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Professor: Designer babies are coming soon

By Josh Lanier
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    Professor Hank Greely will give his lecture “The End of Sex: The Future of Human Reproduction” 4:30 p.m. March 27 at Davidson College’s Chambers Hance Auditorium.

We’re approaching an age, says Stanford Law Professor Hank Greely, where very few babies will be conceived “the old-fashioned” way.

In the next 50 years most children in the developed world will be conceived in petri dishes in labs and scanned for genetic defects and characteristics before being implanted into hopeful moms.

That’s the thesis statement for Greely’s bioethics lecture, “The End of Sex: The Future of Human Reproduction.” He’s scheduled to speak March 27 at Davidson College about the technological advances in the field as well as the ethical, legal and social implications that he believes we need to begin discussing now.

“It sounds very science fiction, but it’s not that far off,” Greely said on the phone from his Stanford office. “But in the very near future, we will see human reproduction go through some very major changes because of the technologies that are being developed today.”

The biggest changes are happening in the research of in-vitro fertilization, the hot-button practice of inseminating an egg outside of a woman’s womb for later implantation. Currently, most parents who use the practice have trouble conceiving or want to test the embryos for specific genetic defects or mutations. But the technology is expensive, painful and in some cases very dangerous.

In the future, however, with new understanding of DNA and genetics, the costs and safety issues could be mitigated, and parents will be able to test for more things, as well as physical characteristics.

“You’ll be able to know what color your babies’ eyes will be, or the shape of its nose,” Greely said. “Parents will have a world of understanding about their child before it’s born.”

But are parents wise enough to choose their child? Do parents know enough to make that decision? Should they even have the option? How will this change the relationship between parents and children? How much research should we complete before allowing such a practice? What are the implications of selective evolution?

The questions about such change are innumerable, and Greely believes the discussions should begin now. He’s touring the country with this lecture and writing a book on the topic, as well.

“There’s so many things that we need to consider as a culture and a species,” he said. “This would have such far-reaching impacts that we are only beginning to understand.”

The practice of in-vitro fertilization was controversial long before the concept of designer children was first introduced. This is mainly because doctors generally create multiple embryos in the lab to increase the success rate for hopeful parents. Those that aren’t implanted are frozen for later use, donated to another couple or destroyed.

Abortion opponents decry the practice. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI said the research into in-vitro fertilization took away from studies into the causes of infertility. The practice also stripped away the spiritual aspects of creating a child – namely the “conjugal act: the expression of the spouses’ love for one another,” he said at a speech February 2012.

Greely doesn’t make value judgments on in-vitro fertilization. His talks focus on the societal implications.

“All of this is still so new that we’re only beginning to write the story,” Greely said. “But I believe that if we’re thoughtful and diligent we can keep it from becoming a tragic one.”

Josh Lanier is a freelance writer for Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Josh? Email him at
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