Designer babies move closer to reach with new IVF gene-screening technology
PHILADELPHIA, August 8, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Little Connor Levy is only three months old, so he has no idea he represents a stunning medical breakthrough. But Doctor Michael Glassner, a Philadelphia in-vitro fertilization (IVF) specialist, is celebrating the baby’s birth as a victory for a new genetic screening process he says could save his clients thousands of dollars and untold heartache.
Levy was born to infertile parents via in vitro fertilization (IVF) after “Next Generation Sequencing” (NGS) identified him as the embryo most likely to survive the risky process, which results in live births less than half of the time.
By allowing doctors to implant only the strongest embryos, Glassner hopes NGS will make implantation failures and miscarriages due to chromosomal abnormalities a thing of the past. The technology analyzes and transcribes genetic code into a computerized data file, which can then be searched for signs of damage or weakness. That could mean huge savings for IVF customers, many of whom suffer through multiple failed attempts at an average cost of $12,000 per try.
Despite the high costs, less than half of those who go through IVF actually wind up with a baby, according to the most recent statistics from the Society for Reproductive Medicine.
But the technology doesn’t stop there. Originally developed for cutting-edge genetic research labs, NGS can give such a clear picture of an embryo’s DNA that if a couple was willing to pay the increased costs, they could theoretically elect for traits like sex, hair color, eye color, or projected height.
Dr. Glassner downplayed this potential in an interview with NPR, saying “The concept of a designer child is not what most doctors are interested in being part of.” He said his lab uses a “low-resolution” version of the technology, which allows them to screen for obvious imperfections in the overall structure of a baby’s DNA, but not specific physical traits.
“On low resolution, we’re not getting any other information than we’ve been getting for years,” he told NPR. But he admitted, “the capability is there, if you do the testing on a high resolution, to detect thousands of different genetic sequencing.”
Glassner acknowledges that the higher-resolution imaging offered by NGS presents an ethical dilemma. Using NGS, doctors could tell parents “which embryos have a disease, which embryos are carriers and which embryos are unaffected,” Glassner told NPR. “But the question is, where is your break point? At what point do you say, ‘Alright, there is no other information that is going to be channeled to the couple.’”
“This makes the whole [IVF] process even more utilitarian and parent-centered, thus even more morally objectionable,” Dr. George Delgado of Culture of Life Family Services, a pro-life reproductive clinic in Southern California, told LifeSiteNews.com.
Delgado’s clinic rejects IVF, which normally results in the indefinite freezing or destruction of human beings at their earliest stages of development, as unethical. Instead, he chooses to treat infertile patients with NaProTECHNOLOGY, which he says has nearly three times the success rate of IVF and a much smaller chance of complications.
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NaProTECHNOLOGY neatly avoids the moral quandaries associated with IVF because any resulting pregnancies happen naturally, not inside a test tube, preventing eugenic measures from being taken and ensuring that every embryo created has a safe place to grow.
But Glassner told NPR that such moral grappling is a common result of new technologies that give scientists powers previously considered the province of God or nature.
“Advances in medicine move ahead of the ethical controversies that may be the storm that follows,” Glassner said, adding, “These are obviously uncharted waters.”