Vital Signs

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Pundits have been calling them “designer babies” since the first egg was fertilized and nurtured ex utero more than a quarter-century ago.  Little Louise Brown was her parents’ biological child, however, who happened to begin life in a test tube for medical reasons: Her mother’s Fallopian tubes were blocked.  Pioneering British physicians used laparoscopy to remove one of Mrs. Brown’s eggs, mixed it with Mr. Brown’s sperm, and placed it in a nutritive medium for about three days before implanting the tiny ball of dividing cells back into the mother’s body, where it thrived.

Many advances in biotechnology later, humans are on the verge of being able to craft embryos with preselected, even invented, traits.  Oddly, the same people who deny that God designed the universe have no problem with humans having a go at it.

Reproductive technology already permits the cloning of existing genomes.  In the nuclear-transfer method, a viable egg is suctioned, then electrically “fused” with another cell that need not be a gamete (sperm or egg).  Gametes or sex cells are haploid, with only 23 chromosomes, while somatic cells are diploid, with 46 chromosomes.  Having acquired its full complement of DNA, the recharged egg is chemically convinced it has been fertilized and starts to differentiate into an embryo.  So far, or so we are told, all...

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