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Chrissy Teigen’s Fertility Decision Highlights “Designer Child” Debate

Chrissy Teigen is making headlines for more than her caught-on-camera cringe at Sunday’s Academy Awards.

The 30-year-old supermodel and wife to John Legend is the subject of online backlash after she revealed that she selected the sex of her unborn baby, opting for a girl.

When faced with fertility issues, Teigen and Legend – like many couples – opted for in vitro fertilization. In the process, the couple also chose to have a daughter. “Not only am I having a girl, but I picked the girl from her little embryo. I picked her and was like, ‘Let’s put in the girl’,” Teigen recently told People.

Not surprisingly, some critics have slammed her for promoting a culture of “designer children.” The idea of co-called designer children is based on the ability of genetic technology to allow parents to modify their unborn children to both spare them from certain genetic diseases and eventually “custom order” them to be tall, athletic, intelligent, or beautiful (among other things).

Once reserved for sci-fi films and literature, genetically modified babies are now a very real possibility. The debate remains a hot topic, especially with the introduction of the breakthrough technology CRISPR/Cas9, which was used to edit the genome of human embryos this past April. Though it isn’t the first genetic altering tool, it’s hailed as the most effective and futuristic.

Certain benefits of genetic modification are undeniable. Sparing your offspring from disease is one thing, but it’s quite another to “order” things like hair colour, eye colour, or height that have nothing to do with a child’s physical well-being.

The thing is, if the “made-to-order” children floodgate opens, it will only perpetuate some of the biggest issues in society today – and introduce others. Ignoring the whole “playing God” argument (that’s not my thing), and understanding that I’m clearly no scientist, here are my biggest problems with it:

Naturally, custom designing your child would come with a hefty price tag. When only those with the cash have the option, the prospect would only widen the gap between society’s haves and have-nots. Genetic distinctions could characterize the wealthy, while the poor would become ‘flawed originals’, making societal inequality more physically and visually apparent (See: Gattaca).

Gender issues:
“Gender neutral” has gone from being a buzzword to a reality of future children. In an age when people are giving birth to gender-neutral babies – allowing them to choose their own gender once they’re old enough – it seems a little backward to pick to have a boy or a girl. Doing so could lead to heightened pressure for the child to conform to traditional expectations of gender roles at a time when such expectations are rapidly eroding. 

Pressure on children:
In addition to the gender issue, in designing your child to be athletic, beautiful, or smart, you may be putting unrealistic expectations on them to live up to those characteristics. Not to mention, parents may struggle to manage their own expectations and disappointment when little Emma or Liam (the top baby names of 2015) don’t become track stars or models as so carefully planned.

Loss of individuality:
Recent decades have seen somewhat of a loss of individuality thanks to things like plastic surgery, hair extensions, and other appearance-altering tools. In recent years, this uniformity is only perpetuated by social media obsessions (i.e. Kylie Jenner’s lips). If we can customize our children the way we do our cars, we run the risk of people looking increasingly alike (at least, those with wealthy parents). 

Increased value on the superficial:
In line with the loss of individuality will come a heightened focus of importance on the physical or superficial at a time of an increased value placed on the exterior thanks to social media. We’re already editing, altering, and perfectly-angling our images to create the ideal version of how we’d like to appear on social media; altering our babies is a next level we don’t need to reach. Not to mention, isn’t there something a little comforting about your baby having your grandfather’s nose or mother’s signature height?

Culture of consumerism:
The ability to custom design our children only perpetuates our current culture of consumerism and a desire for options. In a time when you can order anything at your fingertips, from a gourmet meal from your favourite restaurant to a slew of just-released films, the concept of picking and choosing between genetic code options takes away from the old-fashioned simplicity of natural biology. And we have few old-fashioned, simple things left.

While I think Chrissy Teigen has a right to choose the sex of her child (and I have no issues with IVF, either, by the way), the concern is that a growing trend to do so will open the floodgates for a host of new customizable options in the future.

And when parenting our future children is already scary as hell, it just leaves me a little unsettled.


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