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Not the Christmas present we wanted

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

A hit piece in the latest edition of the Harvard Bioethics Journal argues that UnicornGenes is a small step on the slippery slope to eugenics. (We received a pre-publication manuscript and have submitted objections in writing both to the editor and Larry Bacow -- it’s unclear when the article will be online.) A few salient points.

First, Harvard itself led the way in eugenics 100 years ago.

Second, we’re in the business of ensuring happiness. Bob recently coined the phrase “don’t screw around with your future” to sum up our value proposition to consumers. (We may adopt this as our official tagline.)

Third, anyone who thinks that what we’re doing is extreme has not been paying attention. As the Bioethics Journal itself puts it, “Bioethics requires the courage to question moral comfort.” And nothing is more comfortable than living in the past. Pundits, preachers and ethicists need to update their terminology and stop polluting new ideas with old label.

Almost since the moment that the human genome was fully sequenced in 2003, people have been using genetic information to reduce risks for babies.

Now parents are moving towards “tuning” their embryo selection for IVF with genetic information correlating with beauty, athletic ability and intelligence. (That’s not the order we’d pick, but who can argue with consumer demand?) IVF tuning for optimal traits seems far more problematic than allowing a lonely person to improve her or his dating prospects based on a potential partner’s genes for empathy, conscientiousness, pot paranoia and robust longevity. What are we missing?

Read this and then come back and tell us UG is too far down the slippery slope:

<<Imagine going to a fertility clinic in 2023. You give a skin graft or a blood sample, and using in-vitro gametogenesis (IVG)—infertility be damned—your skin or blood cells are induced to become eggs or sperm, which are then combined to create embryos. The dozens or hundreds of embryos created from artificial gametes each have a few cells extracted from them, and these cells are sequenced. The sequences will tell you the likelihood of specific traits and disease states were that embryo to be implanted and taken to full term. “With really anything that has a genetic foundation, we’ll be able to predict with increasing levels of accuracy how that potential child will be realized as a human being,” Metzl said.

This, he added, could lead to some wild and frightening possibilities: if you have 1,000 eggs and you pick one based on its optimal genetic sequence, you could then mate your embryo with somebody else who has done the same thing in a different genetic line. “Your five-day-old embryo and their five-day-old embryo could have a child using the same IVG process,” Metzl said. “Then that child could have a child with another five-day-old embryo from another genetic line, and you could go on and on down the line.”>>

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