The “designer baby” method patented in the United States

Publié le : 4 October 2013

 On 24 September 2013, the American Company, 23andMe, succeeded in "patenting a method allowing parents to choose specific traits in their unborn babies" as part of a medically assisted procreation programme. The method is as follows: gamete donor selection based on computer-assisted genetic calculations.  

Further to the granting of this patent, four European authors (*) responded by publishing a comment in the Genetics in Medicine journal: "it is obvious that selecting babies according to the patented method recommended by the 23andMe Company is highly debatable in ethical terms". This method can actually be used to select a child’s height, gender, eye colour, muscle development, certain personality traits and even the risk of whether he or she will develop age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) or certain types of cancer.            
According to the 23andMe Company, which "nevertheless recognises that the method is not infallible" […] "it is simply a way of ensuring that the baby has a ‘greater’ opportunity to develop desirable traits within the scope of medically assisted procreation". According to the authors of the comment published in the Genetics in Medicine journal, "the use of pre-implantation diagnostics to prevent the implantation of embryos carrying serious genetic anomalies is fast becoming current practice.  However, the use of a computer programme to select gamete donors in order to produce a baby with the characteristics desired by his/her parents seems to have even greater implications because the process involves the selection of traits that are not disease-related". 

(*) Sigrid Sterckx, Julian Cockbain, Heidi C. Howard, Pascal Borry – Institut de bioéthique à Gand, Belgique : "I prefer a child with…": designer babies, another controversial patent in the arena of direct-to-consumer genomics

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