Designer Babies can Lead to Growth of Homogenous Individuals

Credit: Getty Images

By Jagriti Gangopadhyay
NEW DELHI, Jan 7 2019 (IPS)

A Chinese researcher has claimed that he helped make world’s first genetically edited babies but the development may come at a heavy cost. A designer baby is a GM human embryo with appropriate qualities which have been shaped as per the instructions received from the parents.

In the dystopian novel, Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, the setting is a futuristic world. The novel is set in London where citizens are being nurtured in artificial wombs and engineered through childhood indoctrination programmes into predestined categories based on their intelligence and skills. Though this novel was written decades ago, today, genetically modified (GM) children seem to be the next step towards transforming family structures across the globe. Though no designer baby has been born as yet, in a technology driven world, it is going to soon become a reality.

Already, Genomic Prediction, a company based in New Jersey, USA, plans to offer tests to calculate the risk of complex conditions like heart disease of an unborn child. The cost of human gene sequencing too is dropping—from $1,000 today, it could drop to below $100 over the next few years. In simple terms, a designer baby is a GM human embryo with appropriate qualities which have been shaped as per the instructions received from the parents. The process through which designer babies are produced is known as gene editing.

Next, these cuts are restored through non-homologous end joining or homologous recombination that result in the desired edits. Using molecular scissors, cuts can be made at certain locations of the genome. Specifically, designer babies were conceived so that children would be free from any life-threatening disease. For instance, if either of the parent has a history of a terminally ill disease in their family, the GM baby will be immune to that disease. Through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and pre-genetic testing, the doctor will be able to identify the genes which could carry the potential danger of that disease.

Those genes will be muted before the fertilisation of the egg and the fetus produced will be devoid of any anomaly. Given the noble cause associated with gene editing, it is important to understand the ethical challenges of such a process as well the consequences of such a technology in determining the future of families across the globe.

Politics of the body

In his seminal work Birth of the Clinic, Michel Foucault had argued that with the advancement of medical sciences, an individual will gradually lose the right over one’s body. This argument is increasingly becoming true with the intrusion of technology in reproductive health. In addition to parents succumbing to technology to satisfy their needs, there are several ethical challenges involved with designer babies.

Given the newness of the technology, it is difficult to predict how the designer baby will grow up to be. It is also too early to calculate the side effects of this kind of technology. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that the unborn child’s consent is not taken before the process of gene editing. This is a huge ethical challenge. Moreover, GM babies are bound to create more inequality in society. This technology is expensive and only a certain section of society will be able to access it. Hence, the designer babies will mostly be born with fair skin and skills which will result in securing lucrative jobs. Thus the technology will be used to perfect the body and the mind of the unborn baby and will result in the growth of homogeneous individuals.

The gender factor

India witnessed the debate around designer babies when the health wing of the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) announced that eugenics could be used to enable dark skinned Indian parents to have fair and high IQ children. RSS stressed on Ayurveda which has the abilities to purify the entire population of the country. The health wing of the RSS indicated that if the mother eats right and then it will be possible to have a customised baby.

The emphasis on fair and high IQ babies clearly indicates, the RSS’ vision of the future population of India. In addition to producing fair and high skill set producing children, gene editing will lead to discrimination on the basis of gender as well. In India, this technology will be used in sex selection as well. One of the features of this technology is that it can scan the sperms of the male partner. Given India’s history of preference for the male child, there are fears that the sperm with the male gene will be injected and more male children will be born.

Additionally, genetically engineered babies will also expand the gap between the West and the Third World. Since, this form of technology will be expensive in countries such as the US and countries of Europe, a large number of foreigners will travel to various Third World countries such as India, Bangladesh and Nepal and avail the technology at much cheaper rates. Genetically engineered babies as a form of technology is still in its infancy. However, given the upsurge in egg banking, IVFs and surrogacy, experts feel that this technology will garner popularity.

Past experiences show that due to lack of regulation, Third World countries were exploited by people in rich nations to satisfy their parenting needs. Since discussions around gene editing, gene engineering and designer babies have already started doing the rounds, it is important for international bodies such as the World Health Organization to set guidelines and regulatory measures at the very onset.

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Another UN Harassment Case Quietly Disappears

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, right, and Kingston Rhodes, chairman of the International Civil Service Commission, a regulatory body of the UN, April 13, 2017. Rhodes, from Sierra Leone, retired a few weeks early from his job in December, amid allegations he had engendered a hostile workplace for women.

By Barbara Crossette
Jan 7 2019 (PassBlue)

Amid a busy December, when the United Nations was focusing on important conferences on climate change and migration and year-end holidays loomed, a case of harassment that never got the traction it arguably deserved ended in a traditional UN way: it disappeared.

On Dec. 14, the chairman of the International Civil Service Commission, which regulates salaries and working conditions for staff members across the vast UN system, quietly resigned, after a year of dodging allegations that he had created a hostile and “unhealthy” environment for women who rejected his sexual advances.

The chairman of the commission, Kingston Rhodes of Sierra Leone, who held the rank of UN under secretary-general, was due to retire at the end of 2018, when his second term ended. His sudden, early resignation was exactly what the women who filed a complaint feared: Rhodes hung on and walked free. Four of those women had aired their allegations in a letter to Secretary-General António Guterres.

Rhodes’ staff even organized a farewell party for him, in place of a holiday party, and employees were urged to help defray the costs.

Thalif Deen, a correspondent at the UN for Inter Press Service, who was almost alone in his persistent reporting on the harassment story, wrote on Dec. 14 what women working for the commission had been predicting, “The UN’s heavily-hyped ‘zero tolerance’ policy on sexual abuse is being ridiculed once again.”

Equality Now, an international organization advocating for women’s rights, had been following the case for more than a year, since the allegations surfaced in November 2017. The organization had also formally asked for intervention by Guterres, who was reported to have said he found the allegations made by the women on the commission staff “credible.”

One complainant was Shihana Mohamed, a human-resources policies officer on the commission. In an interview with PassBlue last summer, she discussed several systemwide principles that she charged had been violated by Rhodes, who had created a “hostile” and threatening working environment.

While Rhodes — as an elected, not appointed, official — was not required to abide by some employee rules, one that he had at least publicly endorsed was a systemwide UN code of conduct. Under the heading “Harassment and abuse of authority,” it says:

“Harassment in any shape or form is an affront to human dignity and international civil servants must not engage in any form of harassment. International civil servants have the right to a workplace environment free of harassment or abuse. All organizations must prohibit any kind of harassment. Organizations have a duty to establish rules and provide guidance on what constitutes harassment and abuse of authority and how unacceptable behaviour will be addressed.

“International civil servants must not abuse their authority or use their power or position in a manner that is offensive, humiliating, embarrassing or intimidating to another person.”

The International Civil Service Commission, which has 15 commissioners from around the world and a staff of about 40 people, is not a remote body based far from the UN. It is across the street from UN headquarters in a building housing other UN offices. Yet for months, the UN Secretariat, including the office of the secretary-general, took the position that technically, the commission was an independent entity, having been created by the General Assembly and fully in charge of its own affairs.

Equality Now took issue with that explanation from the start. Yasmeen Hassan, the organization’s global executive director, said in a letter to Guterres in July, endorsed by nine other advocacy groups, “You are in a unique position to defend your staff against harassment, physical and psychological, by any others in the United Nations workplace.”

Although the complaint filed in November 2017 could have been acted on quickly, it took five months for the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s investigative arm, to begin considering the case and apparently to decide whether it had standing to investigate the commission.

When the investigation began, another seven months elapsed before it issued a report, according to the Inter Press Service, which has a global readership. The findings were sent to the commission in mid-December 2018 and have not been made public by that body or by the Secretariat.

Throughout the time that Rhodes was under investigation, he carried on blithely ignoring the complaints. For example, in a speech on July 9, he congratulated himself on the successes of his tenure.

“Twelve years ago when I was first appointed Chair of the Commission, I set out my vision for a revitalized Commission, which would reassert its leadership role and deepen engagement with the overall reform taking place in the organizations of the United Nations common system,” he said.

“At the time, I urged members of the Commission to recommit to the concept of a unified, high performing, merit-based international civil service which emphasizes and rewards performance. . . . Looking back, I take pride in seeing how much has been accomplished and the extent to which we were able to realise that vision together.”

Rhodes was allowed to continue in his post without interference from fellow commissioners or Guterres until less than two weeks from his scheduled retirement date. The details of what prompted his unexpected — earlier (so to speak) — resignation have not been made public.

He will be replaced as chairman by Larbi Djacta of Algeria. A member of the commission, Djacta is a diplomat who has also worked with UN peacekeeping.

After the resignation of Rhodes was announced, Shihana Mohamed, the complainant noted above and a leading figure in the campaign to expose the difficult conditions for women at the commission, publicized the details of her own experiences in a statement to Equality Now. She said, in an abridged version of her story:

“I was sexually harassed by the Chairman of the ICSC, Mr. Kingston Rhodes, for over 10 years — and I was not the only one,” Mohamed said. “Because I said NO to his repeated sexual advances, Mr. Rhodes denied me promotions, and excluded me from duty travels, training, assignments, projects, Commission sessions and working groups. In 2016, I was on sick leave for 3 months due to the stress caused by the hostile office environment and retaliation by the ICSC management.

“His quiet resignation just two weeks before the end of his term is a slap in my face and barely a slap on his wrist.”

The post Another UN Harassment Case Quietly Disappears appeared first on PassBlue.

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