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Designer babies - what would you do for a 'healthy' baby?

The well-educated are significantly more open to the idea of "designing" babies than the poorly educated, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of East Anglia.

The findings will be presented by Dr. Simon Hampton at the BA Festival of Science on Setpember 5.

Dr. Hampton and his team at UEA's School of Social Work and Psychosocial Studies examined what different groups of people in the UK would "design into" their children given the opportunity.

The evidence suggests that there are gender, age and socio-economic class differences in what is deemed desirable and that many prospective parents would be prepared to manipulate their babies in ways that are at odds with moral orthodoxy.

"People assume that the very notion of designer babies stems from the desire of prospective parents for their children to be healthy," said Dr. Hampton.

"However, the picture is complicated by the shifting meaning of 'healthy' and confusion about when the manipulation of children's physical, psychological or social characteristics is legitimate, natural or ethical."

We are often presented with information and speculation about what reproductive technologies might achieve in the future and with various ethical dilemmas. This new research is among the first to investigate the thoughts and feelings of ordinary prospective parents.

The results of a series of surveys of 100-200 participants included:

  • The better educated prospective parents are, the further they are prepared to go to improve their children's IQ.
  • Women interpret certain interventions in child rearing as "design acts" more readily than men.
  • People over 50 interpret certain interventions as "design acts" more readily than people under 25.
  • Because of "parental uncertainty" - the idea than women know for certain if a child is their's whereas men do not ?men show a significantly greater preference than female parents for their children to inherit their own characteristics.
  • Parents see different physical, social and intellectual characteristics as desirable depending on the sex of the child.
  • Older women and childless women are significantly more willing to "improve" the physical, social and intellectual characteristics of prospective children? (This can be explained by women seeking to increase their genetic heredity, particularly when their time to reproduce begins to decrease.)
  • Both men and women see genetic engineering as acceptable primarily for medical applications.

Reproductive technologies and designer babies will be held in ARTS 01.02 at UEA on Tuesday September 5 from 4-6pm.

Source:University of East Anglia

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