While researching how discourse frames designer babies, I found an apt example of a literal designer baby: twins, in fact. The fashion maven and darling of designers, Sarah Jessica Parker, and husband Matthew Broderick, had twin girls via a surrogate, which means the babies were likely created in vitro (outside the womb) and then implanted into the surrogate.
I’m guessing, of course, but it stands to reason that, if you are engaging in the process of in vitro fertilization, you’ll be tempted to take a look at the embryos for abnormalities, such as Down Syndrome. By choosing which embryos you want implanted, your babies are “selected,” thus earning the moniker of “designer baby.”
And, like Jimmy Choo shoes or a Prada bag, you pay for the design, thus cementing the linkage with babies that carry a sticker price of $10,000 or more per implantation, to say nothing of the care-and-feeding of a surrogate.
It would be more accurate for People Magazine to report that Parker and Broderick “purchased their twin-pack” rather than framing the story as “giving birth by surrogate.”
In the Parker-Broderick case, we get the literal definition of “designer baby.”
Skirting around the moral and ethical issues regarding embryonic selection for a moment, some scientists are concerned about unintended consequences of genes that travel together, so if you select one, you also get the partner gene, which may be less desirable.
The example of such traveling genes was described in the case of Doogie Howser mice. Scientists had genetically modified “smart mice,” hence the sobriquet “Doogie Howser.” But it seems that the mice with high IQs were also more likely to feel pain, an unintended consequence of gene selection.
You get smart mice that have also have a low threshold for pain. Something the scientists didn’t know in advance.
So if we have the opportunity to select human embryos for, say, green eyes or a great throwing arm, do we also breed a narcissist or a short-tempered brat?