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The phrase “designer babies” can indicate a range of genetic interventions from disease-preventing embryo selection to genetic modiﬁcations aimed at providing enhanced traits and abilities.In this range, enhancements raise the sharpest ethical questions.
Because these genes usually cause cancer only later in life, this decision was criticized as a ﬁrst step in the direction of “designer babies” and the quest to have “perfect” children, but the decision nevertheless remains squarely within the least controversial region of genetic selection: preventing disease.
More controversial is the use of PGD for non-disease traits.
For this reason, many countries that permit somatic cell gene therapy have banned germline therapy.
Thus, we have a complex array of possibilities forming a series of binary oppositions and zones of differing ethical questionability.
These binaries include selection versus gene modiﬁcation, somatic versus germline interventions, and interventions aimed at preventing disease versus gene enhancements which seek to provide improved traits and abilities.
We can deﬁne diseases as conditions below the level of species normality that signiﬁcantly increase one’s likelihood of suffering disability or death (Gert et al. Treatments for disease aim at bringing the affected individual up to the level of species normality. Enhancements, in contrast, are interventions that raise the individual above the level of species normality, making one “better than well.” Gene modiﬁcation at the embryonic level aimed at producing a child with higher than normal IQ or one with 20/10 vision would be gene enhancements. These, too, aim at bringing the individual above the level of species normality. Most human beings suffer illness when exposed to the polio virus.
Several technologies are currently being reﬁned which can permit this.
They include the use of various gene-editing techniques, from homologous recombination and zinc-ﬁnger nucleases to the production of human artiﬁcial chromosomes (HACs).
Because they affect all the cells in the resulting embryo or fetus’s body including sex cells, these changes will be inherited by future generations.
Mistakes or errors made in this process would have the effect of introducing new genetic diseases into the human gene pool.