Nov 25, 2009

The Custom Baby

I saw a woman today for her annual well-woman exam. She had her husband with her, an older guy, and a ring that was at least 4 carats on her hand, with a matching necklace. She was wearing a shirt with my high school's logo on it, so we chatted about that and about her son who goes there now. Near the end of the exam, she asks about what her options are for getting pregnant. Since she is 40 and her husband is 67, it doesn't seem like a great idea, but we talk about in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, etc. Since the dad will probably be dead by the time the kid is in college, it doesn't seem very fair to the kid, but whatever. But then it gets weirder. They look at us and say "How can we guarantee that we have a boy? We only want a boy. It would be a shame to go through the trouble and expense of in vitro and just have to abort it because its a girl."

I was just floored. I had always thought that most parents in America maybe wanted one sex or the other, but adjusted to love the baby they got. But they were serious.

As the doctor explained the process by which the sperm could be separated out by chromosomes, and how only the Y chromosomes could be used for the fertilization process, I was thinking. They want a boy, but they assume what they get will be a healthy child. In any pregnancy, disability is a possibility, but especially when the baby develops from older eggs. I couldn't imagine that they would tolerate a disabled child if they weren't willing to have a normal girl.

Furthermore, is it okay that we can make that happen? Would you like a boy or a girl? Blue eyes or brown? A cup of smart, a tablespoon of athleticism, and a pinch of musical talent? Because we can custom make a baby, just for you.

That line is blurring; what we can make versus what God (or whatever higher authority you prefer) gives us. I know that I don't feel comfortable as the physician being in the position to choose one viable embryo over another. I don't have it all figured out. I don't think there is a clear answer. For most educated and difficult dilemmas, things are not black and white but shades of gray.

Speaking of, would you like gray eyes?

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