Pro-Life Groups, Bioethicists Criticize Chicago Doctors’ ‘Designer Babies"

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 7, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Groups, Bioethicists Criticize Chicago Doctors’ ‘Designer Babies"

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
May 7, 2004

Chicago, IL ( — They’ve been called "designer babies" by journalists trying to put a positive spin on the push to create "made-to-order" brothers and sisters for sick children.

But to a number of bioethicists, medical researchers, and religious leaders, they may simply be known as "the survivors," children formed in medical laboratories who were allowed to be born only because they had the right genetic makeup.

A Chicago laboratory known as Chicago’s Reproductive Genetics Institute is making headlines because it helped create five babies so that they could serve as stem-cell donors for children with leukemia or a rare form of life-threatening anemia.

But the babies could have been marked for death as embryos — if they had not had the characteristics the Chicago researchers were looking for.

"Beginning new human lives at the embryonic stage, testing them to see how useful they will be, and throwing away those who don’t measure up is demeaning–and not just to those who are sacrificed," said John Kilner, president of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a non-profit bioethics think tank based in Chicago.

"Those who survive are demeaned as well since they are allowed to live only because they are sufficiently useful," Kilner added.

The Chicago experiments have provoked outrage from many bioethics experts and religious leaders, who view the researchers as trying to mine for human treasures–then abandoning those embryos who failed to make the cut.

"This was a search-and-destroy mission," Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the Associated Press.

Doerflinger noted that an elite group of embryos "were allowed to be born so they could donate tissue to benefit someone else."

The Chicago researchers determined that the babies would be suitable donors for their ailing brothers and sisters when those children were still embryos. Researchers created some 199 embryos through in-vitro fertilization, then determined that 45 of the embryos would be a suitable match. Of those, 28 were implanted — only five were actually born alive.

The Chicago experiment, which has been detailed in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved nine couples who submitted embryos during 2002 and 2003.

The embryos that were rejected as a tissue match were either discarded or subjected to research that ultimately killed them.

Stem cells from the umbilical cord of one infant have already been donated to an ailing sibling, according to Dr. Anver Kuliev. Kuliev has called the operation a success, but he has also conceded that the older child will need to be monitored in order to be sure.

A member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Valparaiso University professor Gilbert Meilaender, views such designer baby experiments as "morally troubling."

Meanwhile, in attempting to justify the move toward designer babies, Norman Fost, a medical ethicist from the University of Wisconsin, has said, "Of all the reasons people have babies, this would seem to be a wonderful reason. Most reasons are either mindless sex or selfish reasons."

However, the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity strongly disagrees.

Daniel McConchie, the Center’s Director of Public Relations and Public Policy, noted, "These experiments reflect the growing cultural tendency to only value human life that offers some concrete contribution to human existence.

"The act of choosing some lives over others entirely because of their genetic makeup is dehumanizing," McConchie added.

Related web sites:
The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity –
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops –