20 October, 2020

The Race For The Perfect Baby

Should parents be allowed to sequence the genome of their children-to-be and potentially terminate pregnancies with devastating genetic mutations?

Illustration by Saahil
The Race For The Perfect Baby

In the spring of 2013, I flew to San Diego to one of the most provocative meetings that I have ever attended. Entitled ‘The Future of Genomic Medicine’, the meeting was at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, at a conference centre overlooking the ocean. The site was a monument to modernism—blond wood, angular concrete, mullions of steel. The light on the water was blindingly glorious. Joggers with post-human bodies ran lankily across the boardwalk. The population geneticist David Goldstein spoke about ‘Sequencing Undiagnosed Conditions of Childhood’, an effort to extend massively parallel gene sequencing to undiagnosed childhood diseases. The physicist-turned-biologist Stephen Quake discussed the ‘Genomics of the Unborn’, the prospect of diagnosing every mutation in a growing foetus by sampling the scraps of foetal DNA that spill naturally into maternal blood.

On the second morning of the conference, a 15-year-old girl—I’ll call her Erika—was wheeled onstage by her mother. Erika wore a lacy,  white dress and...



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