By Ron Green

birth of a child with a genetic disease, to prepare for the birth and treatment of a child with a recognized genetic disorder, or to reconsider their reproductive plans. What this case reveals is that genetics is opening up the possibility of shaping our children's lives in ways that go far beyond what is normally associated with the healing role. Somewhat less dramatic, but perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the identification of the genetic basis of many traits that are not considered diseases (e.g., height, intelligence, temperament) will offer parents a new range of choices in the "genetic design" of their children. At this moment, research is underway to identify and replace disease-causing genes in human embryos. In the future, such embryonic gene therapy will open up the possibility of enhancing children's capabilities. Beginning with genes that improve a child's resistance to cancer or AIDS, genetic interventions may make it possible to increase a child's height, stamina, or IQ. Science could offer parents who yearn for a champion basketball player or world-class swimmer the means to realize their dreams.

As complex as it may seem, the science here is the easy part. Far more difficult are the ethical questions. To begin with, there is the question of whether we will ever have enough knowledge to "play God" in this way. Do we dare alter the course of human evolution? The history of twentieth-century science is littered with well-intended technologies—from DDT to nuclear power—that eventually brought unforeseen harms. Will our genetic interventions follow this path? Will our clumsy attempts to "improve" the human genome unleash an epidemic of new genetic diseases? And what of the child's rights in all this? Is it fair to "engineer" a child into a parent's dream of perfection?

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