Scientists in 2001, announced the successful birth of the world’s first genetically engineered babies—30 in total. The children were created using genes from three individuals--2 women and one man—a process referred to as ooplasmic transplantation, in which genes from a female donor are inserted into another woman’s eggs before being fertilized with a man’s sperm. The long term effects of such a procedure are unknown, but surmising from what is happening in the present cases of genetic engineering, we should be scared!
Even in the 2001 study, just two years after its released, its follow-up reports problems with the in facts were already being encountered in the genetically engineered babies. According to one such report: “A frank follow-up of ooplasmic transplantation pregnancies and infants reports that two out of 17 fetuses had an abnormal 45, XO karyotype. The authors assume the hypothesis of a link between chromosomal anomalies and oocytes manipulation, and reveal that one of the babies has been diagnosed at 18 months with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a spectrum of autism-related diagnoses."
These issues have not deterred genetic scientists. And the "industry" is moving ahead as a market is developing for the reality of “designer babies”—children born with traits predetermined by the parents’ choice. Sounds like eugenics to me.
Recently a US patent has been filed for a DNA testing database, which would be used by prospective parents to find out which traits their future offspring might inherit. According to a BBC article:
“23andMe says its Family Traits Inheritor Calculator can predict the risk of inheriting specific diseases as well as details such as height, weight, eye color and even personality. Couples send the firm a saliva sample to see what their babies might be like.
... But critics remain concerned that such technology could be misused. 'It would be highly irresponsible for 23andMe or anyone else to offer a product or service based on this patent,' said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society... ‘We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus for which to choose a future child's traits.’”
Should genetic engineering and designing of humans continue unchecked, is the potential for a patent war; meaning these genetically engineered humans could become patentable property. Biotech companies have already secured patents on everything from genetically modified seeds to engineered animals of various kinds. Moreover, as of 2005, nearly 20 percent of human genes were already patented, and are explicitly claimed as intellectual property by one company or another. Might one day a mega-company if unchecked be powerful enough and protected by US law to claiming patent rights on an entire individual?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the US Patent and Trademark Office to stop the practice of issuing patents that are contrary to the law—which states that only inventions can be patented; not naturally-occurring parts of the human body. As explained by the ACLU:
“For example, Myriad Genetics, a private biotechnology company based in Utah, controls patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes [two genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer]. Because of its patents, Myriad has the right to prevent anyone else from testing, studying, or even looking at these genes. It also holds the exclusive rights to any mutations along those genes. No one is allowed to do anything with the BRCA genes without Myriad's permission.”
Fortunately, on June 13 this year, the US Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the patents on BRCA 1 and BRCA 2—an important victory in the fight to reclaim our genes. But Dr. Frankenstein is still out there, even if the monster has been silence--for now!