A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Build A Baby

In today’s society, it is a very real possibility that scientists could interfere with an embryo and change its heritable traits.

An example of this would be looking at your family tree and trying to decipher whether or not you have a heritable disease trait passed down to you by your parents. Such a groundbreaking step can only be considered after more research and then only be conducted under tight restrictions.

Such work should be reserved to prevent serious diseases and disabilities. Another concern is that this kind of genetic engineering could be used to make genetic modifications for nonmedical reasons.

For example, scientists could theoretically try to create designer babies, in which parents attempt to select the traits of their children to make them smarter, taller, more athletic – in short  or to have other supposedly superior attributes.

Ty Cook, a Senior at Harrisonville High, had a lot to say about the subject of enhancement.

“I don’t think there’s a need. I think that if we started enhancing our children, characteristics about them would become less special and less valued,” Cook said. “It would especially degrade the esteem of kids who aren’t genetically modified.  

“I just don’t think it’s necessary,” he continued. “When a kid achieves things academically or athletically, they do that through their own strength and their own effort. I feel like there’s a much more rewarding feeling than a procedure could never provide.”

   This really all falls down into morals. What is morally right and acceptable? John Magoffin a biology teacher at Harrisonville High also had a very engrossing opinion about the subject.

“It really depends on the reason, the motivation behind something like that. One thing to consider is the slippery slope argument. Things that we’re doing to improve the quality of life, we’ve been given a substantial ability to know and understand things, to do right by what we are studards of.

“Then at the same time, there’s always the accusation of “playing God” so to speak.

As far as something is right or wrong, trying to make an argument for the act of “playing God” is hard to define, and whether or not that is right or wrong is also hard to define. In the sense of engineering what we want to get out of it, we’ve been doing that for a long time we’ve just been doing it naturally, by selective breeding.”

   Although nothing like this is currently possible, the prospect raises fears about scientists essentially changing the course of evolution and creating people who are considered genetically superior, conjuring up the kind of dystopian future described in movies and books.


“These kinds of scenarios used to be science fiction; they used to be seen as far-off hypotheticals,” says Marcy Darnovsky, who runs the Center for Genetics and Society, a genetic watchdog group. “But actually, right now, I think they’re urgent social justice questions.”

She says, “we’re going to be creating the world in which the already privileged and affluent can use these high-tech procedures to make children who either have some biological advantages” or are perceived to have biological advantages. “And the scenario that plays out is not a pretty one.”

But Charo says the report clearly states that any attempt to create babies from sperm, eggs or embryos that have had their DNA edited could only be tried someday under very tightly controlled conditions and only to prevent devastating medical disorders.    

“It’s important to be extraordinarily cautious on technologies that could leave a permanent mark on the human population for all generations to come,” says Eric Lander, who runs the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

    If scientists figure out how to makes changes that boost thinking abilities to stave off dementia in Alzheimer’s patients by making them slightly above average or considerably above average, that might be considered enhancement or it might be considered preventive medicine.


   Where do you draw the line between enhancement and preventive medicine?