The New Assembly Line Baby

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The image of the 1950s is that of a simple and quaint life. The picture-perfect nuclear family was comprised of a father who worked from dawn until dusk, a mother with a bobbed perm and a kill-you-with-kindness attitude and kids (one girl, one boy of course) who thought that the world’s greatest injustice was being bullied in high school. Throw in a fascination with dishwashers and a loose-to-iron-fisted love for the Bible and you have your stereotypical, white-picket-fence-dog-in-the-yard family, every hippie’s nightmare and every Republican’s dream. While this image is dead to our generation, the dream for a “perfect family” just can’t stay buried.
Due to technology’s progression, this dream could become a reality some day. According to an MSN article by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, “Parents are looking to prescription drugs, in vitro fertilization, donor eggs and sperm and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, a technique that lets doctors screen for genetic diseases and gender,” in order to help a couple – a supremely wealthy couple – create their dream baby, a super baby, if you will. It is possible that one day couples might be able to select, in advance, many different qualities for their baby.
This doesn’t mean, even as the technology progresses, that parents can choose a blue-eyed, brown-haired pessimist with a love for musical theatre and Brazilian culture.
“Because potential parents can choose egg donors based on their traits and genetic histories, my clients often get a false sense of control,” said Brigid Dowd, the director of the Donor Egg Bank in Los Angeles.
In the end, you never know what kind of child you’re going to get. Dowd encourages her clients to be as open-minded as possible and to allow elbowroom in their child’s development.
One complicated aspect of reproductive technology is pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). According to the MSN article, it is an important scientific advancement that has a base price tag of $3,000 to $5,000. Completely independent of that price is the cost of in vitro fertilization, which can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000. In total, the pricey and still very new process can run as high as a gut-punching $100,000.
“It hasn’t gotten to the point where we’re testing for the breast cancer gene or choosing eye color,” said Megan McCoy, an independent genetic counselor in Los Angeles who was quoted in the article.
Here’s the fun part of studying marketable babies and the heart of this whole issue: the ethical and moral implications. One of the problems with reproductive technology is the devaluing of children to nothing more than commodities. Another fear — one that is well supported by the $100,000 cost — is that it could actually increase (or decrease, depending on how you look at it) the value of babies to the point of numerical values. Basically, I’ll give you this much money for a baby that will have certain qualities or inclinations, such as athleticism.
Other people fear it could lead to gender imbalances in some communities or whole societies that place more value in one gender over the other. China, populated with over a billion people, is infamous for doing just that, by elevating male babies over their female counterparts.
The possibilities that stem from new technologies really are endless and not all of them are good. God forbid that people should settle for something less than optimal. If you want your child to grow up to be an award-winning book writer, then raise him as best you can and take responsibility. Don’t sign his entire existence over to a scientist in the form of a $100,000 check just so that he’ll grow up to be what you want him to be.
While scientific advancement is a very exciting thing and a testament to the progress of the human race, not everything that comes out of our labs should be embraced. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should utilize it. I’d love to believe that new reproductive technology could someday save the human race and provide couples with a stereotypically perfect family, but I’d be okay with being naive and ignorant as well. This is a process that will hurt more than help, and would be best kept under wraps until it reaches near perfection, and if not, then it should just remain as a memory.

AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.

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