Choosing Your Baby’s Genes Through IVF

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IVF, pregnancy

Parents conceiving via IVF may soon have the option to screen for more than just genetic diseases.

Human procreation has had the same old story for thousands of years. Boy meets girl, boy inserts himself into girl, girl gets pregnant, and the human race continues.

Since 1978, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has become more popular among those who cannot easily conceive through traditional methods. Today, nearly 6 million infants were conceived via IVF.

With IVF, doctors can detect diseases like Huntington’s disease, sickle-cell anemia, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy through preimplantation genetic screening. (PGS). PGS is a process in which doctors extract cells from an early-stage embryo and screens them for genetic diseases.

This process enables parents to choose an embryo that does not carry a particular disease. Some jurisdictions, including the US, Mexico, Italy, and Thailand allow parents to select the gender of their future children.

Still, PGS is in its infancy; as the research progresses, more and more diseases will be prevented. In turn, this could result in more parents using IVF, but with this knowledge we may also be able to predict things such as height and intelligence.

Michigan State University professor Stephen Hsu estimates we’ll be able to determine things like height within a decade. Parents will be able to pick which embryo they find genetically fit.

Many people fear that genetic testing will lead to discrimination against those with “inferior” genes, or lead to divisions between parents who can afford the tests and parents who can’t.

This fear is justified, but we should look at it like this: Choosing among embryos is a choice among natural options. We don’t need to be smart enough to make completely accurate predictions about the outcomes, just confident enough to offer a best guess on which embryo to implant based on our limited knowledge. The benefit of making a good decision will be high, the cost of making a bad one no worse than the random outcomes of traditional sex. As we progress who knows if the outcomes will be as hard to predict.

As we progress, serious health conditions will continue to be prevented and the number of preventable diseases will continue to grow. We may get to a point where we can choose how prone to success our children are, but we run into the aforementioned problem of “designer” children being seen as superior.

Marnie Slater is a freelance writer for Weekend Collective and performs stand up comedy in Kansas City. Follow her @marnieslaterkc for upcoming gigs and a whole lot of shenanigans.

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