‘Designer babies’ and ethical dilemmas


A chara, – William Reville’s article “Are ‘designer babies’ something we really want?” (Science, July 2nd) raises important and thoughtful questions about the ethics of genetic engineering.

I think most people would share the intuition that it is deeply problematic to allow gene editing for physical or cosmetic traits, and probably also for mental traits like intelligence. There may be more sympathy when it comes to ameliorating life-limiting diseases and genetic disorders, but the line becomes quite blurry when we get into the specifics.

To further probe our intuitions here, consider as a thought experiment that a pill has been developed which, if taken by a child, was guaranteed to boost their IQ by 30 points, with no negative side-effects. Wouldn’t doing without that intervention be intentionally to put the child at a disadvantage? Would it not be tantamount to neglect if other children in the school were having their IQ boosted in this manner and your child was not?

We also have to contend with the possibility that while we may decide not to allow this kind of treatment in Europe, it may be possible to find a jurisdiction that does, which could result in “gene tourism” for parents with the resources to avail of it. This would obviously contribute towards a widening of the gap in opportunities, and perpetuate inequality.

There may be no clear answers here, but as technology continues to improve we can be sure that these are questions that will become more pertinent in the decades to come. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.