In the near future, there is the possibility that parents will be able to use genetic engineering to choose the sex of their child through manipulation of the embryo. This method remains controversial amongst many, whilst others believe this method has the potential to be more ethical than pre-existing methods, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Unlike preimplantation genetic diagnosis, genetic engineering does not destroy the undesired gender. There is ongoing debate over the ethics of using the new technology to choose the sex of a baby. Some see it as ‘playing God,’ as it is disrupting the natural process of reproduction. In some countries, there is bias in favour of having male offspring. If there was a conclusive preference for one gender over the other, there could be an imbalance of males and females. However, there are positives of genetic engineering, such as avoiding genetic diseases that affect one sex more than the other. This method of sex selection can be 100% reliable, as embryos are implanted after the sex has been determined.

The ethics of using genetic engineering for sex selection

While genetic engineering is not in routine use for sex selection, it remains a possibility for the near future. It is feasible that within our lifetimes, we will see parents given the choice to use genetic engineering and facing ethical dilemmas. There are two types of genetic engineering. The first is called somatic engineering. Somatic engineering targets genes in specific organs and tissues of a person but does not affect the genes in egg or sperm cells. The second type is germline engineering, which targets the genes in egg and sperm cells. To select the sex of a child, the ‘gendered’ genes of the desired sex are put into an organism like a virus, and then germline engineering is used. If embryos are seen as people, there are questions over consent, as there is no element of choice for the subsequent person. However, it can be argued that parents act on their children’s behalf anyway. For example, parents choose what clothes their children will wear, what they eat, and what school they go to. Why should parents not be allowed to make this decision too? Yet, infants still show preferences for certain foods and sleep schedules, showing they can resist parental preferences.

For genetic engineering

Genetic engineering is used not only for choosing the sex of offspring, but it can also be used to prevent diseases in those who are predisposed to them. If gene therapy is done on reproductive cells, it could prevent children from carrying genes associated with genetic disorders. We already use genetic engineering in agriculture to enhance the characteristics of crops and animals. In the future, this could progress to creating crops with a higher nutritional value and selectively breeding farm animals. We use genetically engineered bacteria and microorganisms to produce human insulin, pharmaceuticals, and human growth hormone. There is a strong argument that using genetic engineering could make life better in the future by enhancing characteristics society values. Some people also advocate reproductive freedom and argue that genetic engineering allows this.

Against genetic engineering

There are arguments against genetic engineering, saying that it is too dangerous and discriminates. Some recent attempts at gene therapy in clinical trials have caused tragic deaths and made headlines. Therefore, some critics have called for gene therapy to be stopped until more is known about it. There are concerns that vectors could deliver DNA to the wrong cells, viruses used as vectors could cause disease, and adding new genes to a nucleus would not necessarily mean that they would go where desired.