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Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Should parents be able to design their own babies?

A test-tube baby in the US is born because his embryo has the exact type of cells to treat his sister's life-threatening bone marrow deficiency.

In Scotland, a couple are battling to have a girl by in-vitro fertilisation after their daughter died in an accident. They say they are not seeking a designer baby.

The doctors in America say they are just helping a little girl survive but concerns are being raised that they may have crossed an ethical line.

Have we gone a step too far? Do we risk creating children as a medical commodity? Could it ultimately lead to parents demanding genetically-engineered offspring with good looks, intelligence or sporting prowess?

HAVE YOUR SAY So, are we to look forward to a planet full of identikit, near-immortal 'Baywatch' lookalikes?
Andrew, Romania

The technology is available and so there has to be legislation governing its use

Ignaya, UK
I can fully understand why there are cases of parents wanting to pick and choose features in a child, because it is possible. I think what they should do is be completely honest with themselves and decide, would they have had another child if these options weren't available? If the answer is no, then they should not go ahead with it. On the other hand, the technology is available and so there has to be legislation governing its use. Each case should be judged on an individual basis. I am sure that most parents agree, you will do whatever it takes to protect/ save your child, and there is nothing new about that mentality. I think the bigger picture here is who decides one way or another?
Ignaya, UK

Why, in my opinion, is the world so interesting and full of fun? It's because there are different people with different appearances and personalities. So parents shouldn't design their own children.
Amanda, Taiwan

The US situation is the correct use of technology. This baby is growing up in a stable family and will be loved. Teenagers in the UK have babies without a second thought and these children do not always have a very successful upbringing. To wish to choose the sex of a child or replace a bereaved child is incorrect use of technology. Strict criteria must be put in place to stop the misuse of scientific advances.
Carol, UK

If anyone has ever had children or wants to have children, they will tell you that they want the best for them, naturally. Even before conception we 'naturally' intervene in how we want our offspring by choosing people we are attracted to for brains, looks, personality etc. What's wrong with ensuring the best for your child at any stage of that child's development. What is the difference between a parent paying thousands of pounds a term to send a child to Eton or wanting to increase the child's mental capacity before he or she is born?
D. McCarthy, Australia

I can see the point of view that designing the genetic makeup of a child can be a beneficial aid to the fight against disease and other disorders. On the other hand, what will we do to the human race? Creating a new race of "Super Humans" that have the ability to fight disease and in turn prolong life to much greater lengths can only add to the overpopulation of the world. Where will it stop? If potential parents are given the option to design their babies, what will be next? A world full of supermodels? All girls or boys? No good has ever come from a technology that has the ability to be abused.
Russell, UK

Seen what selection for looks has done to the domestic cat's gene pool?

Sue C, Australia
It is right to fear this new Pandora's box. Our record of only using new technology for good or right reasons is abysmal. Claire said we are confusing science with eugenics, and that 'engineering a child for looks would be shallow but certainly not unethical'. Has she been to a cat show lately? Seen what selection for looks has done to the domestic cat's gene pool? Humans did that and I have every fear we would do the same to ourselves in the name of fashion.
Sue C, Australia

We'll find out in 18 years' time when the brother sells his memoirs or is interviewed on some chat show. Are they going to wait for him to give consent for the donation procedure?
Jill Mac, UK

What options did Molly's parents have? To watch her die?
As a mother I know which option I would chose, that of hope. If they are lucky they will have 2 healthy children, if not they will have only one. However I feel that no matter what the outcome, Adam will be loved.
Caron, England

I'm sorry, this is the consumer society gone mad. People have to make do with the cards dealt to them by life. Such privileges bestowed on us by technology have to be used for the benefit of those in real need - not for petulant whims.
Peter A. Martin, Scotland, UK

If we don't use the technology to serve human beings, what's the point of investing the technology?

Celia Feng, Canada
What would the daughter feel when she knows that there is such good chance for her to be survival, but because the parents think that the baby is a commodity, they gave up the chance to save her? Is it fair for the daughter?
Celia Feng, Canada

This situation is so novel that I don't think anyone truly knows how the future child would react to being told of the circumstances of his or her birth. He or she might react by being proud in the knowledge they saved the life of their older sister and a deep affectionate bond may result.
Philip S Hall, UK

How will this child feel when he learns that his only reason for existing is because his parents wanted him as a spare part?

K. J. Bennett, England
The idea of only wanting a baby if it can provide bone marrow for an existing child is totally abhorrent and something which Joseph Mengele might have dreamed up. How will this child feel when he learns that his only reason for existing is because his parents wanted him as a spare part?
K. J. Bennett, England

The problem with most people who think it is unethical is that they tend to lump these scientific practices in with the kind of eugenics Hitler practised, which terrifies them so much they cannot think straight. It is not the same thing at all. Engineering a child for looks would be shallow, but certainly not unethical. After all, when a couple deicde to conceive, they effectively choose an egg (the one the mother has released that month) over many others, albeit without any useful information
Claire, UK

Interesting that the majority against this process are women, while mainly men are in favour
Edward , UK

Yet another symptom of our consumer-driven mentality towards our children. Much as I disapprove of this manufacturing of children, what I find really hard to understand is, why all the fuss about this case when hospitals regularly test unborn children at a much later gestation and abort them on the highly discriminatory grounds of possible disability? We are practising double standards here.
Rebecca, UK

I think everyone is not really reading between the lines here. OK, it means playing with nature and it means defying God's will. But, if a man and woman are lucky enough to be ABLE to bring another life into this world then it is they who should decide when and where... and now that technology is at a level such as it is, we are able to decide WHAT. I think it's truly great that something so magical as having a baby, is now closer to the human understanding than not being able to have a baby ever was. An intervention into something more wonderful than anything else.
Dave Porter, UK

Messing with nature is wrong and people should learn to accept what they are given

Pippa, England
Why should people have the right to choose? If this technology was not available then we wouldn't have this situation. I know that it can be used for lifesaving reasons but a baby is a gift. Why should someone be able to choose what they want? Babies are human beings, they are living and breathing. Messing with nature is wrong and people should learn to accept what they are given. If it goes ahead then where is it going to end?
Pippa, England

I'm not sure what it is people object to? Is it the idea of having a baby to provide bone marrow, or the method by which the baby was conceived? If the parents had decided to have a baby in order to have marrow donor, but had gone about conceiving the baby the natural way, would it still be the other side of the ethical line? All that IVF has done is improved their chances of succeeding.
A. Dawes, UK

Where is the problem? People do what they want to do. If any technology causes problems we can always invent a new technology to sort them out. I look forward to a day when humans will be put together like cars are nowadays.
C. Baxtere, UK

So many people have babies for such bad reasons, this seems like a small problem. Adam has been born into a stable family who will love him dearly - and with a chance to save his sister's life. Let's hope he grows up proud of what he was able to do, but not defined solely by it. This seems a very warm, humane and caring reason to choose one embryo from those available via IVF - not like a shallow desire (however genuinely felt, and for whatever tragic reasons) to have a baby of a specific gender.
Gary, Ireland

It is a good thing but the decision about the use of this and other new technologies is of concern to the public, not only doctors or scientists.
Estalella, Spain

Any manipulation of human life for these purposes is fundamentally wrong. Life is a precious gift, the most precious one any of us will receive, since without it, all other gifts are useless. Nature has a nasty habit of reminding those who forget this fundamentally important point.
Paul Coe, UK

From the moment of conception we have the genetic information that makes each one of us unique

Pauline, UK
Although the intention of these parents was good, it did mean that 14 of their other children were discarded until they found the right one. I understand this was their 4th attempt. How many other embryos were lost in the first three attempts? From the moment of conception we have the genetic information that makes each one of us unique. These unique people will never have their chance again. I do not think it is the role of even the most brilliant of scientists to write off these people. Whose life is it anyway?
Pauline, UK

Surely any procedure which saves lives is a good thing. I can't believe that so-called 'Pro-Life' groups are against the birth of Molly's brother. Would they rather Adam wasn't born and that Molly died? They also opposed the splitting of the Siamese twins, condemning them both to death, rather than ensuring one lived - it seems a strange definition of 'Pro-Life'.
Scott, UK

This child is not a medical commodity. It is loved, wanted and couldn't have been born for a better reason. What an amazing opportunity to use science and technology to benefit humanity - which is what it should be used for.
A. Peoples, USA

To create a baby to help save his sister's life is fine - that would make the baby even more loved (if that is possible) than he would have been had he been created "naturally". The little girl as she grows older will think the world of her brother because he saved her life, and vice-versa.
Nicky Chapman, England

What a chance to avoid tragic inherited disease

D. Jones, Europe
No problem for me. This new technology has the potential for great good and great harm, just like any other. It can't be uninvented. Think how happy this American couple are to have a new baby AND the 90% chance of healing their daughter. Wonderful. What a chance to avoid tragic inherited disease.
D. Jones, Europe

The couple in the US have got what they wanted but what if the transplant is unsuccessful? That little boy could be left with a life-long feeling that he had only been created for one reason and he was a failure. Similarly, what if the British couple wanting a girl end up with a boy? The technique is not foolproof and the danger is all these 'unsuccessful' designer babies will not be as wanted or as loved as they would have been if they had been born with different genes. These are people who are only being created to rectify problems that already exist with someone else. How can this be right?
Beth, UK

The ability to genetically engineer a race of superhumans, whether it be for peace or war can only lead to one thing - our ultimate destruction
Steve, USA

We must stop thinking it is our human right to design the gender, appearance and IQ of our children. Whatever happened to unconditional love? This is re-designing parenting!
Wendy, UK

Having a baby in order to match bone marrow is clearly crossing an ethical line. This is in the same vein as the mice with ears growing on their backs, except we are talking about a human being. The possible psychological damage to the poor child when he finds out that he exists as a spare-parts child can only be guessed. When will the medical profession learn that just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should do it?
James McKie, Stockholm, Sweden

I believe that in the future, all babies will be "designed". Furthermore, I believe that there won't be a need for two genders and that eventually there will be only females on earth.
Avi Vardi, USA

This is a terrifying development in human "development". Natural selection is all about choosing a mate with whom to reproduce. The human genome is still not fully understood, yet we are literally putting lives on the line by interfering with it. The potential for disaster is even greater than with nuclear power.
John B, UK

Lets not get carried away, this is not genetic engineering it is genetic filtering - there is a difference. I myself was born with a genetic defect called PKU and I would not wish it on anyone. If I had the opportunity to filter out this defect from my offspring I would do so without a blink. I cannot. If my children could filter it out of their offspring (they could), I hope they do. I would never choose the sex of my child.
Toby, UK

It is utterly abhorrent

Clare, UK
We have most definitely crossed an ethical line - a line which, I'd like to say, has already shifted far too much anyway. It is utterly abhorrent and ethically unacceptable.
Clare, UK

Parents have children for many reasons, to save their marriage, for religious reasons, for company when they are old, for labour if they are farmers etc. Having a child to save another should not be an ethical issue as long as this child is not abused and is treated the same as the first one.
Olga Lester, USA

I am certainly uneasy about these developments and feel there is a danger that the misuse of IVF by a small number of people will eventually lead to a backlash against it. The people who will really suffer if that happens are those it was originally intended for - heterosexual couples who are unable to conceive naturally. There needs to be some very hard thought as to what can be considered morally and ethically acceptable before we end up with more stories like those above.
Ian, UK

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | Health
Baby created to save older sister
04 Oct 00 | Scotland
Couple fight for baby girl
04 Oct 00 | Scotland
Baby battle prompts debate

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