RED BANK: DESIGNER BABIES ON DARWIN DAY

Monmouth University’s Michael Palladino discusses the ethical issues of reproductive technologies at the Red Bank Charter School. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

In honor of legendary English naturalist Charles Darwin’s birthday, the Red Bank Humanists held a crash course  in “designer babies” Sunday.

New technology involved in creating designer babies through assisted reproductive technology, or ART, can literally change how humans evolve, Michael Palladino, dean of the School of Science at Monmouth University, told a packed conference room at Red Bank Charter School.

“Everyone who is a little bit older will definitely remember Louise, the first test tube baby in the world,” said Palladino, an expert in molecular reproductive biology. “Since then, over four million babies worldwide have been born using in vitro alone, and that’s only one kind of ART.”

Though Palladino said he neither’t wanted to “push the panic button” on these types of methods nor condemn them, he did make it clear that there are concerns that many people are unaware of, and that the ART industry itself has an alarming lack of regulation.

“We are only now discovering the health effects that second-generation offspring [of parents were conceived using ART] are facing,” he said. “Unfortunately, many of these children are inheriting the same infertility traits that made their ancestors have to resort to ART. sometimes these traits are even amplified. Many people fear that if we keep heading down this path, we will be headed for an ‘infertility time bomb.'”

Palladino cited a study that linked a 42-percent increase of cancer in children conceived using in-vitro fertilization, as well as a Scandinavian study that showed over a 15-fold increase of cases of cystic fibrosis.

After giving a lengthy background on the subject, Palladino described how “designer babies designed scientifically to exhibit or exclude certain traits” were becoming increasingly abundant.

“Using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, we can now isolate formative cells and manipulate the embryo in its very early stages to change things like sex, hair color, eye color, or even future height, intelligence and weight,” Palladino said. “For those people who want a tall, blonde, green-eyed daughter – they can make one for you.”

Palladino said that scientists can also use PGD to screen for any diseases the embryo might acquire in the womb, or even later, and get rid of them, including Parkinson’s, down-syndrome, obsessive-complusive disorder, and even addiction problems.

“In fact, sometimes a couple will even choose to ‘make’ the baby a dwarf or deaf on purpose,” he said, “in order to make them like themselves.”

Red Bank Humanists member Eric Seldner, who helped found the group more than ten years ago and now serves on its board, and group president Stephen Mitchell gave their thoughts on what it means to be a Red Bank Humanist and why they held this conference on ‘Darwin Day.’

“We wanted to give people an opportunity for people who may not be religious to come together and congregate to talk about things like philosophy, history and science – to practice secular humanism without any dogma,” said Seldner.

“Darwin Day is one of my favorite holidays,” Mitchell said. “We wanted a forum to give people a chance to discuss and celebrate Darwin’s contributions, as well as talk and learn about how new technology could be skewing the natural process of evolution, and the ethics behind it.”