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July 05, 2015

'Designer babies' reinvigorate ethical debate

Rumors of Kim and Kanye's IVF gender selection for their second child point to emerging ethical dilemma

The unlocking of the human genome has opened the gates to new frontiers of medical research, but while many still consider the real world implications of this knowledge a distant leap of science, certain advances are already impacting our most fundamental instinct: to reproduce.

In a recent Us Weekly exclusive, a source claimed that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West underwent an IVF gender selection process to ensure that their second child would be a boy. The procedure, which starts at about $17,000, involves the isolation and transfer of fertilized embryos of a preferred sex to the uterus.

Kardashian and West have denied the report, but the New York Post says the story is merely one prominent example of an emerging 'designer baby' industry that is largely unregulated and has not been met with much protest.

According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, more than 160,000 IVF procedures were performed in the US in 2012 and more than 60,000 babies resulted from them. That’s 2,000 more than in 2011.

In addition to screening for genetic abnormalities and diseases, IVF enables families to select the gender of a child for nonmedical reasons, which some believe poses an ethical problem in the form of technological eugenics.

In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a bill banning sex-selective abortions, while in countries like India and China, a combination of government policy and societal preference have led to the abortion of millions of females, a practice some have called 'gendercide.'

Others view the issue of child gender selection as a matter of family dynamics, calling it a "balancing" that weighs the characteristics of parents as an important factor in the future well-being and stability of the child. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine does not take a firm stance on the issue, instead urging doctors to establish their own practice guidelines, while The American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists questions the values underlying gender selection.

As the New York Post points out, the prohibitive cost of gender selection through IVF could lead to a divide in access and a slippery slope, as covered in Mara Hvistendahl's book, "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men." If only those with the advantage of wealth can customize their children, eventually going as far as to pick their eye color, height, or intelligence, then inequality could become entwined with our biology.

Read more at the New York Post.

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