When U.S. genetics firm 23andMe sought a patent allowing prospective parents to select the traits of their would-be offspring, many an eyebrow were raised.
Using what they call the Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, 23andMe, clients send a saliva sample in order to view their genetic code, broken down to its physical as well as disease traits. This technology allows the prospective parents to find out what qualities such as external traits and conditions their children can inherit.
When the firm filed the patent in 2008, one of their intentions was to apply the genetic assessment to the needs of fertility clinics, so that customers could choose their preferred sperm or egg donor, eliminating the risk of not just certain diseases, genetic abnormalities, as well as unwanted physical attributes.
As a result, critics coined the term “designer babies”, attacking the ethical implications of the patent. Despite the initial vision behind the patent, 23andMe has announced that they will no longer use the said technology for fertility clinics for donor selection.
Says Genetics and Society executive director Marcy Darnovsky, “It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus from which to choose a future child’s traits.”
As response, 23andMe posted a statement on their website’s blog, saying, “At the time 23andMe filed the patent, there was consideration that the technology could have potential applications for fertility clinics so language specific to the fertility treatment process was included in the patent. But much has evolved in that time, including 23andMe’s strategic focus. The company never pursued the concepts discussed in the patent beyond our Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, nor do we have any plans to do so.”