KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With designer baby clothes, designer baby toys, it seemed only a matter of time until some fertility clinic began offering designer babies to go with them.

Now a California clinic, already enjoying a reputation for helping parents pick the gender of their next bundle of DNA, claims it can do even more. Want blue eyes? How about curly hair?

Dr. Jeff Steinberg, director of Fertility Institutes, said he plans to use the technology – designed to detect diseases and defects in the unborn – to make cosmetic alterations.

Hype or help, the medical ethics community and other fertility specialists are aghast at this Brave New World.

“It’s an outrage to my sense of justice that people would rather waste resources on something like this rather than things that really matter,” said Dr. John Lantos, of Kansas City’s Center for Practical Bioethics.

Steinberg, whose publicist didn’t return calls to The Kansas City Star, has said his clinic isn’t deterred by criticism. Science is moving forward, he said, and so is he.

“Genetic health is the wave of the future,” he told the New York Daily News. “It’s already happening and it’s not going to go away. It’s going to expand. So if they have major problems with it, they need to sit down and really examine their own consciences.”

His clinic announced in December that it would be offering services that would “greatly increase” the odds of a certain hair color, eye color and complexion. The clinic, with offices in California and New York, plans to offer trait selection sometime in early fall. The cost for the process will be about $18,000.

“Not all patients will qualify for these tests and we make NO guarantees as to ‘perfect prediction’ of things such as eye color or hair color,” said the clinic’s news release.

PGD technology is a laboratory procedure used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to help detect certain diseases. Flawed embryos are weeded out and good ones are implanted back into the mother’s womb.

In time, PGD was expanded to gender selection. Some specialists believe choosing the sex is appropriate when families are looking for balance in the number of sons or daughters.

But many fertility clinics, like Reproductive Resource Center of Greater Kansas City, only use the procedure for medical purposes. The center has no plans to go any further.

“We like to spend time focusing on bad diseases that create havoc and we’re fine with that,” said Dr. Rodney Lyles at the center. “We just see people who so badly want to have a baby, a healthy baby. That’s what we try to get them.”

In every industry there are people who operate on the edge, who do things others don’t or won’t, Lyles said. But that doesn’t mean more people will join in.

“It could get out there, where you order your baby like you want it, but I don’t see that happening in large scale,” Lyles said. “If this doctor feels like he can do it, I guess people may go do that. … We wouldn’t have an interest.”

Hughes also doesn’t see a market for selecting the color of a baby’s skin, hair or eyes.

“I don’t care if you are a billionaire, no one wants to go through the psychological and emotional pain of IVF for something so trivial,” Hughes said. “We need to have faith in our fellow citizens.”

Another key is the science and what it will allow. At this point, the PGD process only allows doctors to choose between pre-existing traits of the parents.

“I’m fond of saying, ‘No matter what happens in molecular diagnosis technology, Danny DeVito and Dr. Ruth can not make Arnold Schwarzenegger,”‘ Hughes said.

Marcy Darnovsky, director of the Center for Genetics and Society, said trait selection is experimental and pushes the envelope of what is scientifically possible.

“Right now, it’s a marketing hype,” she said. “But we need to take it seriously.”

At this point, technology can only do so much, Lantos agreed.

“If both parents are dark-haired, they won’t be able to select a blond baby,” Lantos said. “If one is blond and the other is not, they may.”

What worries Darnovsky is trait selection is just another road to new discrimination.

“It could create a brave new world that we would not want to live in,” she said. “Just now in society we’re working to get away from social prejudices that have to do with appearance, especially skin color.

“And this guy wants to choose the skin tone of future babies. Not a good idea.”

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