Polygenic IVF Screening for Intelligence: Considerations Ahead
The technology for screening complex traits such as intelligence, in embryos, is here. First to be commercialised by US company Genomic Prediction, Polygenic IVF Screening is bringing the concept of ‘designer babies’ closer to reality, and it raises some important questions.
First, would parents be tempted to select embryos based on desirable traits such as high intelligence? In as much as parents would want to give the best to their children, barring the parents’ religious and moral convictions as well as their financial situations, such a technology could prove to be quite tempting. And although a 2015 study of US Adults revealed that tests for personality traits, sexual orientation and gender had a high disapproval rate ( MIT Review, 1/11/2017), at this stage, no one knows how market opinion and attitude would evolve in the future.
From a regulatory standpoint, one could surmise about the worst that could happen if parents were allowed to select embryos based on ‘desirable’ genetic traits. In sum, should eugenics be condoned? Furthermore, would differential access to the technology based on affordability widen the chasm between the rich and the poor, thus creating a virtuous circle of success for the rich through favourable genetic selection, and somewhat condemning the poor to staying at the bottom of the societal ladder?
From a moral/ ethical standpoint, one could wonder whether it would be right to select embryos based on their predicted intelligence? Yet, how different would selecting disease-free embryos be from selecting embryos with desirable traits such as high intelligence? If the avoidance of suffering is the guiding principle, couldn’t one argue that low intelligence would also be a source of suffering?
Next, how does one reconcile religious beliefs with such a technology? Isn’t choosing embryos akin to playing God, although one could argue that the concept of IVF itself is not aligned with strict religious beliefs?
Last and perhaps of even greater importance are the implications of choosing certain genes associated with ‘desirable’ traits and not knowing what other effects those genes might have. For instance, some studies have suggested a link between high polygenic scores for academic ability and autism. ( New Scientist 17/11/2018)
As the technology for screening complex traits becomes more precise and reliable, society would have to wrestle with some of those questions and it would need to establish clear guidelines about the technology’s applications.
What are your thoughts?