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IVF, Designer Babies, and Commodifying Human Life


IVF has created more problems than it has solved, especially helping to create the mindset that human life is a commodity to be used and manipulated. This mindset has been instrumental in paving the way for the approval of research involving the genetic modification of human embryos in the UK, research poised to usher in a host of ethical and legal issues we can only begin to imagine.

Earlier this year, when the UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority gave the green light to genetic modification experiments using excess human embryos from IVF procedures, it generated little popular backlash. Maybe this should not be surprising given that it followed on the coattails of widespread acceptance for using excess IVF embryos to produce embryonic stem cell lines. In fact, given that these unused embryos would probably be discarded, the decision to use them for genetic research was heralded as a triumph of common sense in some parts.

Yet human genetic modification seems a bit more Frankensteinian than embryonic stem cell research, so to head off any sci-fi-fueled concerns, the UK Authority did put some significant restrictions in place regarding this type of research. As a result, research involving the genetic modification of embryos can only be approved if the embryos (1) are not allowed to develop in culture more than seven days and (2) are not implanted into a woman’s uterus.

These stipulations currently prevent the genetic alteration of humans for clinical purposes in the United Kingdom, which is consistent with the thinking of National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who has referred to such modifications “as a line that should not be crossed.” But the question remains: How solid is that line? If viewed from the perspective of the scientific community, the answer turns out to be “Not very.”

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