – but skin colour and eye tone are things I would rather leave to natural selection, as it were 🙂

  2. Gordon!
    What traits would you want to abolish in your genetic code?
    I know women who won’t date men with dark eyes because they want blue-eyed children.
    I know men who won’t date darker-skinned women because they don’t want their children to be born “tan.”
    Are those sorts of people practicing their own method of embryo profiling? If they are casting about for a mate that will meet their genetic ideal — do we condemn them for being Racist or do we admire them for knowing their wants?

  3. You know what I think I’m okay with this. Sure, why not? It saves time right? Now you can marry for love and compatibility and you don’t have to ask icky questions like family history and disease and stuff when you want to marry. Any problems? Fix it pre-embryo implantation.

  4. I’m a little surprised by your answer, Anne, but I think I can see your point. The ritual of mating, with embryo profiling, can become more natural and less about the future health of your children. I’m not sure how many people get married with the health of their future children in mind, but your argument has compelling facets of naked truths. Just as RH-factor incompatibility used to be a test for a marriage license, now modern medicine can overcome that blood incompatibility when it comes to saving the embryo.

  5. Right. I’m sure this is pretty much already going on in fertility clinics anyway. You want the best and healthiest baby right so why not add in other stuff like social advantages while you’re at it.

  6. It relates to a brain issue that has potentially destructive qualities – I’ll leave it at that 🙂
    I’m not sure how not wanting dark skin children would be much different than going out of ones way to be with someone dark skinned to ensure darker children. In a way it certainly is embryo profiling – kind of like people of Irish descent only marrying other people of Irish descent or *insert racial profile here* – but of course doing it in the lab just makes it all easier.

  7. Gordon —
    One of my first agents in NYC was Jewish. He, and his father and his father’s father and his son and so on all had poor eyesight. He told me bad eyes were a pretty common issue with strictly observant, generational, Jewish families because of their want to stick together and keep the community “pure” — observant Jew marrying observant Jew — and an ancient sort of “religious inbreeding” poorly comes to light first in genetic eye disorders.
    I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I did read that it is likely all of Octomom’s new brood of eight will all have poor eyesight issues because the eye is the last thing to form before birth and because the eyes are so complex and delicate.

  8. Now the Pope’s in on it:

    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict said on Saturday there were worrying signs of a new type of eugenics based on perfection and physical beauty.
    “Certainly, the eugenistic and racial ideologies that in the past humiliated man and provoked immense suffering are not being proposed again, but a new mentality is creeping in that tends to justify a different consideration of life and personal dignity,” the pope said in a speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSTRE51K1KE20090221