Designer Babies: Gore and Topol on Fetal Genome Sequencing

; Al Gore


March 07, 2014

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Editor's Note:
Medscape Editor-in-Chief Eric Topol, MD, recently spoke with former Vice President Al Gore about his book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. In this segment, Mr. Gore addresses the pros and cons of fetal genome sequencing and explains his concern that this technology could be used to create so-called designer babies.

Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello. I'm Eric Topol, Editor-in-Chief of Medscape, and I am here with a One-on-One interview with former Vice President Al Gore. We're going to be talking about fetal genome sequencing and designer babies.

In your book you write about fetal genome sequencing, which was a big breakthrough. We can now obviate the need for amniocentesis; it's just remarkable. But it also circles back to the question of what do you do with the information? Will it lead to designer babies? What are your thoughts about that?

Al Gore: I have many thoughts about it. We all should be paying attention to this, because some of the choices that parents will now have are benign, nonsignificant outcomes -- blue eyes, black hair, whatever. But if we make choices that affect not only the individual but also the germline, and introduce changes into generations stretching far into the future, we need to be pretty careful that we understand the full implications of those choices. And what we're currently seeing is a determination to make those choices even though we don't understand what the implications are.

The ethics of not making these choices are so clear that nobody is going to argue with it. But we see things like parental competition and what it's done to the test-preparation industry. We see competition that has driven too many kids to take these [ADHD] concentration-enhancing drugs that many doctors say can have really harmful side effects, and all because the competitive pressures drive them in that direction. And if we are allowed trait selection choices that have competitive implications, you bet some parents are going to feel real pressure and desire to make those choices. They need to be informed of the risks by physicians and geneticists who have had an adequate amount of time and opportunity to really understand the full implications of these choices.

Dr. Topol: I give you special credit; not only do you talk about this issue in your book, but as a Senate subcommittee chair, you pushed to understand the ethics, social implications, and legal aspects of the Human Genome Project. We have to continue to fund and support these implications in genomics.

This has been a fantastic interview. We've had the chance to get some unique perspectives from former Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. Gore: Thanks for your kind words, and if you continue to be willing to teach me, I'll keep on trying to learn.

Dr. Topol: Thank you. We look forward to more really interesting interviews in subsequent Medscape One-on-Ones.


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