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Designing babies may not be in our future
Posted April 14, 2008

Designing babies is a bit farfetched according to a lecture held at Scripps College in Claremont Tuesday.

Dr. Edward McCabe and his wife Linda McCabe spoke about the future and history of genetics and the role it plays with regard to having children.

Dr. Edward McCabe, the co-director for the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics, began the lecture with an explanation of infertility.

“Infertility is defined as being unable to become pregnant after one year attempting,” he said.

More than 100 people attended the lecture held in Garrison Theater, and they listened intently and watched the slides provided by the McCabes.

Dr. Edward McCabe gave the background of several methods of fertility treatments and how they worked.

In 1978 the first “test-tube’’ baby was born, according to Dr. Edward McCabe.

“To conceive a baby in a dish in a laboratory was completely unnatural,” he said.

He also discussed the topic of mutations that occur in genes with a baby and methods to detect such occurrences.

One method is a procedure called an amniocentesis that requires the amniotic fluid around the fetus to be tested.

If undesirable results are found, the mother has the option to abort the fetus.

“I have only talked about the science,” Dr. Edward McCabe said before Linda McCabe began her part of the lecture.

Her focus was on the social impact of pregnancies not conceived in the “traditional” way.

Linda McCabe began with a discussion of the Nash Family who fought to have a child so they could use the cells from his umbilical cord blood to save their daughters life. 

Their daughter Molly had Fanconi Anemia, a disease that did not allow Molly to produce her own bone marrow.  The disease could have lead to Leukemia.

“They went beyond the science of the time,” Linda McCabe said.

Sex selection was also a main topic.   PGD one method connected to the idea of sex selection means preimplantation genetic diagnosis.

“Should couples be able to use PGD to select the sex of babies?” she said.

With such a procedure couples could potentially “screen” the embryos for genetic qualities they desire.

“I am really fascinated by this issue,” Keri Zug, junior humanities and politics major at Scripps said.

“I think it seriously needs to be regulated,” Zug said.           

Linda McCabe said there are problems with the way our culture thinks about this topic. 

“We have to get away from the idea that genes are our future,” she said.

One of the main issues with choosing traits such as gender is the problem of identity.

There is no guarantee according to Linda McCabe that someone who is genetically male will identify as male.

Another issue that is well known to many college women at prestigious schools is the procedure of donating eggs.

Many couples think that if they have eggs from a smart or beautiful woman then their child will in turn be smart and beautiful.

“It is really silly,” Linda McCabe said. 

She said there are no such guarantees and the idea of selecting the type of baby you want is not really possible.

Though there are some who say we will one day be able to predetermine every aspect of our children that is just not a possibility according to Linda McCabe.

Erica King, sophomore double art and biology major at Scripps College said she enjoyed the lecture.

“I know people who have been helped out by it,” she said of fertility treatments.

King wonders however, why more couples do not adopt when there are so many orphans.

“I think more altruistically,” King said.

Susan Acker can be reached at