May 24, 2024

Designer babies on the way

Jeffrey Steinberg offers choice of hair, eye colour and complexion

Although most fertility clinics declare that they will not create "designer babies" for their clients, one well-known American clinic is already advertising the service on its website. Fertility Institutes, run by Dr Jeffrey Steinberg with offices in California, New York and Mexico, now allows parents to choose a baby’s gender, eye colour, hair colour, and complexion, together with screening for potentially lethal diseases and cancer tendencies.

By sorting for a baby’s cosmetic traits, Dr Steinberg is boldly going where no doctors have gone before. "No legitimate lab would get into it and, if they did, they’d be ostracized," one American expert in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis told the Wall Street Journal. But Dr Steinberg is unperturbed. "This is cosmetic medicine," he says. "Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it." So far he has had a handful of inquiries for the service.

Sleuthing by the WSJ uncovered some problems with Dr Steinberg’s plans. Detecting the genes for cosmetic features is technically feasible, but difficult. William Kearns, a medical geneticist and director of the Shady Grove Center for Preimplantation Genetics in Maryland, has invented a technique which jumps these hurdles. However, Keans told the WSJ: "I’m not going to do designer babies. I won’t sell my soul for a dollar." So Steinberg may have to use a different technique. But he is determined. Trait selection in babies "is a service," he says. "We intend to offer it soon." ~ Wall Street Journal, Feb 12