News Feature | March 20, 2014

Biothecist Demands An Open Debate On Designer Babies

By Liisa Vexler

Thomas H. Murray, President Emeritus and renowned research scholar at The Hastings Center, has stressed on the need of initiation of an open and nationwide dialogue on the issue of “designer babies”. Versatile techniques of genetic manipulations have been developed for family planning during the past decade. Being a renowned bioethicist, Murray, advocates the necessity of a serious dialog on the “discretion” of parents regarding family planning. In a recent article, in Science, he describes his point of view in this respect. He argues that if “designer baby” is desired to avoid a lethal disease, it can be a good idea but if it is aimed at selection of some particular traits, then it should be discussed seriously. Until now, there is no regulation in US that allows genetic alterations in the children before birth that can pass on to next generation.                                      

He is concerned about the moral associations, as well as the safety of a procedure to inhibit the transfer of certain genetic disorders, to offsprings, by manipulating the mitochondrial DNA, as discussed by FDA in public hearings, two weeks ago. Dr. Murray emphasizes that the debate on ethical implications of manipulating mitochondrial genetic material should not be postponed indefinitely. He argues that due to conflicting opinions by different professionals, this concern needs to be discussed immediately so that a comprehensive set of guidelines for parents with a sound legislation may be constituted in the near future. The lack of legislation by the Federal Government is resulted in the ruling of gender selection only on behalf of different professional societies. As a result, every association has its own set of guidelines in this regard, which results in a clash of ethical frameworks provided by these organizations in this “genome age”. Dr. Murray says that while it is not legal at least 36 countries of the world, to manipulate the mitochondrial genome for the purpose of trait or sex selection, without a medical requirement, US has still no regulation about this. Technologies like prenatal screening and genetic diagnosis to identify health issues in the fetus including testing the blood of mothers for screening of fetal DNA, should be the subject of this discussion. Dr. Murray concludes that the provision of proper guidelines for solution of the problems faced by the parents will be a great service to the masses, which will help the children and the parents to flourish together.