The "increasing convergence among genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies" has prompted Thomas H. Murray to question parenthood of the future. In a commentary published in the journal, Science, the president emeritus of the Hastings Center asks how much discretion should parents have in determining what kind of child to bear. Is modern science approaching the point where designing the baby of one's dreams becomes a reality? Will stirring the pot this way become the norm? If so, is the creation of designer babies medically, ethically, and morally acceptable?

Murray's questions stem from recent US Food and Drug Administration public hearings concerning a burgeoning assisted reproduction technology called mitochondrial manipulation. The procedure recently made headlines around the world as the United Kingdom Parliament invited public comment as to whether or not the procedure should get legislative approval. The procedure is also referred to as three-way or three-person in vitro fertilization (IVF).

As it is being considered today, the procedure involves a woman who carries a genetic mutation in the mitochondrial DNA that causes certain rare diseases that will pass along to her children, leaving them at risk for the disease, too. Mitochondrial manipulation removes her mitochondrial DNA from an otherwise healthy egg and replaces it with the mitochondrial DNA from a woman who does not carry the genetic mutation.

The altered egg of the mother is then united with a healthy sperm in traditional IVF fashion and the resulting embryo is implanted into her womb where pregnancy and childbirth can progress.

The human genome contains approximately 21,000 genes and only 37 of them are involved in the swapping out of the two women's mitochondrial DNA. Some causes of female infertility originate in the mitochondrial DNA, too. Mitochondrial manipulation is expected to overcome infertility in some cases.

Murray's concerns are that genetic manipulation won't stop with an overriding disease. If it doesn't stop there, where should it stop? Or should there even be a stopping point?

Murray advocates national discussion of the pros and cons of the procedure, including discussion of where to draw the line on its use. According to Murray, “conflicts over the legal and moral status of embryos and fetuses have discouraged American legislators from proposing sensible regulations (about prenatal genetic testing), lest they are drawn into the abortion debate.”

He further notes, “It will not be easy to avoid the quicksand of the abortion debate but it would be a great public service to provide a sober assessment of the choices that would-be parents increasingly face, and to encourage a respectful dialogue about the meaning of parenthood and the worth of a child so that parents and children can flourish together.”

Source: "PRESS RELEASE 3/13/14: Stirring the Simmering "Designer Baby" Pot." The Hastings Center. The Hastings Center. Mar 13, 2014. Web. Mar 23, 2014.