January 6, 2007

"If I do discriminate, it's that I only want healthy, intelligent people."

If you accept a woman choosing her sperm donor, and if you accept a woman choosing which embryo left over from someone else's fertility treatment to have implanted, will you draw the line at the deliberate creation of an embryo from an egg and sperm donor of the woman's choice?
Before contracting for the embryos, clients can evaluate the egg and sperm donors, and can even see pictures of them as babies, children and sometimes adults....

"People have long warned we were moving toward a 'Brave New World,' " said Robert P. George of Princeton University, who serves on the President's Council on Bioethics. "This is just more evidence that we haven't been able to restrain this move towards treating human life like a commodity. This buying and selling of eggs and sperm and now embryos based on IQ points and PhDs and other traits really moves us in the direction of eugenics."...

"People can say, 'Oh, this is the new Hitler.' That's not the case," [said Jennalee Ryan of the Abraham Center of Life.] "I don't take orders. I say 'This is what I have' and send them the background. If they don't think it's right for them, they don't have to take them."...

"If I do discriminate, it's that I only want healthy, intelligent people," Ryan said. "People will say, 'You're trying to create the perfect human race.' But we've always done gene selection just by who women choose as their husbands and men choose as their wives. This is no different."
When you choose a husband or wife, you're picking the person you want to live with, not just the genetic material. If you've married, how much did you think about the quality of the genetic material you could procure for your offspring? But then, what genetic qualities would you select for your children that you wouldn't care about having in your adult companion? And are there some things you want in your spouse that you'd reject if you knew it was in that embryo you're about to have implanted?

I suppose the fact that I wrote those questions first reveals that I'm not especially concerned about this new step in reproductive technology. The cry of "eugenics" always goes up, but what are the people who raise it really worrying about? Not the return of the Nazis. It's all-too-convenient the way the Nazis pop up to assist in making the argument you already wanted to make. The real objection is to reproductive choice. Once you have disaggregated reproduction from the full human relationship between the parents, what makes you want to draw the line here? Perhaps your objection is nothing more than resentment that only rich people get to fulfill this preference. If so, who are you to intrude on their private life?

One argument against this new practice is that there are so many embryos left over from infertility treatments and that these embryos should be implanted instead. But, as noted in the article, those leftover embryos are made from the eggs of woman who: 1. is older, and 2. has a fertility problem. It still seems more charitable and unselfish to choose them, but does that make it wrong to want better? We have a sense -- don't we? -- that parenthood means an open acceptance of whatever child happens to arrive and that the desire to be selective reveals that one has not met the parenthood ideal.


Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with you, but...

What concerns me is probably less the new technology than some of the old. A few months ago, I ran across an article about an increasing number of abortion requests in the United Kingdom by parents who discovered that their baby would not be born "perfect," but with some minor defect that can usually be easily corrected after birth. IIRC, both cleft palate and club foot were mentioned. I found that alarming and unconscionable.

That's one bridge too far for me.

miked0268 said...

One of the most important factors that people of both sexes consider when choosing a mate is whether or not they find their prospective spouse attractive. It seems pretty clear that the perception of a person's attractiveness is largely based on a partially unconscious, instinctive appraisal of their genetic suitability.

Think of all the things that people generally consider "attractive"; healthy appearance, symmetrical facial features that don’t depart too much from the population average, intelligence, a good sense of humor (a marker for intelligence). All of these things are reasonable metrics for genetic / reproductive suitability. Our instincts about what is "attractive" have been developed through millions of years of evolution. At least, they're probably about the best you can do without resorting to lab tests.

Sure, people also look for features that make for a nice life companion and don't necessarily have much relevance to reproduction; most people will select a spouse that they feel they can get along with. However, it’s clear that personal compatibility isn’t that big a factor, or people would be a lot less selective. Most people can get along just fine with most other people. If it were only a matter of compatibility most people could just randomly select a mate from the whole population and still have a reasonable chance of a successful relationship.

What these people are doing when selecting donors and embryos doesn't sound that much different from what everyone does when they select a mate.

Gerry said...

"Once you have disaggregated reproduction from the full human relationship between the parents, what makes you want to draw the line here?"

Once you have started down a slippery slope, why would you ever stop? What would make you want to draw the line at any point down?

I do not really have a problem with people being assisted with fertility problems through sperm donation and egg donation.

I am less at ease with people choosing to go that route when it is unnecessary. However, given that when there are not fertility problems, people will almost always choose the significantly more fun and cheaper route, it is not that big a deal to me. It simply is not going to come into play too often.

But now have it that we can start getting into trying to buy and sell genetic attributes? Going in that direction, there could be introduced a great incentive for going that route, if one has the means. That it would not be available to everyone does not particularly bother me, but now I am a lot less at ease. Something I found creepy but not a big deal because it would rarely happen suddenly is creepy and could happen increasingly.

Natural selection has worked quite well for us as a species. Tinkering with it quite radically like this is bound to have unforeseen consequences that will have tremendous costs. Heck, it could very well stop the process of natural selection pretty much in its tracks, once the price goes down enough.

So when you say that "The real objection is to reproductive choice," you are wrong. That strikes me as an attempt to try to force the debate to be about whatever you feel strongest about defending. It may be an effective debating technique, but it is not true. We could use more debating in good faith rather than trying to cut off debate by framing opposing positions as something they are not just because it works.

Anonymous said...

Before fifty other people pile on, I'll just point out that the infant/child mortality rate prior to the Industrial Revolution was on the order of 50% -- "natural selection [working] quite well for us as a species", was it? -- so by eliminating over 99% of that, we've already tinkered with natural selection quite thoroughly. The only obvious negative result is the ironic survival of lots more people with neo-Luddite memes. Fortunately, no power on Earth will prevent parents from working to give their children every advantage in life.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

My line was crossed decades ago. I would draw the line at not separating the unitive from the procreative. Translation: unless you can make that child in your marital bed, it's a no-no.

Back when my husband and I were having some fertility challenges, a priest suggested we look into adoption. I see that as a great, loving option. But I admit, I wasn't ready or willing to adopt at that time because I had a very profound desire to reproduce with my husband and pass on his particular traits [physical, intellectual and otherwise]. I can completely relate with people having their hearts set on some desireable quality for their offspring.

After this article, I am left wondering what will happen in about 20-40 years, when these children mature, and reproduce. It's really possible they might unwittingly couple with a half sibling.

And heaven help us that all the men who are eligible donors are PhDs or lawyers. That certainly has to make some of us shudder.

Anonymous said...

Around 1% of the newborn population is now conceived by IVF. They're all "no-no's," huh? That's a pretty big bunch of non-people ...

Bissage said...

Why not simply be done with it and sell babies, outright? The cuter the better. They should be auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder. Let the market identify the best parents.

Seriously though, this embryo service is great because it guarantees you get what you pay for. This is much better than the old-fashioned way of getting a baby. Trial-and-error is inefficient and I know from personal experience. You see, my wife has brown eyes and I have blue eyes. Our first baby had brown eyes. So we killed it. That was a waste of time and money and our consciences bothered us for a little while which has to be accounted for.

Now, things did eventually work out for us because our next baby had blue eyes. It was an easy decision not to kill it. However, the next baby was a tougher decision since it had hazel eyes. We ultimately decided we’d have to settle for the hazel eyes, considering the transaction costs, inconvenience, etc.

While things did eventually work out for us, I wish I could say we’re perfectly happy. Truth is, there are times when we wish we’d killed our second child. But not too often. Only at birthday parties and things like that when there’s occasion to judge it against the other children.

Things would have turned out much better for us had we shopped for our children at The Embryo Store(tm).

P.S. I got a 23. I made a few phone calls and both Colin Powell and George Bush have invited me to dinner to see if they can move me a few points. We’ll have to talk about this baby selling versus baby killing thing and see how it goes.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Jay: The "no-no" belongs squarely on the parents' shoulders. The children of course are blameless. And, yes, they do actually exist.

PWS said...

We have a sense -- don't we? -- that parenthood means an open acceptance of whatever child happens to arrive and that the desire to be selective reveals that one has not met the parenthood ideal.

I think this is largely true, but the moment the child arrives that open acceptance is over. Parents have a huge role in shaping what their child will be: a Christian Scientist, a liberal, an artist, an exceptional athlete, etc. And in the U.S. we accept the parents' role.

Another view of choosing an egg and a sperm is that it is simply pushing parents' influence further back on the time line of a child's life. You can spank your kid, raise him like a hermit, push her to read at age 2, give him braces (or not) or try to have a golf prodigy. Isn't choosing your child's genetic material another element of parental control and influence?

Ken said...

A couple of thoughts

Who, besides Althouse and Reynolds, said anything about Nazis? Reading a criticism about eugenics and seeing it as a comparison specifically to Nazi policy is evidence that you are uncomfortable with your own position. Eugenics was coined as a neutral term; it is now a pejorative because of what the believers in it have wrought.

Sure, some of the people who object to this clinical selection of genetic material also oppose abortion. But, as Gerry pointed out, it is dishonest to conflate the positions. Argue against the specific objections to the idea. Since you are comfortable with the ride all the way down the slippery slope, are you sanguine with the idea of a woman unable to bear the child being able to recruit a woman with a healthy womb to carry the fertilized egg? Or to paying that woman? Or to allowing the fertility clinic to recruit and pay the women with the healthy wombs to carry the selected eggs? Or to government (federal state or local) subsidizing such an arrangement as a part of Medicare?

I know, I know, farfetched, would never happen, impossible to consider...but then, when I was in high school in the early 80's, so was the idea that gays would be allowed to marry. At this point, if something is techinally possible, it will be allowed, and damn the consequences.

Dave said...

"Perhaps your objection is nothing more than resentment that only rich people get to fulfill this preference. If so, who are you to intrude on their private life?"

Clearly, Ann, you ARE a libertarian, despite your protestations to the contrary. Postrel et al would be proud.

Ruth Ann: yours are rather presumptuous comments.

John Thacker said...

But then, what genetic qualities would you select for your children that you wouldn't care about having in your adult companion? And are there some things you want in your spouse that you'd reject if you knew it was in that embryo you're about to have implanted?

Well, I have a little bit of issue with the people who intentionally select for defects, though most of those people would also want them for their companions.

I suspect that some parents who want a trait of increased loyalty to one's parents in their kids, but certainly wouldn't want that in their spouse. We're not talking about that being possible, though.

Anonymous said...

My youngest nephew was a "wish in a dish," conceived through the magnificent assistance of IVF, long after everything else failed.

It was a genuine miracle that he was born at all (a fact not discovered until a second failed similar attempt four years later), and everyone involved, particularly he, is quite pleased with the result.

Christy said...

Yawn. Science fiction has been pretty thoroughly exploring these issues for decades. Heinlein, of course, and more recently Nancy Kress in her Beggers Trilogy are just two who leap to mind.

It will happen, consequences, too. We are too many to distroy what we now know as human completely. Jay, is that 1% the U.S.? The Developed World?

But what do I know. My crystal ball is cracked. I distinctly remember telling a biologist in 1969 at nerd camp that I wasn't interested in his field because the only area I liked was genetics where nothing was happening.

BigDirigible said...

My problem with the whole thing is that in practice it's used, or abused, so frivolously. What do prospective parents actually use for criteria when selecting a donor? Intelligence? Talent? Overall health? No, the hot property, by a huge margin, is ... height.

Gerry said...


I think there is a lot of cutting to the chase occurring. I have seen a lot of debates about eugenics. It is almost inevitable that the Nazi allusion gets explicitly stated, so much so that it is often just assumed.

Editor Theorist said...

It's the opposite of eugenics

Nazi-type eugenics involves the *state* forcing individuals to breed in accordance with the states's needs.

But this story concerns *individuals* choosing to breed in accordance with their own wishes (which may conflict with the needs of the state). It is pretty-much the opposite of eugenics.

Robert said...

If you've married, how much did you think about the quality of the genetic material you could procure for your offspring?

Quite a bit, actually. When I decided to get married, it was because I had decided I wanted children. I looked for the best fellow gene donor I could find, and consciously de-emphasized things that would be convenient just for me but have no particular value to our child.

But I'm weird.

Matthew said...

The problem with the Nazis wasn't that they chose one race over another, or sought to create superhumans. They were no more guilty than the American and Swedish doctors who sterilized whomever they determined as undesireable.

Much of the revolution in the last 100 years has been about children breaking from the control of their parents, for instance choosing who they will marry. If parents can design their children, then children are not the product of love, but calculated design and engineering. It is but a simple step from parents designing children to single people designing children. Read C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man. It's short and deals with this topic.

Who chooses what you will be? There is some randomness in how you were created. Yes, your parents have determined much of who you are, but a lot has been determined by nature. Once that is removed, you are totally a creation of man. You were designed as men design computers, cars, and skyscrapers. I'm not saying they are now equal to computers or cars, although some may take the argument that far. Just imagine you are a completely designed child. How would you think and feel about that? Would you feel free? Or utterly imprisoned?

Anonymous said...

My wife and I were blessed to use donor embryos for our last pregnancy. We were reading a form provided by the doctor that listed the genetic history and began to get worried. There was a family history of alcoholism a generation back, maternal gf died of a heart attack, stuff like that. It was worrying us.

Then my wife had the absolutely brilliant idea that we fill out the form with OUR genetic history and see what happened. Well, both my parents were abused, my mother was incensted, my father's side ALL wear glasses (me too) and there were enough drunks in my mom's family to suport a distillery. Then there was my wife's family!

We figured that we got a bargain!

But in the end, we were blessed with three wonderful children from the same mom and dad. They are separate individuals, each their own little person. So you can choose the donors based on their genetic profile, but you never know what you will get when you roll the dice! And extrordinary parents tend to have more normal children. It is called regression to the mean, and it makes sense, being rare is what makes really smart people extra-ordinary in the first place.

S0 these folks can TRY to better the human race with their selections, but actually doing it is more complicated. Then there is the whole nurture side of the equation. This kind of genetic engineering is easy to talk about, but more difficult to accomplish.


Paco Wové said...

"Who, besides Althouse and Reynolds, said anything about Nazis?"

Well, there was the reference to that "Hitler" dude, back in the original article. He had something to do with Nazis, right?

Meade said...

Bissage: Thanks for the splendid comic relief!

And seriously though (as you so eloquently put it), on the baby selling versus baby killing thing, have you considered leasing?

Sure, making a 'lease, sell, or kill' decision requires you to look not only at financial comparisons but also at your own personal priorities - admittedly, a potentially tedious process.

But that process allows you to discover what is truly important to you... and, well, what could be more important than, you know... you?

Is having a new baby every two or three years with no major growing pain risks more important than long-term costs? Or are long term cost savings more important than lower monthly payments? Is having some ownership in your baby more important than low up-front costs and no down payment? Is it important to you to pay off your baby and be debt-free for a while, even if it means higher monthly payments for the first few years followed by the expenses of orthodontics, hormone management, college tuition, etc.?

Also, remember - leasing frees you from the eventual disposal costs when, 30 -35 years down the road, your baby boomerangs or simply... fails to launch.

Anonymous said...

Ruth Anne's comments aren't presumptive; she's restating Catholic teachings. I agree with her.

Many assistive reproductive technologies are firmly in the "just becase we can doesn't mean we should" category for me. I understand that a lot of people disagree with me, but that doesn't change my feeling that single mothers conceiving through IVF or infertile couples having designer babies is a good thing.

That said, I also agree that Ann's assertion that people are objecting to reproductive choice is a stretch. I don't think it's the choosing aspect that rankles, it's the process itself. If you accept that it's OK for couples to create children from donated sperm and eggs (and how long will it be before such things are available for purchase?), you've already given the nod to the idea of very carefully choosing the donors.

mrsizer said...

In this particular case, there is still randomness - the clinic isn't offering previews of the result of the pairing and they are not listing an exhaustive set of characteristics. On the other hand, both of those things seem theoretically possible.

I'm not sure how I'd feel but I don't think I'd feel any more or less "trapped" than I do now. It's my mother's fault that I have bad eyes but she also gave me good teeth. I don't blame her for the former nor credit her with the latter. If those traits had been explicitly chosen for me, I probably would.

Ian Wood said...

Gerry said...

"Heck, it could very well stop the process of natural selection pretty much in its tracks, once the price goes down enough."

Agriculture stopped the process of natural selection. Vaccinations, surgical treatments, and so forth mean that there are billions of people alive today who, in a "natural" environment, should be dead.

I'm one of them. I had pneumonia as an infant, and it would've killed me if I had been born 10 years earlier.

Technology made natural selection moot, and it has been that way for millennia. Technology has better enabled humans to exercise choice: the only difference between embryo selection and the Greeks exposing unwanted infants on the mountainside is the degree to which technology allows us to fine-tune our ethical distinctions. In either case, the practical outcome is the same: this child shall not live.

You say that you "do not really have a problem with people being assisted with fertility problems through sperm donation and egg donation."

But how is that any less radical a "tinkering" with natural selection? People with fertility problems have been selected out of the reproductive process. For whatever reason, "nature" has decreed that they don't get to pass on their genes.

For natural selection to play its proper role in the reproductive process, we'd have to eliminate OB-GYN units, birth control, prenatal care, preemie wards...all of the technologies that allow the birth of children that would not naturally come to term.

So, you have already "drawn the line." To echo your question: what made you want to draw it where you did?

Anonymous said...

Just for the sake of history, I want to throw in here that the Nazis didn't invent eugenics. The eugenics movement began at least 30 years before Hitler took power. It had adherents in many countries including the U.S. (The Progressives were big on eugenics. Teddy Roosevelt was an advocate.) The goal of eugenics was to reduce instances of mental illness, criminal behavior, alcoholism and other presumed social pathologies by forcibly sterilizing people with these traits. There was a "scientific consensus" (to use a phrase we hear often today) around the idea that this could and should be done.

Eugenics was one of several independent and pernicious intellectual strains of the late 19th century to contribute to Naziism. In a sort of perverse twist, one could argue that absent its association with Naziism, and thus racism and genocide, eugenics in its original form might still be respectable today. And indeed, it appears to be making a comeback. Just like anti-Semitism.

Gatt Suru said...

Very, very simple problem with this form of eugenics, whether it's done by Nazis killing grown individuals or by normal individuals picking selectively among embryos :

The people making the choice are not qualified.

Take the field of Asperger's/autism. We can't actually test for either condition now, but it's estimated that we'll have the ability to do so within a decade, if not a few years. These would all be considered unhealthy individuals, and thus, no-go from the genetic viewpoint.

This sort of eugenics may very well have meant no Einstein or Newton.

Add in the genetic costs of IVF (40% increased chance of genetic abnormality), and you're producing quite an impressive cost on society for these designer babies.

People may very well intend to purchase one half of the genetic combinations for healthy, intelligent children. Even if that's the only thing they do, there is far, far too much potential risk. Humanity is notoriously bad at figuring out what makes a person smart or healthy.

"The problem with eugenics is that those who advocate it are the last people who should plan it."

Anonymous said...

Since I actually have 12 children in a petri dish right now, getting ready for implantation or freezing on Monday, this topic is close to my heart.

We went with a donor after 2 failed IVF cycles. We were not looking for a designer baby - we were just looking for a baby. We decided not to adopt because we know several couples who have - and they have been disasters. One is now an institutionalized schizophrenic, one is in juvenile detention until he's 21, for arson and other crimes.

We did NOT chose our egg donor on the basis of height. In fact, she's a little taller than either of us and we thought that was a strike against her. In my internet support group I've seen height mentioned as a primary selection criteria. The #1 criteria is "she looks like me" or my mother or sister or something.

We were looking for -

A general racial match (English, Irish, French, German, Spanish, etc)

College educated at a good school, with a real major and good grades (IE, no feminist studies majors) We were using education as a marker for intelligence.

Happy, well adjusted, plays well with others

Good health back through grandparents.

Pretty. Not strikingly beautiful, not Miss September, but pretty.

As it was, we ended up with a donor who is a lawyer, with humility and a good sense of humor.

downtownlad said...

What's wrong Brave New World anyway?

If I had a kid, damn well I would want it to be intelligent and good-looking. Just like I would want a future spouse to be intelligent and good-looking.

There's enough stupid and ugly people reproducing in the world. I fail to see why anyone would object to this.

All we are doing is mimicking natural selection.

Ross said...

Ann, I really AM worried about the Nazis returning. I've seen some brownshirted kids practicing formations at the soccer field down the street.

Meade said...

downtownlad said...
What's wrong Brave New World anyway?
[...]There's enough stupid and ugly people reproducing in the world. I fail to see why anyone would object to this.

What? You think we stupid and ugly people don't have narcissistic needs of our own?

Graham intended for the bank, officially called the Repository for Germinal Choice, to contain sperm donated exclusively by Nobel Prize winners. It was troubled from the start. Some speculated that it was a eugenic plot, but most simply dismissed it as a bad joke. As Slate.com deputy editor David Plotz deftly shows in his entertaining account of the bank, The Genius Factory, both opinions hold some validity, yet neither captures the deeper significance of what he calls “the most radical experiment in human genetic engineering in American history.”

In the end, few laureates were willing to donate their germline to the bank. (“The old-fashioned way is still best,” said Linus Pauling, winner of the 1954 Chemistry prize and the 1962 Peace prize, when solicited.) Most of the sperm came from professors in science and engineering who, though undoubtedly intelligent, were not Nobel-caliber. The only genius to donate publicly was the unsavory—at least as far as eugenics controversies were concerned—William Shockley.

Joe Baby said...

Sad that any kind of moral factor besides "we're going to do what we want!" has been deemed as moralizing. As noted above, the separation of the procreative and the unitive inevitably leads to a culture of "use." This has already been seen, and will progress, in such realms as euthanasia, artificial reproduction, and sex. The more it's acceptable to use people, the more they will be expendable.

And what of our medical industry? Is anyone concerned about an industry that destroys life (abortion), creates life for a hefty price (IVF), and might eventually bring life to an early end (euthanasia)? Yet you'll still rely on this industry to heal you for a reasonable price, in an ethical manner?

We can laugh at the slippery slope. But most of the signals in our modern world don't value life, but use it for other purposes.

Oligonicella said...

While there are those who wonder about ulterior motives in people who want to 'tailor' their progeny, I have to wonder about the ulterior motives of the people who would prevent people from having the children they desire.

I get pretty suspicious when the only reason I can make out from that side is "because" or "I wouldn't".

My response to them is don't do it if it bothers you, but keep your damn nose out of other people's personal lives.

Meade said...

"...don't do it if it bothers you, but keep your damn nose out of other people's personal lives."

Uncanny. Except for another word in place of "damn," that is almost the exact phrase my neighbor (who happens to be a no-longer-licensed attorney) used last summer when he was arrested for having a meth lab in his basement and beating the crap out of his live-in girlfriend and her three kids.

Josh Jasper said...

Inteligence can be bred for, and possibly engineered, but you can't breed for kindness.

Which is probably why eugenics, and the idea that healthy, smart people are important is so popular. It's so easy to mistake genetic perfection with being a good person who contributes something useful to society.

But take a look at the people we venerate as moral paragons. How many of them passed on genetic material?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if some of this argument isn't just youth versus age.

Things that don't matter to the young, like the amount of cancer in a prospective spouse's family, become very important when the disease rears it malformed head, and something a parent would look at more than a love-struck youth.

Is this another by-product of the increasing age of first time parents? Not only the increasing need for IVF, but also the increasing need for the perfect child, as they recognize the finite ability to bear children, something that escapes the younger procreators?

I am the father of 5 healthy sons, and I can't imagine changing a thing about any of them. I also can't imagine any of them not having traits that make members of the family special.

My wife constantly points out that watching my sons and I work on a project is the same as watching my Dad and I work on something in the days when we were first married, with one key role reversed; something I tend to half-heartedly deny.

Some points that haven't been raised, since we are trying to engineer a child to be perfect, that may be common complaints from anyone who has raised a few 'youngens';

Can we get a child genetically altered to do the following:
1) Be born potty trained, no Pampers needed;
2) Be born WANTING to eat their lima beans;
3) Be born with the ability to pick up after itself;
4) Be born able to fix their own 2AM feeding.

Now these are modifications I could support.

Anonymous said...

Another issue as raised on the topic of looks when chossing a mate; I have always maintained it was a financial base a women is, at least subconciously, looking for.

Take two individuals witeh the same basic height and bone structure, put one in a 15 year old rust bucket with an ill-fitting suit and the other in a newer Mercedes and Armani.

Who do you think would get first dance?

Anonymous said...

In reading all these comments, I guess where I come out is that this kind of attempt at genetic engineering is a fool's errand. We don't know enough to assure the kid turns out the way he or she is supposed to, or won't end up being an unfortunate turn of the cards, despite the child's perfecto parents.

What is perfect anyway? Haven't we all met celebrities or models who, in person, look strange? Like, you can kind of see why their face would look good in a 2-D medium, but in 3-D, it looks freakish?

Intelligence, too, is a concept I don't think we really understand very well. I had high grades all through school. My son might not graduate high school. And yet, in some ways, I think he's brilliant, far smarter than me. He's teaching himself how to write music, and can write songs with the complexity of his hero, Stephen Sondheim. He was doing computer animations when he was 13. He's also an incredibly nice, unselfish guy. His grades and likely college placement would make him a poor candidate for a sperm donor. But I can't imagine a kid more wonderful than he is -- frustrating as he is sometimes.

kettle said...

The drive to secure the best raw genetic material strikes me as rather stupid.

The very best of human genetic material is still far too much of a mess to be reliably expected to do anything genuinely useful for the planet or the people on it. Indeed, we have no clue what traits may in the end be most useful for seeing our descendents safely through the future.

Yet the limited availability of such services, if they are consistently employed by a small segment of the population, has the potential to further stratify societies in terms of 'relative intelligence'. The problem with that is simply that the very smartest people still have absolutely no clue what is best even for themselves.

Perhaps it is inevitable but it reeks of a very snooty myopia about the nature of our yet very mysterious world.

altoids1306 said...

Meade:Most of the sperm came from professors in science and engineering who, though undoubtedly intelligent, were not Nobel-caliber. The only genius to donate publicly was the unsavory—at least as far as eugenics controversies were concerned—William Shockley.

That is very funny. I am too young to have met Shockley, but my advisor's advisor was Shockley, and that sounds exactly like something he'd do.

HaloJonesFan said...

Ha. As long as we're taking this to ridiculous extremes in one way, let's do the same thing in the opposite direction.

People who think that selecting sperm/egg donors is unthinkable need to justify their support for adoption...or make it clear that they don't support adoption. After all, an adopted child is still the product of another couple's DNA; you're just contracting out the labor-and-delivery process.

Okay, now that's out of the way. What I think gives people the willies is the idea of choice. There seems to be a large contingent who finds it morally superior to "take what you get" in the genetic lottery. Kid made from material that's got a history of cancer, diabetes, personality disorders, and alcoholism? No problem, we're all beautiful and unique snowflakes! Maybe it'll be different this time.

Decisions like this need to be made on a firmer basis than raw emotion; we've all been conditioned, by years of sci-fi, to think of human genetic engineering as this nightmare Doctor Frankenstein thing. But--as other commentors have pointed out--humans have been engineering themselves since the first female monkey chose one male monkey over another.

Now, this isn't to say that "selected donors" won't be turned into some kind of status symbol. You can't stop idiots from being stupid; mothers will brag about how their child is "Brad Pitt's sperm with Angelina Jolie's egg" the same way that they brag about their child going to Harvard. But that isn't a fault with the concept.

Joe Baby said...

Odd. We can condemn the parent who repeatedly corrals their child with the commandment "you are going to become a doctor/pianist/golfer!" but we cannot even consider the cruelty of customizing a child for our own purposes. Just imagine the child of supposed intelligence who develops a learning disability, or the kid of exceptional athletic genesis who is too uncoordinated to play t-ball.

They will have failed at their central purpose. Woe to them.

Of course, it is the "central purpose" that is in error, which is why it's fair to mock this sort of interference.

The best description I heard was the possible cloning of Michael Jordan. (Although note we couldn't clone him at the shooting-over-Craig Ehlo stage, but at the stage that will be born 9 mos. later.) The kid's purpose would be to "be Michael Jordan," and every waking (and non-waking, for the truly obsessed) would be geared toward making him a force on the basketball court.

And woe to the Jordan clone who chooses music, or architecture, or simply to be a district manager who drives a Dodge Stratus.

Meade said...

Altoids1306: Interesting personal connection. Thanks.

from Wikipedia: "Shockley had a stormy relationship with his three children. By the time of his death in 1989 of prostate cancer, he was almost completely estranged from them, and his children are reported to have learned of his death only through the print media."

This business of scientifically selecting the genetic traits of our children really is a dead end deal, isn't it?

What we need is to be able to select the characteristics of our own parents. For instance, for starters, these would be some of my preferences...

Lacks racism, exhibits great patience, and generally treats my other parent with tenderness and respect.

Has passion for lifelong continuing education.

Generally not angry or bitter.

Has interest in cultivating healthy relationships, especially with own parents and peers.

Pretty enough not to scare kittens and puppies.

Gainfully employed and/or engaged in meaningful service to others.

Addicted to nothing stronger than tea.

Couldn't care less that I turned out stupid, ugly, and/or gay.

Humble and self-effacing enough never to, as a first option, choose to design, conceive, and incubate me in a dish.