The idea—the dream and the nightmare—of designer babies has been with us for longer than most of us probably suspect. But the ability to act on the impulse has never been easier, thanks to a new technology known, rather comically, as CRISPR. If you haven’t encountered a news story or two regarding this cutting edge tech, I’d be quite surprised (unless you’re someone who closely follows the Kardashians, in which case you are excused…no seriously, please go…no wait, maybe the Kardashians will use CRISPR to further enhance, so…at least stay tuned).
CRISPR, in a nutshell, offers a revolutionary new tool in the world of gene modification by introducing much more precision in the manner by which a particular strand of DNA is sliced, as well as the manner in which it may be spliced, or altered with new bits of inserted DNA.
Let’s not go into the technicalities of the process, fascinating though they may be (genuinely). Let’s instead state that, aside from the obvious benefits to be realized by such a powerful addition to our arsenal of disease fighting tools, the allure of using it for more commercialized (profitable) purposes is just as obvious. Enter stage right…the designer baby.
Imaginings of designer babies (some would say the products of eugenics by a more subtle, less onerous name) have been around for at least as long as they’ve been making Ken and Barbie, and possibly as far back as say, Mengele, or the ancient Greeks. Wherever the actual truth may lie in there (I’m gonna go with the Greeks, although I’m quite sure ancient Chinese culture probably beat them to the punch somehow), human imaginings of changing each new generation in ways that evolution is simply not capable of have been hanging around since time immemorial.
Of course, as would be expected, the main focus for CRISPR is to introduce new protocols that address existing human-related diseases, such as Sickle Cell Anemia, or Huntington’s, or HIV. No doubt, this is noble and worthy work that should unquestionably be pursued.
But what about the day that surely must come, and probably sooner rather than later, when the conversations you have with your primary care physician, your gynecologist, your obstetrician take on a different character? What happens when somebody throws out the idea that there are now technologies that can greatly increase (perhaps even guarantee?) the chances that your child will be that little girl you always wanted, and that her eyes will be blue, her blonde hair slightly wavy, her height exemplary, and her IQ well above the average? And the price for such desirable traits? Not nearly as expensive as you might have thought and you can pay it off like you do your car.
So you find yourself, referral in hand, walking through the pretty stainless steel glass doorway, surrounded on all sides by beautiful people of all
shapes and sizes soaring heights and lighter skin tones? They sure look pretty/handsome (godlike in proportion and structure), their complexions flawless, their crystalline eyes staring down on you, their full lips all but accusing you of taking too long to get to this point, their posted IQs all but insinuating that the decision is a no brainer. My Gawd, you utter. What’s there to think about? You can hardly believe you’ve been granted this choice…of turning yourself around and high-tailing it back through those doors before it’s too late. Original recipe is just fine by you.
Slippery slopes don’t always appear as such until a deluge has covered over the skies and the dry cracked earth turns to slick, broken bone treachery. Such is the case with technologies that blow onto the scene so quickly, with so much promise, so much potential, so much profit to be had.
Such abruptness (I think this is what they call “disruptive technologies” nowadays) prompts some concerned groups to demand that we all collectively stomp on the brakes until we can have a better look at the future. Others will tamp down any such admonishments, much preferring something that tends not to be stopped easily once set in motion, like a jet, or maybe even a rocket.
Whatever may come, it’s coming soon, and the definition of the privileged versus the deprived will take on a whole different meaning. One that accounts for, not only what you have, but also what you have become.