ENGR 0011, Bursic, Tuesday/Thursday 2:00pm
Kimberly Sass ([email protected])
The Big Picture
“In 2004 the term ‘designer baby’ made the transition
from sci-fi movies and weblogs into the Oxford English
Dictionary, where it is defined as a baby whose genetic
makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering
combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or
absence of particular genes or characteristics.”[1]
Struggle to Create
Genetic engineering began as an endeavor to create
genetically modified plants and animals that were stronger
and more resistant to sickness so that farmers would spend
less resources and money on harmful drugs to protect their
crops and livestock. As humans began to artificially alter the
genomes of plants and animals to get an intended result, the
question was asked why not do this for humans? Because we
have the human genome mapped out, we have a good sense
of which genes alter what, such as a gene that alters the color
of a person’s eyes or how athletic the baby will be. With this
newfound idea came a slew of morally grey area. If being
able to choose every option about your baby became a
reality, humans could truly play God and decide which traits
to give their children. Through the morally undefined area of
this youngling technology comes the facts. The research and
development of this new technology could bring new
discoveries about our DNA and about the human body.
Ignoring the future of a science that could end genetic
disorders could result in the unneeded pain of people who
suffer from diseases such as cystic fibrosis and haemophilia.
It’s important to use knowledge to help our society, and
genetically modifying traits in babies is a step to eradicating
unneeded diseases. As a future engineer, I know it’s
important to use knowledge to help our society as a whole.
Our whole world as humans is built on the foundation of
knowledge and researching more into genetic engineering is
a huge step in getting knowledge about our bodies and about
the delicacy of genes and their functions. I don’t believe that
enhancing a baby’s traits with no medical purpose is wrong.
I believe that it could create technologies that could
potentially be accessible to affluent couples and would be
used in ways that could increase inequality and create a
genetic elite[2]. My beliefs in attaining knowledge and using
it for the greater good of society coincide with the National
Society of Professional Engineers’ Code of Ethics and the
Biomedical Engineering Ethics. Both ethics support the use
University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering 1
of these broadening technologies, and being an engineering
student I am always striving for knowledge so I agree that
we should continue to research these genetic altering
although it might have some moral grey areas.
Ethics Behind the Science
Genetic engineering in humans could bring about radical
change in the scientific community; however there is always
the long-standing difficulty between ethics and scientific
endeavors. In science it is hard to make a definite line
between “right” and “wrong” especially in the case of
genetically engineering a person. This controversy leads to
the debate about whether genetically altering a person
should only be considered right when treating them for a
disease rather than deciding which traits they can and cannot
have. The question arises if it’s “significantly worse for
parents to try and give their children the best opportunities
by selecting certain genes using in vitro fertilization (IVF)
and pre-implantation diagnosis (PGD), versus hiring sperm
and egg donors with coveted genetic traits.”[3].
Wasted Technology
I believe that genetically enhancing a baby to have
certain traits or gender and changing their genes to prevent a
disease is an acceptable reason to play “God”. We have the
capability to change a person’s life for the better and we
should be able to do it. Cystic fibrosis is a painful disease
that debilitates the body and most people who are affected
with the disease don’t live for more than thirty years [4].
From personal experience, I can say how heartbreaking it is
to a couple (my aunt and uncle) who want to have a baby
when they learn that they are both carriers for the disease.
They knew that if they had a baby, there was a 25% chance
that their baby would have cystic fibrosis. At this point, they
didn’t know what to do. They wanted a child of their own,
but were afraid of the consequences of knowingly bringing a
child into the world that would go through excruciating pain
each day. Although there is not the technology yet to
genetically alter the gene that affects cystic fibrosis, the
availability of such a hope is an important key to the future.
If as humans we have the opportunity to pursue knowledge
for the wellbeing of our society, we should be able to pursue
it as voiced in the Biomedical Engineering Society Code of
Ethics that biomedical engineers should, “use their
knowledge, skills, and abilities to enhance the safety, health,
and welfare of the public” [5]. The controversy over the fact
Kimberly Sass
that changing a baby’s genes could be morally wrong
because we are not “God” is no excuse to save a child from a
debilitating disease and a couple from the heartbreak of
knowing that they could potentially be hurting their child by
bringing them into this world. Genetically changing a baby’s
genes is useful, and could also lead to the eradication of
disease. Not only could genetically change a generation
eradicate some genetic disorders but genetically enhancing a
baby could potentially save lives too and it already has
through gene therapy. Gene therapy involves providing the
body with genes it needs, like correct copies of defective
genes that cause genetic disorders [6]. Researchers have
been overcoming the obstacles in gene therapy and in the
last few years there have been reports of successes in
attempts to treat cancer, hemophilia B, certain immune
diseases and a condition that causes blindness [6]. With such
successes under the belt of genetic engineering, the future of
altering genes in embryos doesn’t seem too far off, and the
results are hopeful. The only obstacle in the way is the moral
regulation of how much you can control the genetic
alteration of a baby. Preventing against disease is good, but
the genetic alteration of traits just so the parents are happy
with what their baby looks like provides a whole other
magnitude of controversy such as the ethics behind
engineering and the problem with dealing changing genes
based on ‘designer babies’ or medical use.
believe this would undermine humanity and create a technoeugenic rat race. As technology advances it is possible that
any number of human characteristics in part influenced by
genes could come under human control. Right now there is
an enormous amount of research being conducted to
correlate specific genes with specific characteristics."[2]
Genetically enhancing a baby just for certain characteristics
is wrong, but saving a baby from a debilitating disease or
changing their gender so they are more accepted in their
culture shouldn’t be seen as wrong. It is a new step in human
evolution that cannot be hindered on the basis that playing
Professional Ethics
The ethics of engineers follow the idea that genetically
changing a baby for the greater good of society is the right
thing to do. Biomedical engineers differ from other
engineers in that they are similar to medical practitioners.
This difference plays a major role in ethical issues because
biomedical engineers are designing products that affect
patients and healthcare while other engineering fields focus
on the design of things not directly correlated to human
healthcare [7]. Although there is this significant difference
between biomedical engineers and other engineering fields,
the biomedical engineers still have to follow the Code of
Ethics for Engineers. The Code of Ethics for Engineers
clearly states that engineers must “hold paramount the
safety, health, and welfare of the public” [8]. Genetically
altering a baby to improve his/her genetic make-up in order
to make them healthier can be considered “upholding the
welfare and health of the public”[8]. It also says that
“engineers shall not be influenced in their professional
duties by conflicting interests”[8]. Even though there might
be some moral grey areas in this emerging field, it is
considered an engineer’s job to serve the public with his/her
knowledge and this can only be done if the research for
Genetically enhancing a baby consists of the parents
deciding which traits would be good for a baby to have.
Some examples are their athletic ability, the color of their
hair, and their gender. We don’t have the technology to
properly alter a baby’s athletic ability, but we do have the
ability to choose a baby’s gender. Although this may seem
trivial and that a couple should accept their baby on the
“luck of the draw”, in some cultures it’s more important to
have a boy than a girl because boys make more money in
certain countries. In India, parents of girls must pay a dowry
to the groom’s family when their daughter marries which
could be financially crippling to the poor families [4]. This
makes it important for poorer families to be able to choose
when they have a son rather than a daughter. Although there
is the debate that choosing a child’s traits makes them into
an item such as a designer purse, the importance of a new
technology cannot be ignored. Those in favor of “designer
babies” claim that a parent being able to choose what their
child is like adds value in the sense that the parents get to
cherish a baby they really want [4]. In either case genetically
enhancing a child should only be done when it has a
significant impact on the family whether a child has certain
traits or not. Executive director of the Center for Genetics
and Society said it best: “We support the use of that [altering
a baby’s genes] to allow couples at risk to have healthy
children. But for non-medical, cosmetic purposes, we
Knowledge for the Future
As a future engineer, it will one day be my job to be a
pillar of society and to use my knowledge as an engineer to
better society’s well-being. In higher engineering we learn
important concepts that we will need to help better our
future, but by hindering progress, we might hinder our
capability to strive for this future. By sticking with the Code
of Ethics for Engineers and the Biomedical Engineering
Society Code of Ethics, the spread of future knowledge is
accepted and welcomed. It’s important to spread knowledge
around to the public and this includes the technology of
creating babies that are free of debilitating diseases. Even
Kimberly Sass
when this technology is being threatened with its potential to
be used as genetic enhancing, one should always remember
the medical use of altering a baby’s genes.
means making progress and progress can’t be made if
information is hindered by moral grey areas.
Teaching Future Engineers
The importance of spreading information will continue to
help future generations, just as writing this paper has helped
me learn both sides of an issue and spread information that I
can use to formulate rational thoughts and ideas. It is
important to teach all information so that future generations
can formulate their own opinions based on a given
technology rather than having in stripped away from them.
Studying the codes of ethics for engineers and studying the
moral grey areas of genetically engineering babies is an
interesting look into a complicated topic that has many
people struggling morally over the consequences. By
studying the ethics, one gets a logical perspective on
developing new helpful technologies and their help to a
future generation. The spread of ideas is important in any
society, and that doesn’t change with the spread of
technology and information about genetic engineering
[1] N. Agar. (2009). “Designer Babies: Ethical
Considerations.” American Institute of Biological Sciences.
[2] M. Steere (2009, October 30). “Designer babies:
Creating the perfect child.” CNN. (Online Article).
[3] J. Erickson. (2012, February 5). “Genetic Engineering
Debate: Are There Lines We Shouldn't Cross?”. Policymic.
[4] P. Moore, (2009). The Debate about Genetic
Engineering. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group,
Inc. (Print book). pp. 24-27
[5]Biomedical Engineering Society (BES). (2004).
Biomedical Engineering Society Code of Ethics. Retrieved
[6] A. Pollack (2012). “European Agency Backs Approval
of a Gene Therapy.” New York Times. (Online Article).
[7] P. Brey. (2009). “Biomedical Engineering Ethics.”
[8] National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).
(2012). Code of Ethics for Engineers. Retrieved from:
The debate over whether the genetic enhancement of
babies continues as the technology develops. We are still far
from knowing how to alter all of the human genome to
create a “perfect child” but as gene therapy and other
research continues it will soon have to be decided on how to
deal with the moral grey areas. I believe due to the
importance of preventing against genetic disorders and pain
of future generations that genetic engineering should
continue its research into changing certain genes in potential
embryos affected with disease. What I disagree with is the
altering of genes to produce children that the parents want
unless it’s for a just cause such as the gender of the baby
when the family can’t afford to have a girl. If given the
chance to create a “perfect child” it could potentially disrupt
the whole society and how the rich would be able to pay
their way to create perfect children that would create rifts in
the social classes as the genetically enhanced children had an
advantage over the children born with the “luck of the draw”
genes. As time goes by, there will be more debate over the
genetic engineering possibilities with “designer babies”, but
for now with not much technology to make a whole range of
drastically altering genes available the debate will continue.
The only rules thus far in genetically altering are the
engineering code of ethics that stress the importance of using
knowledge to improve society, and in the case of medically
altering a baby it does help improve society. As a future
engineer, I believe it is important to spread knowledge of
future technologies that could help the human race rather
than hinder progress by moral grey areas. Being an engineer
I would like to thank the librarians at the Benedum
Engineering Library who took the time to come into class
and thoroughly explain the writing assignment. I would also
like to thank Kevin Mauro for helping me find additional
resources at the Hillman library. I would also like to thank
Richard Kovacsics.