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Saturday, September 2nd 2006

Mail Order Kids

Ah, how far we are from that. But the NYT profiles couples undergoing IVF so that they can screen the embryos for inhereted disorders.

As Chad Kingsbury watches his daughter playing in the sandbox behind their suburban Chicago house, the thought that has flashed through his mind a million times in her two years of life comes again: Chloe will never be sick.

Not, at least, with the inherited form of colon cancer that has devastated his family, killing his mother, her father and her two brothers, and that he too may face because of a genetic mutation that makes him unusually susceptible.

By subjecting Chloe to a genetic test when she was an eight-cell embryo in a petri dish, Mr. Kingsbury and his wife, Colby, were able to determine that she did not harbor the defective gene. That was the reason they selected her, from among the other embryos they had conceived through elective in vitro fertilization, to implant in her mother’s uterus.


The process is also difficult and expensive. P.G.D., which requires in vitro fertilization, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. While insurance companies often pay for the more traditional uses of the procedure, they have not done so for cancer-risk genes, fertility experts say. The barrier to affordability, some critics fear, could make preimplantation diagnosis for cancer risk the first significant step toward a genetic class divide in which the wealthy will become more genetically pure than the poor.


“It’s like children are admitted to a family only if they pass the test,” said Denise Toeckes, 32, a teacher who tested positive for a BRCA mutation. “It’s like, ‘If you have a gene, we don’t want you; if you have the potential to develop cancer, you can’t be in our family.’ ”

Those are just some of many concerns revolving around preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Plenty also have conerns about the future of this technology, even if they find justification in testing for genetic “afflictions.”

Is This Where We’re Heading?

Right now, those who currently do PGD argue that

confusing the concept of “designer babies” with people trying to avoid deadly illnesses is hurtful and misleading. No one, they say, would endure the substantial physical and emotional difficulty posed by the process to make a baby with blue eyes and a wicked curveball. Still, the hostility couples have encountered from friends, family, colleagues and even medical professionals caused several of those interviewed for this article to request that their names be withheld.

And many already have strict ethical barriers in place – years before we’ll even have the techinical ability to allow you to choose your child’s hair color. Personally, despite the best efforts at reviewing the ethics, once the technology exists, people will start doing it. The process is virtually unregulated in the U.S. It probably will become so in the future, but even with that, eventually “programming” your baby will probably become, if not the norm, possible and legal.