US Patent On Selection Of Genetic Traits For Babies Fires ControversyPublished on 4 October 2013 @ 10:55 pm
By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch
A newly awarded patent on a process allowing parents to choose genetic traits from prospective donors for their children is creating a buzz in the United States and beyond.
“The recipient is allowed to make a specification of one or more phenotypes of interest in the hypothetical offspring,” according to the patent.
“Statistical information pertaining to the likelihood of observing phenotypes of interest are determined, based on the genotype of the recipient and the genotypes of different donors. For example, probabilities of the phenotypes of interest in the hypothetical offspring resulting from different recipient-donor combinations are computed,” the patent describes.
The patent was awarded to five individuals, among which Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of the start-up 23andme, and wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Several newspapers have published articles about what was nicknamed the “designer babies” patented process, such as the Wall Street Journal and MIT Technology Review, and Genetics in Medicine, the Journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, published an article authored by a several scientists, calling it a “controversial patent.”
“At no stage during the examination of the patent application did the patent office examiner question whether techniques for facilitating the ‘design’ of future human babies were appropriate subject matter for a patent,” they said, adding that unlike the European Patent Convention, “US patent law contains no explicit clause excluding from patent-eligibility inventions that contravene morality.”
“It is clear that selecting children in ways such as those patented by 23andMe is hugely ethically controversial,” they said.
“The use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to avoid implantation of embryos bearing serious genetic abnormalities is by now becoming commonplace, but a computerized process for selecting gamete donors to achieve a baby with a ‘phenotype of interest’ that the prospective parent ‘desires in his/her hypothetical offspring,’ as 23andMe puts it, seems to have much broader implications, for this process also entails the selection of traits that are not disease related,” they said.
Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com.