The Next Step Towards Designer Babies?

Download Audio

In what is believed to be a medical first, a woman with a gene that causes early-onset Alzheimer's gave birth to a child without the gene, thanks a laboratory procedure that pre-selected her eggs.

The 33-year-old patient had eggs removed from her body; those with the offending gene were discarded and those without were artificially fertilized. The fertilized eggs were then implanted in her womb, ensuring that her fetus would not have the gene for early-onset Alzheimer's.

While the procedure is a minor miracle for the woman and her child, it is raising troubling questions for bioethicists. While it is one thing to pre-screen fetuses for painfully fatal diseases like Tay-Sachs, it is another thing to be testing for diseases that could show up much later in adulthood. Many worry that this could be the first step towards "designing babies," choosing genetic characteristics that could become as minor as gender or eye color.

This hour, the latest step towards genetic engineering. Is this a medical miracle or the starting point down a slippery slope?


Dr. Yury Verlinsky, Director of the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, performed procedure described above

Barbara Katz Rothman, sociologist at the City University of New York

George Annas, professor of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University School of Public Health

This program aired on February 27, 2002.


More from On Point

Listen Live