The woman is dressed in a blue dress with stylized white flowers, her husband a grey sports coat; definitely lower middle class. The pair looks a bit nervous, perhaps a bit embarrassed by visiting the clinic. I greet them cordially and try to put them at ease.
"We were remitted to you by Dr. Wennerholm."
I nod and wait for the rest.
"He said... that you could help us with our... problem."
Once they have said it the tension relaxes a bit; I do my part.
"Ah, yes of course. Could you tell me more about it?"
"Well, yes, Peter took a full genome scan last year. And they found that he has genes for a depressive personality. Nothing serious, mind you, just some moodiness. But then I checked mine, and the councillor said there was a strong risk that our child would be born with Carson's Syndrome."
A genetic depressive disorder; not just the usual treatable serotonergic depression, but a personality that tends towards the depressive from the start. As far as anybody knows, it is due to some subtle changes in the frontal lobes, also linked to slightly lower intelligence (although I, as many others, believe that is more due to lack of interest in learning or succeeding than a direct decrease of intelligence).
Since the genes involved are known, it would be a fairly easy thing to patch them with healthy alleles. Result: a normal child with a temper free to wander from desperation to joy without any hidden bias. But that is a no-no. Germ line therapy is explicitly forbidden; it is tampering with the human genome. Improving on nature is not allowed, everybody should be born with the genes lady luck gives them - but she doesn't care the least about human pain, aspirations or freedom.
In the past, doctors performed abortions even when it was strongly forbidden, out of mercy, defiance or as a matter of personal conviction. The same goes on today, I change genes despite declarations from UNESCO, laws, public opinion or the prying eyes of the medical police. Some might even claim that I am performing abortions of a kind, selecting (or creating) one possible child over another, but then again, wouldn't that make upbringing and school abortion too? Of all the possible people, only one will ever emerge as real, the others remain just potential. What I do is to make it more likely it is a happy and healthy person that becomes real. In the end, I try to do what my conscience tells me, and that is the simple utilitarian rule "maximal happiness to a maximal number of people". No wonder I have so little spare time.
Mr. and Mrs Albeck have been falsely remitted by my old friend Dr. Wennerholm as having fertility problems. This way their visit and treatment here looks normal, and it will be paid for by the standard medical insurance policies. I of course have to fudge the medical report, but it isn't that hard, and I fully trust my personnel. The chance of discovery is minute.
It is now time for my crime. The ova have been fertilized, my personnel is away. I compiled the SARD (search-and-replace DNA) string on the sequencer a few hours ago. I put the environment box with its precious contents on the lab bench and begin to set up my equipment. If anybody sees me right now, I could be in real trouble. Malpractice at least. My career would be over, I would be hounded in the media as a Dr. Frankenstein.
I watch the zygote through the microscope. A glittering star full of promise: a central core surrounded by a halo of protective cells. Carefully I move the microinjector towards it, a thin glass needle containing a tiny pellet of SARD. A waldo transforms my movements into microscopic precision, giving me tactile feedback. I can feel it touch the grainy halo. The needle presses against the elastic surface, buckling it. It feels almost like pressing a balloon. Then the needle pierces the surface, and I feel the sudden shift as it enters the cell. I press the button that injects the pellet. Carefully I withdraw the needle, hoping the damage to the cell wall wasn't too bad. Intellectually I know it isn't a problem, cells can take quite a bit and this kind of microinjector is very mild. But it still feels a bit like hurting the zygote, even if it is for its own good. Or rather, for the child it might become if it is lucky. Carefully I move the tiny container marked "A1" to the environment box, picking up container "A2". One down, nine to go.
I bring up the images of the embryos on my computer. Each is just a few cells, arranged in a neat sphere. I ask for evaluations of the cells I plucked from them a while ago. Three embryos are immediately downgraded, subtle signs suggest that they are defective or not as viable as the other seven. Nothing unusual; most pregnancies end naturally long before the mother notices anything. The other seven are normally viable: each would have a good chance to result in a pregnancy if implanted.
I look for the SARD marker. In four embryos my new genes have taken hold; two of the non-viable, two of the viable. These embryos would grow up to children without Carson's Syndrome. Only two choices, each a potential unique individual. I try to see if there are any noticeable differences. In one there is a cluster of alleles that might lead to a slightly decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease, the other embryo has a allele that will make the risk for hemorrhages in adolescence slightly higher, but helps stave off cardiovascular disease during old age. The genes linked to mental development look good in both of them.
In the end, it is impossible to tell if any of the two embryos is better than the other, each has its own qualities. I select one of them for implantation. The other embryos will be frozen in liquid nitrogen, a backup in case the first pregnancy doesn't succeed. Standard procedures since more than 30 years now.
The photo shows a smiling baby held up before the camera by the proud parents; even the reserved father is smiling in a silly way. The little girl stretches up both her tiny arms, perhaps to try to grab the camera, perhaps as a sign of victory. Of all the potential little boys and girls, she won and became real. She is also evidence of my crime: every one of her cells contains a fingerprint a few atoms long of my transgression. Still, her happiness convinces me that the risks are more than worth it. Smiling back at the photo I stick it on my bulletin board with the others.