Designer babies are made from preselected or modified genetic material to create babies with only desirable traits. Parents pick the child they want rather than rely on the vicissitudes of nature and reduce the risk of having children born with disease or birth defects.
One method of gene manipulation is in vitro fertilization. In this process, eggs are removed from the woman’s uterus, fertilized in a laboratory and then transferred back into the uterus. Defective embryos are weeded out by examining the fertilized eggs under a microscope. Gender specific disorders, such as hemophilia, are avoided by picking the gender that does not carry the disorder.
Though still in its infancy as of 2015, a sophisticated method of gene manipulation is germline gene therapy. In this method, genes are added to the sperm, egg or early embryo to create a tailor-made child, free from disease or disability.
Scientists don’t use the term “designer babies” as it is a pejorative term from “designer clothing” and refers to babies being regarded as commodities. Manipulating genes is new in humans, but scientists have been manipulating animal genes for years. Goats and cows are manipulated to produce more milk or more proteins in their milk. Mice are injected with genes that cause diseases to find a cure for them. Spider genes are injected into goat genomes to make silk.
Designing babies is an issue that governments, ethicists and religious organizations have struggled with. In February 2009, a public outcry stopped a Los Angeles fertility clinic from offering a selection of hair and eye color. In England, deaf activists objected to a 2007 bill that allowed for genetic selection only against certain diseases and disabilities and prohibited selection for them. Deaf parents demanded the right to select a deaf child for the same reason hearing parents had the right to select a hearing child. This bill also allowed for "savior siblings," which are children conceived to act as donors for a sick sibling. Some people argue that children selected for tissue types are designer children, but since 1991, public opinion has shifted to favor creating life to save existing life.