Even though PGD increases the rate of successful IVF, the biggest concern is that PGD will eventually lead to creation of babies' being tailor-made to parent specifications. While the technology isn't at that point just yet, doctors are beginning to see what the ethicists are worried about.
"Some lab directors just have a policy that they don't want to do PGD because they're afraid people would use it to choose the sex of their baby," says Ary.
Both Ary and Givens say they have had patients undergoing PGD who requested that the doctors select only embryos of a specific sex to be reimplanted. But both doctors report that the tendency is for families to choose a sex that balances out their family tree, requesting a girl, for example, to be added to a family of three boys. "But our most common request is to put back one boy and one girl [embryo] that are normal," says Ary.
And even if a family wants to choose the sex of their child for a religious or cultural belief, some doctors argue in favor of performing a PGD for this purpose, saying that it may prevent an abortion later if a pregnancy is of the undesired gender.
For now, it seems the benefits of PGD outweigh most ethical concerns, as technology is far from the point where scientists can construct babies from the genetic raw materials of their parents.
"The real message is that we are not testing for trivial things like height or hair color or intelligence," says Givens, "We're not trying to create designer babies. We're trying to lower the risk of genetic disease, eliminate the need for people to have to abort pregnancies for genetic diseases, and we are trying to help people to have a healthy pregnancy."
As the geneticist in the sci-fi movie Gattaca says, "this child is still you, simply the best of you."
Karen Barrow has written for the New York Sun, Science World, Super Science and The Jewish Week. She obtained a master's degree in biomedical journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Cornell University.
Copyright © Karen Barrow. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.