The year is 2050. Inside the fertility clinic, Melissa peers at a computer screen. She is thoughtful. After all, choosing a child is a serious matter, not something to be done in haste. The screen shows the image of a smiling teenage girl whom Melissa and her husband, Curtis, have already named Alice. Both the image and the information printed beside it tell a great deal about the person Alice will become, both physically and mentally.
Alice has not been born. The future teenager is yet an embryo, safely stored at -320 degrees Fahrenheit with dozens of other embryos in a nearby room. The genetic characteristics of each embryo were scanned and fed into the computer to help the parents select which one would be implanted in Melissa’s womb.
Since Melissa and Curtis want a girl, the male embryos are rejected. The parents next examine the remaining embryos for such characteristics as health prospects, appearance, and temperament. Finally Melissa and Curtis make their choice. Nine months later they rejoice in the birth of the daughter of their choosing—a real, living Alice.
THIS story is condensed from an account written by Lee Silver, a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, New Jersey, U.S.A. It is a projection of what he believes may occur in the decades ahead. He based his ideas on existing research and technology. Already, human embryos can be screened for certain genetic disorders. And it has been over 20 years since the first test-tube baby was born. Having been conceived in a petri dish, she was the first human conceived outside her mother’s womb.
The fact that Dr. Silver names the child Alice may remind us of the well-known fantasy Alice in Wonderland. Indeed, the future to which many are looking is a land of wonders. An editorial in the prestigious magazine Nature stated: “The growing power of molecular genetics confronts us with future prospects of being able to change the nature of our species.”
In the following article, we will look at some developments in biotechnology, focusing particularly on the prospects for “improving” humanity. Will the work being done in the laboratories today affect your life or that of your children? Many believe that it will.