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If you have been to Singapore's Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands, you would have come across these exhibits.

With the rise of technology, and improvements in aesthetic medicine, what enhancements are socially and ethically acceptable?

A decade ago, people used to despise 'plastic surgery', seeing them as unnatural modifications to the human bodies. Yet, with many young influencers blogging about the various cosmetic surgeries they have been through: botox, double eyelid surgeries, nose jobs, chin jobs, et cetera, the social stigma of these procedures seem to have decreased. But how about enhancing the genetic makeup of an unborn child?

The recent announcement by researchers in Oregon that they have managed to modify the genetic material of a human embryo took some people by surprise (Connor, 2017). Scientists praised the efforts to expunge or correct genes that cause inherited diseases, while critics argue against these scientific developments which could potentially lead to eugenics and the rise of "designer babies" - a proposal that is strongly opposed by religious organisations, civil society groups, and biotechnological companies.

Scientific advancements have already allowed infertile couples who undergo In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) or Artificial Insemination (AI) to screen the embryos for specific diseases (Storrs, 2016), or to choose the gender of their child. Besides the fact that these procedures may present a risk to the embryos, it also brings about issues such as gender bias, and the ethical consequences of the remaining embryos.

What happens to the embryos that are not chosen?

They are simply thrown away.

If you think that this happens ONLY overseas, think again!

In Theresa Tan's Straits Times article in 2011 titled "Gender Spenders", she wrote about how many Singaporeans go abroad to have the ability to choose their babies' gender from the expensive IVF treatments in Thailand and the United States of America. The fact that we still are an Asian paternalistic society that values boys more than girls can be exemplified by this phenomenon. Will we eventually end up misusing the benefits that science brought us, for our own selfish purposes?

We then do need to work out the ethics (The Conversation, 2017) -

1. WHEN and HOW should these techniques (CRISPR, AI, IVF, genetic screening) be used?

2. Should there limits on what you can or cannot edit in an embryo?

3. Who should decide and control these limits?


Credits: Agatha Haines, Transfigurations, 2013 (Exhibition at the Art Science Museum Singapore)

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