We’re not talking zombies here, but imagine a day where parents can know what their future child will look like before he or she is born or even conceived. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But could we be treading uncomfortably close? Halloween is just around the corner, so ‘tis the season for fright.
The company 23andMe uses genetic testing to allow its customers to learn about their personal ancestry, genealogy and inherited traits. The name of the company is based on the 23 pairs of chromosomes normally found in the human genome. Nothing too alarming here and actually, 23andMe could help people to learn some valuable information.
However, some in the medical community are concerned about a patent that 23andMe recently received that they fear could be used by some to design their future children. The Center for Genetics and Society issued a statement requesting that the company not use the patent for any products or services and to keep others from doing so as well.
“It would be highly irresponsible for 23andMe or anyone else to offer a product or service based on this patent,” said Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society. “It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus from which to choose a future child’s traits.”
Darnovsky also wonders whether 23andMe makes sure that egg and sperm donors give consent to genetic testing and if they are told about the results. Further, she asks about the customers whose DNA was used to help develop the patent. “They signed contracts that allowed the company to use their genetic data for research, but not to find ‘designer donors.’”
Sci-fi movies predicted that these days would come. But the discussion surrounding what could possibly amount to eugenics only grows more complicated as time goes on.