In one of Isabel Allende's famously mystical books, a character dreams of her future child while she's in the throes of passion with the man she's chosen as a suitable father. She creates the gender, eye color and skin tone in her mind as she writhes and ... well, you get the picture. The children (she "makes" two this way) turn out just as she imagined them.

While this is well and good for fantasy, it's not they way many believe the world should work. Checking off boxes... blue eyes... blonde hair... and I'll want a girl, please... The technology has been available for at least five years, and gender selection is already being done (quietly) in U.S. and European IVF clinics. In the process. several embryos are created in the lab (typically using the egg and sperm of the would-be custodial parents), and then cells are drawn from the embryos and tested for desired genetic traits -- or, in the less ethically-challenged version, for the absence of inherited diseases -- and then the "desired" embryo is implanted in the mother's womb.

The LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, one of the early clinics to offer IVF technology in the 1970s, says today that it expects the first "trait-selected" baby to be born in the next year. Of course, there are no guarantees on perfect match of your ideal traits (so no picking out your nursery decor and your child's eye color with the same exact shade of cerulean).

The ethics of this are so obviously dicey as to leave me with no option but to ignore them. After all, in some parts of rural China, 165 boys are born for every 100 girls. In some parts of India, women are doused in gasoline and set on fire because their traits are undesirable. Are designer babies a good idea? You tell me.

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