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A moratorium on breeding better babies
  1. Heidi Mertes
  1. Correspondence to Dr Heidi Mertes, Bioethics Institute Ghent, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, Ghent 9000, Belgium; Heidi.Mertes{at}ugent.be

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The thought-provoking article ‘in vitro eugenics’ by Rob Sparrow discusses the possibility of going through multiple generations of human embryos at a relatively fast pace so that embryos with specific traits can be ‘bred’ in vitro and then implanted to enhance the human species.1 Given the recent scientific advancements in producing gametes from stem cells, this thought experiment is certainly interesting. Yet, whether it will ever leave the realm of science fiction is doubtful. There are a number of reasons why the scenario sketched by Sparrow is unlikely to present itself, some of which he already raises himself. The most important one may well be that so many manipulations are required that these supposedly enhanced babies will in fact be worse off than their ‘normal’ counterparts due to all sorts of unintended side-effects, thus defeating the purpose. However, I will focus on two other issues, namely, on the significance of the fact that this technology breeds orphans (which Sparrow highlights but underestimates in my opinion) and on the level of risk that is acceptable in reproductive medicine.

The drive behind most artificial reproduction technologies (ARTs) is genetic relatedness. Even in those cases where donor gametes are used, the reason is often that this allows a genetic link with ‘at least’ one of the social parents—as opposed to adoption. The efforts that are made to produce in vitro derived gametes for those who have no functional gametes can …

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