This could end very badly…

Artificial letters added to life’s alphabet – tech – 30 January 2008 – New Scientist Tech

Two artificial DNA “letters” that are accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme have been created by US researchers. Adding the two artificial building blocks to the four that naturally comprise DNA could allow wildly different kinds of genetic engineering, they say.

Eventually, the researchers say, they may be able to add them into the genetic code of living organisms.

This just strikes me as something with potentially awful, unforeseen consequences. As Mark Shea is fond of saying, the history of the human race can be summed in two sentences “What could it hurt?” followed by “How was I supposed to know?” This falls into that category.

Hat Tip: Slashdot

This could end very badly…

Artificial letters added to life’s alphabet – tech – 30 January 2008 – New Scientist Tech

Two artificial DNA “letters” that are accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme have been created by US researchers. Adding the two artificial building blocks to the four that naturally comprise DNA could allow wildly different kinds of genetic engineering, they say.

Eventually, the researchers say, they may be able to add them into the genetic code of living organisms.

This just strikes me as something with potentially awful, unforeseen consequences. As Mark Shea is fond of saying, the history of the human race can be summed in two sentences “What could it hurt?” followed by “How was I supposed to know?” This falls into that category.

Hat Tip: Slashdot

Only the Perfect Shall Be Allowed to Live

Another First – UK Clinic to Weed Out Embryos for Cosmetic Defects

Doctors at a British fertility clinic will begin screening embryos for cosmetic defects, the first time a license to do so has been issued in the country.

A business man and his wife applied to London’s Bridge Centre family clinic for screening procedures to ensure an embryo would be created without the father’s genetic eye disorder–the man and his father both have an eye condition which gives them a severe squint.

Prof. Gedis Grudzinskas, with the Bridge Centre clinic, told the Telegraph UK that he believes the HFEA’s decision to permit screening for an eye disorder marks the beginning of a widespread relaxation of screening rules, Prof. Grudzinskas said. “We will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions.”

He said he would screen embryos for hair color or any cosmetic condition that caused distress to parents.

“If there is a cosmetic aspect to an individual case I would assess it on its merits. [Hair colour] can be a cause of bullying which can lead to suicide. With the agreement of the HFEA, I would do it.”

This is just baffling to me. Designer jeans are nothing more than the acting out of a desire to be fashionable and “with it.” Designer babies are even more nefarious, solely appealing to the ego. These parents don’t seem to be interested in having a child of their own as much as building a lab specimen. Remember that in order to create the perect child, many other imprefect children will be created and destroyed.

And the notion that hair color is a life changing factor because it leads to bullying and therefore suicide? By that logic no one should be born as any personal factor will lead to bullying. Bullies don’t bully because of a specific thing about a person; they bully because they want to bully. If someone wants to tease and pick on someone, they will. Everyone has something they’re sensitive about; bullies will find it and exploit it. No amount of genetic perfection will prevent that.

Disturbing trend: Designer children designed to be disabled

I discussed a while ago about the possibility of genetic manipulation in the womb to modify genes linked to same-sex attractions. I argued against it, saying that it was wrong to “play God” in such a manner. Well, now I’ve come across an article quoting people arguing in favor of genetic manipulation to intentionally give unborn children disabilities. Wow.

For a number of years now, a great deal of discussion has taken place among scientists and in the popular media about the genetic engineering of children. Will it soon be possible, for prices widely affordable at least to the upper-middle class, to guarantee that children have a high IQ, or excellent athletic ability, or be over 6 feet tall, or have blond hair and blue eyes? Is it right to commodify children in this way, and have parents choosing options as they do with cars? And wouldn’t it be boring to live in a world someday where almost everyone is extremely intelligent and beautiful? Variety, or even the politically correct term “diversity,” is the spice of life.

But not everyone wants what seemed to be the three genetic engineering options: refrain and let nature take her course, attempt to repair genetic diseases but otherwise let well enough alone, or select positive qualities in children. There are parents who are deliberately ensuring that their children are born with disabilities, from deafness to dwarfism. A fourth option—inflicting permanent disabling conditions on children—is now being used.

For some years now, some deaf parents have refused to allow their deaf children to receive cochlear implants that would enable them to hear. The devices must often be implanted when children are very young in order to work, so such parents condemn their children to a lifetime of deafness when they could have been able to hear.

Some dwarf couples are even using in-vitro fertilization to create embryos in the lab, then killing the normal ones and implanting the ones with the dwarfness gene to ensure having a dwarf child .

In a Jan. 21, 2007 story, the Associated Press reported that, of American clinics it surveyed that perform embryo screening, 3% admit to screening in favor of disabilities. This story contains perhaps the most revealing statement on the question. It was uttered by a dwarf woman angered that anyone would dare suggest that deliberating inflicting permanent suffering on children is bad:

“Cara Reynolds of Collingswood, N.J., who considered embryo screening but now plans to adopt a dwarf baby, is outraged by the criticism. ‘You cannot tell me that I cannot have a child who’s going to look like me,’ Reynolds said. ‘It’s just unbelievably presumptuous and they’re playing God.’”

Funny to think that it’s playing God to say it’s wrong to use high-tech techniques to choose certain qualities in children rather than letting nature take her course. Isn’t intervening to choose a major genetic quality in your child much more like playing God?

It’s funny, we have some people using genetic screening to abort children with genetic abnormalities, while we have others destroying children without abnormalities. Seems to me like a simple trade would be in order. That’s the beauty of adoption: Lives can be saved and parents who are looking for a certain kind of child can find one. (For example, here’s a blog post containing pointers for people interested in giving children with Down’s syndrome a good home.) There’s no need to destroy life because it’s imperfect, or not imperfect enough as we’re finding now.

There’s an added wrinkle: what sort of parent would intentionally inflict a disability on their children? Being a parent is about giving your children the best you can, doing what’s best for them, not about making a photocopy of yourself. You want your kids to be better off than you are, not worse. A good friend of mine is “vertically challenged” and seeing what he has to go through just to do routine things, I can’t imagine intentionally inflicting that on someone. Even sitting in a chair takes effort for him. Driving requires special hookups to his pedals and many cars aren’t even an option for him, even with those extenders. How can a parent intentionally inflict that on a child?

We live in truly selfish times.