Ethical Debate Surrounds Orchid Health’s Genome Testing That Promises ‘Healthy Babies’

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: May 18, 2024

The almost unfathomable advancement of technology in recent years, especially within the medical field, has undoubtedly changed the world forever. While many of these developments have helped save millions of lives, there are others that are more controversial.

A new kind of genetic testing will allow prospective parents to analyze the physical and mental conditions of an embryo before going ahead with the pregnancy. One company claims this process will help everyone “have healthy babies,” but others are calling it eugenics.

Orchid Health: “Have Healthy Babies”

Orchid Health is a biotechnology research company that claims it can ensure parents “have healthy babies.” The company tagline says, “For the first time, parents have a new superpower. With Orchid, they can safely and naturally mitigate genetic risks in their future child.”

Photograph from Orchid Health’s website explaining their offerings

Source: OrchidHealth

They provide this seemingly wonderful service through advanced genome screening for embryos, which can sequence more than 99% of the genetic makeup even before the pregnancy.

Orchid Health Only Works With IVF

It’s important to understand that Orchid Health’s genome screening isn’t available to everyone. Only embryos harvested and prepared for in vitro fertilization can currently be sequenced.

Close-up photograph of a blue-gloved hand removing frozen eggs from a freezer

Source: iStock

However, because the number of couples using in vitro or freezing their eggs has skyrocketed over the past few years, Orchid Health’s services could be used by thousands of people around the country and eventually, the world.

What Can Orchid Health Determine in the Embryos?

If one is willing to pay Orchid Health $12,500, the company claims they will be able to tell parents almost every single thing there is to know about the baby that would be born from a specific embryo.

Photograph of blue-gloved hands holding a test tube in front of a laptop open to genetic sequencing

Source: Freepik

Orchid Health promises potential parents that they will be able to identify all neurodevelopmental disorders, diseases, disabilities, cancer markers, birth defects, and chromosomal abnormalities, and even the specifics within each of these categories.

Choosing a “Healthy Baby”

Then, Orchid Health argues, parents can essentially choose the healthiest embryos to implant. They can avoid the “risk” of having an unhealthy baby and ensure their future child has the best possible “quality of life.”

Close-up photograph of a mother’s hands holding her baby’s feet

Source: Freepik

Noor Siddiqui, founder of Orchid Health, explained, “We just avoided risk for hundreds of diseases that otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to detect until after the baby was born.”

What Is Eugenics?

Now, here’s where things get a little controversial: Some people say that Orchid Health’s genome sequences is a form of eugenics.

A digital illustration of a fetus in utero

Source: Freepik

Eugenics, the belief and practice that humans can and should improve the genetic quality of the human race by altering gene pools, gained popularity in the early 20th century.  However, by the end of that century, the majority of the world’s population agreed that this practice was racially biased, dangerous, and wildly immoral.


Is Orchid Health Practicing Eugenics?

By definition, Orchid Health’s practice of selecting the best embryos based on their genetic makeup is eugenics, though Siddiqui and her team argue fiercely otherwise.

A scientist in a lab looks closely at blue liquid in a test tube

Source: Freepik

They say that they are not weeding out embryos because of their gender, race, or physical characteristics, but because of disease, disorder, and mental and physical malfunctions that cause suffering.


Some Will Use Orchid Health to Remove Suffering

Those who support Orchid Health argue that parents will be using the service, not to custom make their baby, but to save them from a lifetime of disease and hardship.

A photograph from Orchid Health’s website with a picture of a couple with their newborn and their testimonial for the service

Source: OrchidHealth

Siddiqui explained, “We want to make it so that every family can have a healthy baby. For anyone who’s had a personal experience whether it’s them themselves a parent or sibling, they don’t want to see their kids suffer in that same way.”


People With Limited Embryos Want to Ensure They Chose the Best One

Others who argue that Orchid Health’s practices are not only moral but also incredibly helpful are those with limited embryos to choose from.

Photograph of a nurses hand giving an ultrasound to a pregnant woman while her partner stands by her

Source: Freepik

Statistically, egg cells become more error prone with age. The embryos of older couples are at higher risk for genetic malfunction, such as Down syndrome, ADHD, and other chromosomal issues. Therefore, they argue that genetic testing can ensure they choose the healthiest embryo from the bunch.


The Other Side of the Argument: No Child Is Imperfect

However, people who argue against Orchid Health’s genome sequencing say that “selecting” the perfect baby is immoral as no child is imperfect, even those living with disorders or disease.

A young boy holds a heart shaped piece of paper made from colored puzzle pieces representing Autism awareness

Source: Shutterstock

If you ask any parent of a child with Autism, Down syndrome, or even physical ailments, they will likely tell you that they wouldn’t trade their child from any other on Earth.


The Eradication of Suffering Is Impossible

Additionally, many say that Siddiqui’s goal of eradicating suffering for future generations is extremely dangerous, as well as impossible.

A black and white photograph of a man sitting with his knees up, clearly distressed

Source: Freepik

From heartbreak to grief and everything in between, suffering is a natural part of the human condition. To try to eradicate it through only creating “perfect” babies, could be absolutely disastrous.


Orchid Health Believes Genetic Screening Is the Future

As the world debate’s the morality of Orchid Health’s genome screening, Siddiqui continues to argue that her method is the “future of how all babies will be created.”

A young baby lies on its stomach on a bed with a stuffed lamb

Source: Freepik

She wholeheartedly believes that “sex is for fun and embryo screening is for babies. I think that it’s going to become insane not to screen for these things.”