In practically everyone's favorite original Star Trek episode (and later film), Ricardo Montalban plays the leader of a master race of genetically engineered superheroes from the late 20th century, who consider themselves superior to others in a brutal way that is reminiscent of the Nazis.
The Montalban character was the first person I thought of when I reported on the news today that Dr. Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of In Vitro fertilization in the 1970s, is now running the LA Fertility Institutes where he is planning to allow prospective parents to choose their baby's traits (they are already choosing gender).
I have many concerns about this trend, especially when I consider it in the wake of the massively irresponsible medical care offered to Octomom Nadye Suleman by Octodoc Dr. Michael Kamrava. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has enough on its hands trying to limit the number of embryos implanted to one or two, without having to consider how they are being genetically altered or chosen to please some narcissistic parent.
Has everyone forgotten in this mad rush for media attention that the real purpose in IVF is to offer the possibility of a child (a blessing) to otherwise childless parents?
Dr. Leon Kass, President of the President's Council on Bioethics until 2005, was concerned about this very problem in a report he issued before stepping down. If you allow parent's to choose the traits of their children, where do you draw the line?
The process is also bound to be quite expensive. IVF already costs more than $10,000 per IVF cycle. If you add one from column A, one from column B choices of traits, how many more billions is that going to cost our overburdened health care system.
I also look at making designer babies from the perspective of a doctor trying to make responsible decisions in order to help my patients. What happened to the Hippocratic Oath? How many arbitrary and willful choices about a child's genetic makeup could lead to unexpected negative outcomes? We need more regulation of doctors in the IVF world so that this doesn't happen.
The real purpose of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, as the procedure is called, is to identify genetic defects in embryos created through IVF before implanting them. This makes sense, and since more embryos than can be used are always harvested, has been used since the 1980s to prevent unanticipated diseases like Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, and Huntington disease. The technique can also be used to help choose embryos that are more likely to survive a pregnancy.
But as genetic diagnostics improves, and even gene splicing to identify and treat diseases before they occur becomes an exciting option, a slippery slope is created. On the downside of this slope awaits Montalban's group, ominously named The Botany Bay Colony.
Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News medical contributor and writes a health column for LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear"and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic." Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com