Some Fertility Clinics Offering Genetically Engineered Babies

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 2, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor Follow-up" segment tonight: While California authorities are keeping a close eye on the octuplets, the genetic engineering of babies continues all over the USA. Fertility clinics are apparently advertising that prospective mothers can pre-select hair and eye color, gender and even health codes to avoid potential disease under a program called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD. Joining us now from Los Angeles is a doctor involved in the industry, Jeffrey Steinberg.

All right. Explain what PGD is. I go in with my wife. We want a baby in vitro and is there a menu? Can I just have a menu and select blue eyes? Red hair? Light complexion? Can I do all that?

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DR. JEFFREY STEINBERG: Well, you can't do it yet. There may come a time when they'll be able to do that. You certainly can select from a long, long list of over 4,000 items that are genetic or genetically related disorders, and we can screen for all of those.

O'REILLY: OK. So you screen the embryos for any kind of genetic disease component?

STEINBERG: Yes. We look at the actual chromosomes which are responsible for causing those diseases. We have couples that come in that may have a defective child with a disease, or they have a family history of a disease, and they're concerned about not passing that on to the next generation.

O'REILLY: I can see that. I can understand that preventative medicine aspect. But on some of these Internet advertisements, you are getting fertility clinics saying, "Coming soon: eye color, hair color," you know, "little cute nose, small ears," whatever it may be. And you're saying that that is going to become a reality soon.

STEINBERG: I think — I think it's coming on the way. We're learning more and more about the genome every day. And again, 4,500 genetic disorders and two cosmetic traits.

O'REILLY: Now, 35 countries around the world have banned PGD, all right. They say, "No way are we going to let the medical community, no matter how advanced the technology gets, interfere in the genetic process." So, do they have a point?

STEINBERG: I think they've got a negative point. You go to countries and you'll see babies with Down syndrome. You'll see babies with easily preventable genetic disorders. Same countries that basically have banned the technology.

One thing here in the United States that we've always cherished is reproductive rights and reproductive freedoms. And the question that comes up is should those be abridged at this point?

O'REILLY: OK, but you know that there are moral objections on the part of some people to the "reproductive rights." And here is my fear: If you guys get the science so exact, why would people have babies the normal way? Maybe normal is not the right word. The natural way? That's a better word. Why would they take a chance when they could go to you, Dr. Steinberg, and they could say, "Hey, here's what I want. No pre-diseases. I want this baby to look like this." That's what's going to happen, sir, in our world. And I think that is going to be very dangerous. Very dangerous.

STEINBERG: It's a valid point. But you've got to remember we've got hundreds of thousands of years of evolution on our side. And that's why people can go home in most instances and make their own babies with no problem. But there are clearly other patients that do have problems with it.

O'REILLY: I understand there are other people in their family histories, DNA, that have high-risk situations. But I think that the government is going to have to step in and start to regulate this kind of stuff or we're going to get a really scary — and the unintended consequences you guys don't know yet, OK? It's going to be troubling.

STEINBERG: Well, it's a prediction — it's a prediction that's never come to be realized. In other words, we talked about being on a slippery slope for a decade now. The babies are fine. The technology is fine.

O'REILLY: One word, Doctor. One word: octuplets.

STEINBERG: The octuplets are one in one million.

O'REILLY: You said they've never been realized. Doctor…

STEINBERG: There's over a million — there's over a million IVF babies around.

O'REILLY: Doctor, we love you and we appreciate you being here. You said fears had never been realized, and I said octuplets, and you know I'm right. You've got to be very, very cautious. We respect you for...

STEINBERG: We are very cautious.

O'REILLY: ...coming on in. Thanks very much.

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