So, what ARE “Designer Babies?”


“Designer babies” or  inheritable genetic modification refers to children that have been genetically engineered in the womb to have certain desired qualities. During a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or embryo screening, a scientist would be able to tell what physical characteristics a child will grow to have; as well as whether or not this child is at risk of developing or will develop genetic disorders such as autism, down syndrome, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s and many other disorders such as these. Designer babies are generally made through in-vitro fertilization where the embryo is removed from a women and is manipulated in a lab to have certain desired qualities and then placed into a females womb to finish development.

Scientists have found ways to genetically alter human gametes, zygotes, or embryos to be able to lower a child’s’ risk of developing many disorders and illnesses, as well as being able to dictate gender, hair and eye color, height, athletic ability, intelligence and other qualities. Since this technology has been developed some people use this process to have children that will be an exact match to an older sibling who is terminally ill. This way there is always someone who can donate organs, blood, bone marrow and other such body parts. As technology develops people begin to find many new ways this discovery can be used.

So what’s the “Ethical Problem?”

        There is a great deal of controversy over the idea of “designer babies.” Many people argue that it is unethical and unnatural to be able to create your own baby the way you want it, while others argue that it could be used to stop certain genetic diseases in babies.  

                When doctors used certain procedures to help infertile women give birth, or determine whether or not a child has a certain disease, they were seen as heroes.  Being able to see whether or not a child has a disease would give the parents time to prepare for the road ahead, and now doctors are working on fixing certain degenerative diseases through genetic alterations. However, when those same doctors start saying that paying customers can change the sex of their child, people began questioning the business.

                These certain doctors now say that within 10 years, they believe they’ll be able to change eye color and have an 80% accuracy rate. They also think that in the future they’ll be able to give the child “athletic abilities” or make them more academic. There are many ethical problems behind the hopes for these procedures.

                One complaint many people have is the always present “but that isn’t the way your child was made.” Many people see genetic altering as morally wrong because they view it as not accepting your child the way it was. Another issue people have with “designer babies” is the fact that it might set the parents up for disappointment. Dr. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania said that if parents pick traits to make their child athletic and the child doesn’t make it onto the soccer team, for example, the parents may get upset with the fact that they paid for a trait that “didn’t pay off.” It could also lead to the child being hurt. If the child found out that their parents picked out how they look or act, it could lead to many problems in the child/parent relationships.

How “Designer Babies” works…

The Genetic Modifying of embryos is a type of in-vitro fertilization. In-vitro fertilization works by the extraction of eggs from the mother and sperm from the father. They are fertilized in a small petri dish (hence the name “test-tube babies”), and the embryo is transferred back to the mother’s uterus. A baby can be genetically modified during this process with the use of a third “parent”- who will be the donor for mitochondria inserted into the embryo. These mitochondria hold the genes of the “third parent” and will therefore be incorporated into the embryo to achieve the desired effect.

The History of Genetic Modification in Embryos



Picture: Displays how the first baby was genetically modified. 


The first incident of a “designer baby” occurred in the mid-1990s. It was facilitated by a man, Jacques Cohen, who believed he had discovered a way for infertile women to become pregnant. In order to achieve this, Jacques used DNA from the mother, a father, and also a third party DNA donor for “cytoplasmic transfer.” It was later found out that this “cytoplasmic transfer” actually gave the children extra mitochondrial DNA. Thus, the first “genetically enhanced” baby was born. Still today, there is avid research occurring concerning the genetic manipulation of embryos. It is called “reprogenetics.” As of late, if parents have the ability to afford the procedure, it is possible to pick the gender of your child as well as having your child genetically “cleared” of any genetic disorder as a preventative attempt. It is only a matter of time before a baby’s appearance and personality traits are able to be changed. The technology is there, but it is not mainstream yet due to it’s questionable nature.



The process of creating a “designer baby” is often questioned because of it’s shaky moral platform. Though there are certainly some positive things that can be obtained from the use of genetic engineering used on unborn babies, but it is often wondered if parents will have the “right” reasons to genetically modify their baby, or if reasoning will become more superficial. Here are some of the cons associated with the genetic engineering of babies:

  • If the process is not done carefully, the embryo could be accidentally terminated.
  • Furthermore, the technology used is not 100% safe yet. It is only in the experimental stages at this point.
  • Parents may use this technology for superficial purposes; such as purposely seeking out a blonde haired, blue eyed baby for appearance concerns only.
  • Could create a gap in society. “Designer” babies would most likely be better looking, smarter, etc. This could create “classes” between designer and non designer babies.
  • Because the technology is so new, it is unknown whether genetically modifying the babies will effect the gene pool. This could cause difficulties later on throughout the baby’s family tree.
  • A baby cannot consent to having it’s body altered; therefore some do not believe it’s right as parents do not “own” their children.
  • Genes often have more than one use. For example, a gene that controls intelligence could also control anger management. You could end up with a genius, but very angry, child.
  • Geneticists are not perfect people and cannot 100% properly evaluate every gene. It is more than likely mistakes will be made.
  • Individuality will be slighted. Because most people will seek out good-looking, intelligent babies with other optimum characteristics, everyone will be relatively similar.
  • The procedure is not cheap, and not everyone would be able to afford it. Could create prejudice between “Designer” and “non designer” children. Could cause the “non-designer” children to miss opportunities because jobs among other things are more likely to take the “optimum” candidate for something.
  • The ability to “change” as humans will falter.
Although there are many questions of if genetically modifying babies is ethical and for the moral reason, there are many positives to this type of treatment:
  • Installs a better understanding of genetics for genealogists and biologists.
  • Increases human life span up to 30 years.
  • Prevents genetic diseases such as down syndrome, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and many others.
  • Reduces risk of inherited medical conditions such as obesity, anemia, diabetes, cancer, and many more.
  • Keeps up with modern technologies.
  • Enhancement of children.
  • Allows parents to give their child a healthy life.
  • Genetically engineering babies is an option, not a requirement for all parents. For those that disagree with it, they don’t have to engineer their child.
  • Children are already engineered by parents in many ways. Prenatal supplements, education, religion, and morals are all ways parents control their child.
  • Taking folate during pregnancy reduces risk of a child developing autism. This is an example of medically altering a child and it is considered ethically acceptable.
  • Eliminates mitochondrial disorders.
  • Parents set their own limits for genetically engineering their baby.
  • A complete ban will increase the demand and send people to unauthorized biologists or overseas to receive the same treatment that the US is capable of.
  • Government does not have the right to control means of reproduction.
  • Some environmental factors are inevitable so preventative measures should be taken as well.
  • Allows prospective parents to give their child genes that they do not carry.
  • With all scientific and technological advancements there is ethical disparagement, the ethical view points should not cease the advancement of technology.
  • Although not all the kinks in this newly developing technology are fixed, with more clinical trials and experimentation, it has the potential to be a very promising.