Harvard Prof Wants To Meddle In Reproductive Choices

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Harvard University business professor, Debora Spar, has apparently written a remarkably silly book on the practice of assisted reproduction in the United States. According to the Harvard Gazette, Spar's new book, The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, poses hard questions that show the crying need for regulation of the fertility industry. Reason's Kerry Howley has already taken Spar to task.

Nevertheless, I will answer a list of her allegedly "hard" questions below:

Should we, as a society, prohibit women from selling their eggs, their wombs, their embryos, or their children? NO

Should we allow parents to select traits of their children? YES

And who, in a world of fluid boundaries and invisible trade, gets to decide? Individual people seeking to be parents.

Will people protest when two lesbian mothers use cutting-edge techniques to conceive a child that is biologically 'theirs'? Probably, but it's none of their business if the techniques are safe.

Will ethicists object when women in Cambodia bear infants for middle-aged lawyers in New York?" Probably, but again it's none of their business if no coercion is used.

Spar says the business of babies needs a regulatory framework in order to define rights, lower prices, and expand access. Given that most people who interact with the assisted reproduction never complain or sue, she has no evidence that regulation is necessary.

One of her primary concerns is the lack of clear property rights in current law: "Who owns human embryos? The would-be parents do. Do clinics? No, unless the would-be parents donate their embryos to the clinics. Do parents? YES. Though they may contractually decide in advance what should be done with embryos if they should later disagree.

What are the rights and responsibilities of sperm donors, and of the children conceived through donor sperm?" Whatever was contractually arranged at the time of the donation. See my colleague Kerry Howley's thoughtful treatment of gamete donation.

What about equity? "As a society, we need to think about what fairness means," Spar says. "Is the ability to reproduce a basic human right? NO

Is it part of medical care? NO. As emotionally devastating as it may be for some people, infertility is not classically a disease of individuals. However, assisted reproduction can be analogized to elective cosmetic procedures which physicians can make available to patients who want it and can pay for it.

And does it extend to all people, regardless of their age, sexual preference, and health condition? Generally YES, especially if we would not forbid similarly placed fertile people from producing children. Of course, physicians can choose not to offer their services if doing so violates their personal ethics.

Once we get even a rough consensus around this issue (even if it is forged at a state level) we can begin to craft policies that make sense. NO NEED FOR CONSENSUS. We have no consensus about which fertile people get to have children so we do not need a "consensus" for infertile people.

Where should we draw the line on what kinds of children people can create, and what kinds of technology they can employ? People may not seek procedures whose aim is to produce mentally or physically diminished children. That would be the moral equivalent of child abuse. They may employ any technology that can reasonably be thought to be as safe as current assisted reproduction techniques.

We've already said no to reproductive cloning. Actually, "we" have NOT said no to reproductive cloning at the Federal level, although some states do prohibit it.

The fertility "business" is not broken and doesn't need Spar's meddling fixes. If readers would like a fuller discussion of the future of the assisted reproduction, may I suggest purchasing my book Liberation Biology and reading chapter 5, "Hooray For Designer Babies!."

Special thanks to long time Reason subscriber Mark Lambert for the heads up.

NEXT: Religious Division in the Anti-Islamist Ranks

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  1. I applaud Bailey for laying down his proposals straight, clear and concise. He gets a pass on the disclaimer here by virtue of his candor.

  2. thoreau: Thanks for asking.:-) As far as I know, I own no stocks that are related to treating infertility, but perhaps one of the small biotechs whose stock I do own does something in the field, but I sure don’t know.

    Dave W. Is that really you?

  3. a regulatory framework in order to define rights, lower prices, and expand access

    Yep, there’s nothing like loading costs and complexity onto a system via regulation to lower prices and expand the supply.

  4. Should we allow parents to select traits of their children? YES

    I’d like your opinion on something, Ron. My boyfriend is friends with a guy who is a bit of a “name” in the transhumanist movement, and was telling us about a transhumanist convention where one of those “deaf culture” people said she should have the right to genetically alter her children to make them deaf. Most of the transhumanists were completely opposed, of course.

    What is your take on that? I have no problem with parents selecting their children’s sex, eye and hair color, or things like that, but I don’t think parents should be allowed to make their children handicapped.

  5. I dont see why parents shouldnt be allowed to create a mentally handicapped child, if they are willing to love it.

  6. Quoting from the Bailey: People may not seek procedures whose aim is to produce mentally or physically diminished children.

  7. Quoting from the Bailey: People may not seek procedures whose aim is to produce mentally or physically diminished children.

    Good.

    I dont see why parents shouldnt be allowed to create a mentally handicapped child, if they are willing to love it.

    So the kids have no rights in this matter?

  8. Larry’s response would work for the rest of us, but as I understand it there are people who get quite adamant that their disability isn’t really a disability, and to say otherwise is to demean them, and so making a child deliberately deaf is a beautiful thing and a celebration of a lifestyle choice yadda yadda yadda.

    And I think the rest of us could agree that this one really does constitute deliberate abuse of a child, or future child, or however you want to phrase it. But I wonder about grayer issues. What if enhancements become standard and some parents forgo them? What if a parent wants to create a child with green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the skin? GFP presumably wouldn’t inhibit function, but it might be socially disadvantageous.

    The deafness might not be the best example, but I can think of other things that really would be in the gray area between harmless choices and deliberate abuse.

  9. Actually, as I think more of Philip Conti’s statement, it seems to imply that “lack of parental love” is the only downside to being handicapped, so as long as the kid is loved there’s no cause for worry.

  10. “I dont see why parents shouldnt be allowed to create a mentally handicapped child, if they are willing to love it.”

    Yeah, the easiest and quickest way would be to have a kid, then bludgeon it over the head a few times until its frontal lobe is messed up. Duh.

  11. Jennifer: This case deeply troubles me too. I once analogized this to stabbing an ice pick into the eardrums of an infant just so they could join their parents’ deaf culture. However, further consideration brought me to the question I now pose to you: would you stop two fertile genetically deaf people from having children? I certainly wouldn’t.

    BTW, the case you may be thinking of occurred when two deaf lesbians in DC went to sperm banks asking for sperm from a deaf donor. All of the sperm banks flatly told them that that was exactly the kind of donation that they excluded and that they would not supply them with deaf donor sperm. Hooray for the sperm banks, I say.

    As I understand it, the two lesbians eventually sought the help of a deaf male friend who provided them with what they needed (just how it was “delivered” is left unspecified).

    This case pains me enormously, but I absolutely do not want the government getting involved in deciding who gets to have kids.

  12. Yes, and I really did appreciate this post. Don’t agree with it all, but when anybody addresses tough questions with blunt, clear answers . . . I have a soft spot for that. Refreshing.

    To engage the dialogue: I am troubled by allowing parents to select traits. There is the threshold issue of what large populations, deciding on a parent-by-parent basis might do (eg, quashing females in India, quashing homosexuals in the Bible Belt), but that isn’t the part that troubles me. The part that troubles me is when people who aren’t the parents try to help parents make thir selections. Parade of hypothetical horribles:

    – you are fired from your job for selecting “incorrect” traits in your child

    – big insurance hikes for selecting “incorrect” traits in your child

    – kicked out of apartment for selecting “incorrect” traits in your child

    – kicked out of church for selecting incorrect traits in your child

    – social benefits are reduced for selecting incorrect traits in your child

    – your taxes are raised for selecting “incorrect” traits

    – that thing about child abuse by picking traits that physically / mentally diminish the child gets expanded as a concept so that all traits effectively get chosen by some entity other than the parents

    maybe we can address these concerns by passing laws to prevent undue influence on trait selection, but that set of laws seems a bit governmentalicious for ‘tarian set.

  13. However, further consideration brought me to the question I now pose to you: would you stop two fertile genetically deaf people from having children? I certainly wouldn’t.

    Of course I wouldn’t either, but as troubling as it is there’s quite a difference having a child you know will be deaf versus deliberately making a healthy child deaf. I think of it this way: if a pregnant woman discovers her child will be born without legs there is nothing wrong with her choosing to carry the child to term, but that is quite different from deliberately removing the child’s legs in utero.

    Unless technology improves far beyond current levels, there will always be natural incidents causing people to suffer, but that doesn’t mean we should deliberately make people suffer and excuse it by saying “well, hell, things like this happen naturally all the time.”

  14. “This case pains me enormously, but I absolutely do not want the government getting involved in deciding who gets to have kids.”

    In which case, I think I’m going to sound a bit like Dave W. (Yeah, sorry.)

    But if and when that deaf child grows up and finds out that he was deliberately made deaf, I think he ought to have the right to sue his parents into indentured servitude.

    That’s fucking ridiculous.

    Of course, just because it’s patently idiotic and abusive doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential market for deranged would-be parents who, for one reason or another, would choose to have a handicapped dependant.

  15. Should we, as a society, prohibit women from selling…, or their children? NO

    When did children become property to be sold and traded like toasters and playing cards?

    Children are small people with all the same rights we all have. The only difference is that they need protection and guidance while they grow up. We rightly assume that the biological and emotinal ties a parent has towards children makes them the default best people to raise them and make the best decisions for them untill they can do so themselves.

    But to sell them?

    Are you nuts or did you just go a little overboard?

    Care to revise or justify your statement?

  16. “When did children become property to be sold and traded like toasters and playing cards?”

    *coughs*

    *points at the welfare system*

  17. As a parent, I would have loved to have had the opportunity not to pass on the many autoimmune disorders that are a part of the particular genetic make-up that I am likely to pass on. Having dealt with those problems myself, the thought of passing them on when it is unnecessary seems like a kind of neglect.

    I actually have some experience with fertility places. I had an ex-wife who was ridiculously fertile and sold her eggs. I fully expect to see some very familiar looking children hre in NoVa pretty soon. The amount of money and time that these parents were willing to sacrifice for the opportunity (there is no guarantee) to have a kid was substantial. Lucky kids imo.

  18. But if and when that deaf child grows up and finds out that he was deliberately made deaf, I think he ought to have the right to sue his parents into indentured servitude.

    Which scenario are you talking about? A deaf man and woman who have a kid after falling in love? A deaf woman who deliberately seeks out sperm from a deaf guy? Or somebody who genetically engineers a kid to be deaf?

    In the first instance, I find it very difficult to fault them. In the second instance, I find it easy to fault them but I worry about precedents that might be set by going after them. In the third instance, I see it as Ron Bailey described: The high tech equivalent of sticking an ice pick into the kid’s ear drum.

  19. But if and when that deaf child grows up and finds out that he was deliberately made deaf, I think he ought to have the right to sue his parents into indentured servitude.

    But in the case of two deaf parents having a kid whom they know will be deaf, it’s not a case of “making the kid deaf,” it’s a case of “having a deaf kid because the alternative is having no kid at all.” That’s different from manipulating a healthy child’s DNA (or giving him surgery) to make him deaf.

    What worries me is the thought of deaf-culture idiots deliberately making healthy kids deaf, and I also worry about Munchausen moms causing all kinds of troubles for their kids so that the moms can enjoy playing the martyr. And I can imagine other horrors as well–what about an ultra-religious family who thinks women should be only housekeepers and baby-makers, and thus alters the minds of intelligent daughters to make them too stupid to be anything but doormat housewives, for example?

  20. Tom,
    I assumed that by including “Children”, we were talking about a woman receiving monetary rewards for having had the child for another couple. I do support that. Surrogate mothers are awfully nice, but we can’t be surprised that there aren’t more women willing to do it for little return.

    One thing that has not been discussed so far, is that a vast majority of parents who are adopting children from other countries are adopting girls. I’ve heard that the numbers are as high as 95% in the case of Chinese children.

  21. So the kids have no rights in this matter?
    Comment by: Jennifer at March 23, 2006 10:37 AM

    When did you start caring about what parents do to embryos? According to your prior posts, the child should be grateful it was allowed to be born.

    I don’t want to get too distracted by the deafness example, but it’s not trivial for two deaf people to arrange for a deaf child. There are lots of mutations that lead to deafness, and presumably the two deaf people who got married didn’t pre-select their mates for having the same mutation, assuming of course that they even know what that mutation is.

    In other words, when two deaf people have kids, the vast majority of the time you would expect the children to be normal.

    Even if the parents have the same mutations, they’d have to undergo IVF and toss out 75% of the embryos to find the ones that had the desired trait. The number of kids who would possibly be generated this way is vanishingly small.

    On the topic of law suits, one might consider that a typical IVF treatment begins with the disclosure that it is expensive and likely to fail. The highest success rates claimed are 60 to 70%. There are also lots of financial options for prepaying multiple cycles, and even getting money back if it doesn’t work. So, given the “elective” nature of the procedure, and the obvious randomness of the procedure, there are few grounds for suing.

  22. When did you start caring about what parents do to embryos? According to your prior posts, the child should be grateful it was allowed to be born.

    What are you talking about?

  23. But if and when that deaf child grows up and finds out that he was deliberately made deaf, I think he ought to have the right to sue his parents into indentured servitude.

    What if the parents chose to make the child black skinned? Or of an Arab appearance?

  24. I think some regulation is needed. Two instances come to mind. First, you have the case of China where abortion, the one child policy and a grossly misogynistic culture is producing a generation where there are something like 138 males for every 100 females. Having extra millions of horney deprived young males who have no hope of ever marrying is the recipe for societal disaster. Second, there is the case of the weird subculture of deaf people who specifically try to have children who are genetically deaf so that they can be a part of the “deaf culture”. There was an article in the Washington Post a few years ago about this abominable lesbian deaf couple who specifically searched for a sperm donor who would give their child the maximum chance of being born deaf. I assume they are not alone in this sick belief that it is better for a child to be born deaf.

    The real question is does society want its gene pool determined by fashion rather than nature. I think the answer to that has to be no.

  25. “Which scenario are you talking about?”

    “A deaf man and woman who have a kid after falling in love?”

    No. If the couple is in love, or claims to be, and a deaf child results, there really isn’t much that can be done. And I’m certainly not about to advocate that the state go around administering love tests. Of course, no rational person would choose to hamstring their child by denying them one of the five basic senses, and in a rational world, deaf “culture” wouldn’t exist.

    “A deaf woman who deliberately seeks out sperm from a deaf guy?”

    Yeah. Seems to me that this shows deliberate intent to produce a child who is deliberately disabled.

    “Or somebody who genetically engineers a kid to be deaf?”

    Same here.

  26. What if the parents chose to make the child black skinned? Or of an Arab appearance?

    So you’re saying that being black is the same thing as lacking one of the basic mammalian senses?

  27. Bubba,

    It is just a matter of time before genetic engineering gets to the point where you can order your child with any genetic trait or disability you want. That needs to be regulated.

  28. Jennifer: Slow down–what you’re doing is engaging the what is known in the trade as the “parade of horribles” in which everything that could go wrong or abused is used as excuse to deny access to technologies and procedures that the vast, vast, vast majority would use for good purposes–in this case, producing healthy children.

    For example, the deaf case resonates because it is so RARE, not because it is common. Most people, and I think probably, most infertile deaf people, would not try to make the choices that the deaf lesbians. Don’t you think that the vast majority of parents will use assisted reproduction techniques to make their children healthier, smarter and stronger, not the converse? I do. Until Spar and other critics can show that there is a pervasive problem of abuse among people using fertility treatments, there is no need for preemptive and ill-considered regulation.

  29. I really dont see how deliberately producing a mentally handicapped child is child abuse. How can you abuse something in the act of creating it? It doesnt exist prior to being created, and therefore has no rights.

  30. “The real question is does society want its gene pool determined by fashion rather than nature. I think the answer to that has to be no.”

    Disagree.

    What if genetic augmentation were availble that led to things nature is incapable of providing.

    Let’s say it became fashionable to, say, manipulate a child’s genome such that he’d not only be able to see in the visible light spectrum, but also infrared. You honestly think that’s a bad thing?

  31. Once we get even a rough consensus around this issue (even if it is forged at a state level) we can begin to craft policies that make sense.

    This one made me giggle. Given the difficultly that four people can have reaching a consensus on something as simple as dinner, the idea that a rough consensus could be achieved by millions on a topic like fertility treatments is laughable.

  32. I think it’s just that the last thing the world needs is more retards.

  33. “It doesnt exist prior to being created, and therefore has no rights.”

    I think the $64,000 question is whether or not the now mentally handicapped child would have been born thusly had the parents opted not to deliberately manipulate the genetic structure of the embryo in a way that results in a brain-damaged child.

  34. John: Regarding sex selection–there is no evidence that boys are preferred to girls in Western countries. In fact, sex selection has generally be used in the US to produce girls, not boys. See my column “Sexing Babies” for more info.

  35. “I think it’s just that the last thing the world needs is more retards.”

    Indeed. We have enough of them in Congress as it is.

  36. “a grossly misogynistic culture is producing a generation where there are something like 138 males for every 100 females. ”

    I heard the number of males to females is actually much higher.

    This means there’ll be a lot of men competing for few women. Which translates into a whole lot of violence.

  37. Slow down–what you’re doing is engaging the what is known in the trade as the “parade of horribles” in which everything that could go wrong or abused is used as excuse to deny access to technologies

    No–I’ve never said or tried to imply that such technologies must be kept from people. But I do think that the downsides must be explored, and I’ll go so far as to say that if such technology becomes widely available there will need to be some regulation of it. Parents who would deliberately make their children handicapped in some way are kind of like parents nowadays who are hideously abusive–certainly not so common as to be the norm, but not so rare that we can just ignore the possibility, either.

  38. Indeed. We have enough of them in Congress as it is.

    That’s an insult to retards everywhere, there’s no evidence that most Congresscritters are even that smart.

    As an aside: I can understand why “deaf culture” would develop in a world where deafness can be random, but I do think it’s morally questionable to seek out a deaf kid on purpose just so the kid will be like you and “get it”. Seems pretty counter-intuitive, aren’t parents supposed to want better lives for their children?

  39. More horribles on parade:

    It is not too difficult to imagine a health insurance company saying: we will cover your designer child only if you let us select some of the traits.

    There are potentially economically rational reasons for insurance companies making a rule like that. It should also be easy to see the potential for problems.

  40. I really dont see how deliberately producing a mentally handicapped child is child abuse. How can you abuse something in the act of creating it? It doesnt exist prior to being created, and therefore has no rights.

    Mr. Conti wins the grand prize for cutting to the heart of this debate.

    If we accept the notion that a mother has the legal and moral right to abort her baby for any reason, why then is it “abusive” for that mother to purposely manipulate her baby’s genome for any reason?

    If a fetus has no ineherent rights, why then is it wrong for the parents to “create” any fetus that they wish to?

  41. Jennifer, how can you assert that an embryo has rights as individual prior to being created, but a woman also has a right to an abortion? Isnt this kind of ridiculously oxymoronic?

  42. Phillip Conti said
    “How can you abuse something in the act of creating it? It doesnt exist prior to being created, and therefore has no rights.”

    Are we talking of points on the timeline of human creation?
    First point is when an embryo becomes a human.
    Next point is when a human is entitled to rights.

  43. If we accept the notion that a mother has the legal and moral right to abort her baby for any reason, why then is it “abusive” for that mother to purposely manipulate her baby’s genome for any reason?

    Oh, please. This is like saying “Gee, if you support the right to an abortion in the first trimester, then you must also think women should be allowed to do anything they want to children already born, up to and including killing their teenage kids.”

  44. “If a fetus has no ineherent rights, why then is it wrong for the parents to “create” any fetus that they wish to?”

    Because an embryo carried to term becomes a human being.

    An embryo terminated before being born does not.

  45. Are you a 1st trimester person on abortion now, Jennifer?

  46. “Are you a 1st trimester person on abortion now, Jennifer?”

    It’s like he’s not even speaking English.

  47. Jennifer, as far as I knew, the libertarian defense of abortion rights(and this is a libertarian site) was rooted in the notion of self-ownership. I thought the argument went thusly: a woman controlled what went inside her body.

  48. Isn’t it Stevo who is always suggesting band names vis a vis the thread discussion? The Deaf Lesbians anyone? I hear indy obscurity calling.

  49. Are you a 1st trimester person on abortion now, Jennifer?

    I have posted here approximately 1,963 times that I support the right to an abortion up to the moment when the fetus is capable of an independent biological existence. But that is a different matter from what rights kids who ARE born, or are going to be carried to term, should have.

  50. An embryo terminated before being born does not.

    Precisely how could someone violate your rights before you have them?

  51. 1. I’ll take that as a substantially-yes. 2. now that you mention it, I do recall you being a viability person, rather than a draws-the-1st-breath person. I just forgot.

  52. And the libertarian argument against deliberate creation of a handicapped child flies directly in the face of the non-agression principle.

    The bone of contention here, I suppose, is whether or not a fetus has the same rights as a child.

    And that’s something that pretty much everyone has already made their mind up on.

    And honestly, can we please not turn this into a discussion of abortion? Abortion debates are a dime a dozen.

  53. It is not too difficult to imagine a health insurance company saying: we will cover your designer child only if you let us select some of the traits.

    What’s wrong with this? You don’t even have a right to health insurance, let alone demanding that they cover things. Don’t like their hypothetical terms, pay for your hypothetical superbaby yourself.

    “How can you abuse something in the act of creating it? It doesnt exist prior to being created, and therefore has no rights.”

    An embryo doesn’t have rights, that’s true. So, if a woman decides to genetically engineer a child to, say, have trisomy-21, how can that be considered abusive? Easy: When the featus reaches the point of having the ability to survive outside of a uterus (and thusly can now accurately be called a child), it has a terrible handicap. That handicap was applied to this child with intent, and could therefore be considered abuse. Same as if you broke your kids’ spine so it couldn’t walk for a lifetime.

    Go ahead and create then abort all the genetically handicapped fetuses you want, but don’t let them grow into children, because then you’re abusing an actual person.

  54. And the libertarian argument against deliberate creation of a handicapped child flies directly in the face of the non-agression principle.

    How can you aggress against something that doesnt exist yet?

  55. Ron,

    Yeah, it may be rare but it is a tragedy everytime it happens. It is easy for you to say, oh jsut a few kids will be deaf. One is too many.

  56. I dont see why parents shouldnt be allowed to create a mentally handicapped child, if they are willing to love it.

    The parents will die. Then what?

    So the kids have no rights in this matter?

    Feminists claim the kids have no right to life, so why should they have a right to hearing?

    Ya gotta love that self-serving feminist hypocrisy – split the hairs finely enough and you can justify nearly anything while maintaining a pretense of morality.

  57. When the featus reaches the point of having the ability to survive outside of a uterus (and thusly can now accurately be called a child), it has a terrible handicap.

    But the decision to create a disabled child occurred prior to the child existing. A non-disabled timmy or johnny doesnt exist, it is a fiction, you are comparing real with non-real. If we are to take the concept of autonomy seriously, it seems to me that the case for allowing someone to create a disabled johnny is even greater than allowing someone the right of abortion, if we are to cast egalitarian concerns aside (which are really irrelevant).

  58. And honestly, can we please not turn this into a discussion of abortion? Abortion debates are a dime a dozen.

    It would help if you would answer the questions put to you then. I asked whether negrosity would be considered an actionable handicap. Here are some more questions; which of these genetic traits (assume they are selected) would amount to actionable handicaps:

    1. can’t enjoy alcohol
    2. can’t enjoy cocaine
    3. excessively large penis
    4. myopia
    5. sterility
    6. back hair
    7. extra eye
    8. lack capacity to achieve orgasm
    9. subdued sense of smell or taste
    10. extra fingers
    11. prone to obesity
    12. failure to impart some kind of superpower that became sort of standard for most future babies

    I could go on, but hopefully my point is clearer now. Superficially, my question is whether we can decide what a “handicap” is and isn’t. On a deeper level I am worried about who will be making these decisions (parents or insurance companies).

  59. It’s called opportunity cost.

  60. Whenever I see a post bitching about feminists, I don’t even have to check the name to know it’s from Mr. Le Mur. If it makes you feel better to pretend that supporting abortion rights is the exact same thing as believing kids have no rights at all, go for it. Maybe it will even help you get over whatever woman in your past made you so pissed off.

  61. Maybe it will even help you get over whatever woman in your past made you so pissed off.

    He’ll never get over me, they never do.

  62. Phillip Conti: Put another way, the parents can be presumed to have wanted a child anyway and are going to cause any genetically handicapped child to bear the full cost, when the next best alternative is a healthy child. The kid bears the opportunity cost of a healthy life, forced to do so by the parent.

  63. Put another way, the parents can be presumed to have wanted a child anyway and are going to cause any genetically handicapped child to bear the full cost, when the next best alternative is a healthy child ///// (or non-existence?)

    I am not presuming these things.

  64. John: I believe I was pretty clear at how ethically repulsed I am by the choice made by the deaf lesbians. But the question remains, how much do you want the government to get involved in eugenics again. Recall that state bureaucrats didn’t do so well when they went around deciding to snip the ovaries and testes of “imbeciles” as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously declared in Buck v. Bell. And remember, until 1967 sixteen states once outlawed miscegenation.
    Of course, the Federal courts eventually overturned these laws and decisions, but it took them decades to do so. I am confident that more tragedies will occur when the the government gets involved than when it stays out of the reproductive decisions of indivduals.

    History should give you pause after pre-emptively advocatig the government intervention into people’s reproductive decisions.

  65. Ron,

    Just because it is not a problem now doesn’t mean that it won’t be later. Further, there would be just as many problems, although different ones, associated with the over production of girls as there is with the over production of boys. It goes back to my central point that I don’t see how we can have our gene pool dictated by fashion rather than nature. Right now we have entire generations of children who share similar names because that was the fashion of the day when they were born. (For example, the huge numbers of females named Jennifer and Kelly who were born in the mid to late 1970s). That is pretty harmless. What if we had entire generations of blond and blue eyed kids or tall skinny kids because that was the fashion when they were born. Over the long term, that could do very strange things to our species and our evolution.

    More importantly, there are serious problems with treating people as means rather than ends. People won’t just engineer their children to be good looking or smart, they will engineer them to be athletes or artists too. How would you like to be a child who was basically grown in a test tube for the specific purpose to be an athlete? What if you hate athletics? What kind of free will do you have if you are bread to be something in particular? What happens to your self esteem if you are injured and never fulfill your purpose? Basically you are making people into race horses or prized strains of roses.

    Further, allowing some people to do these things essentially then requires everyone else to do them if they want their children to be competitive. What chance does my child born through normal process have in a world full of designer kids with 180 IQs who are 6 feet 7 and can run and jump like an NBA player? Further, there is only so much room in society for truly exceptional people. What would we do with millions of geniuses? There would never be enough jobs that would be fulfilling to them. Further, we have a need for people who are practical and mechanically oriented or just plain hard manual workers, but it is doubtful that anyone would ever engineer their kid to be a great auto mechanic. Where would people to fill those trades come from after everyone makes their kid into the next Stephen Hawking or Michael Jordan?

    The bottom-line is that genetically engineering children makes takes away from the intrinsic value of life and makes children into animals or tools bread for our own vanity or purposes. That is a pretty immoral nightmarish scenario.

  66. What’s wrong with this? You don’t even have a right to health insurance, let alone demanding that they cover things. Don’t like their hypothetical terms, pay for your hypothetical superbaby yourself.

    So let me see if I have your position straight, Timothy:

    One of the primary concerns is the lack of clear property rights in current law: “Who owns human embryos?” Whoever pays for them to be created. Do clinics? If they are ponying up the funds, then yes. Under what conditions would the parents own the embryo: If they can pay for it themselves.

    that it?

  67. “How can you aggress against something that doesnt exist yet?”

    Once again, I point out that this is point at which debate will simply stop and people are just going to get mad. Everyone’s already made up their mind that a fetus either is or is not a child, so there’s no use in beating this particular horse’s corpse.

  68. No you are missing the point Mediageek, the people on this board are asserting that embryos or feti or whatever have rights PRIOR to existing. this is one step further than rights as embryos.

  69. “Superficially, my question is whether we can decide what a “handicap” is and isn’t.”

    Dave, whatever gives you a woody at the thought of getting massive out-of-court settlements.

    How’s that for an answer.

    I mean, go nuts, man.

    But watch out, because I’m sure there are people who would manipulate the genetic structure of their kids so they can metabolize corn syrup to no ill effect.

  70. No you are missing the point Mediageek, the people on this board are asserting that embryos or feti or whatever have rights PRIOR to existing.

    No, we are saying that those who WILL exist have rights that cannot be retroactively infringed.

  71. Phillip Conti,

    By your logic, I could poison a well with some horid chemical that causes birth defects in all the children born to the town that uses the well and would not be doing anything ethically wrong or violating anyone’s rights because the children who will undoubtably be born with birth defects did not exist when I poisoned the well and therefore had no rights. Causing multigenerational harm is still a harm even though the people you have harmed do not yet exist.

  72. John: First, you write: “Just because it is not a problem now doesn’t mean that it won’t be later.”

    True, but why don’t we just wait and see if problems occur before we jump off the bridge of government eugenics.

    As for your other objections, and at the risk of trying your patience, I really do dissect and show that most of them are not nearly as scary as some people think in my chapter “Hooray for Designer Babies” in Liberation Biology. Available at Amazon.com ๐Ÿ™‚

    More generally, I will go with private eugenics any day over government eugenics. If you (and the rest of the frightened public) forbid people to use biotech to enhance their children then you have decided for them what the “right” genes are? Are you really smart enough to decide what genes everyone’s children should get? Is anyone?

  73. But watch out, because I’m sure there are people who would manipulate the genetic structure of their kids so they can metabolize corn syrup to no ill effect.

    I think not choosing this trait, where available, should be considered actionable. Except that there probably won’t be any cornsyrup in the future. Cornsyrup won’t take us as long to ween ourselves from as the cigarettes have, I don’t think.

  74. No, we are saying that those who WILL exist have rights that cannot be retroactively infringed.

    Some people are saying that, and it is stupid. you are kind of saying that handicapped life has no value in of itself, you want the right to decide what goes on in your body and in other’s should have the right to choose as well, as long as you agree with their decisions. I call these people sometimes libertarians. Taking this position seriously could allow for forcible abortion of naturally-conceived handicapped people.

  75. “No you are missing the point Mediageek, the people on this board are asserting that embryos or feti or whatever have rights PRIOR to existing. this is one step further than rights as embryos.”

    No, philip, you’re missing the point:

    While a fetus bound for abortion has no rights, a fetus bound to come to term will have rights once it is born.

    This has already been stated several times, and more eloquently than I have.

    Which gets us back to the point that I’ve already made:

    You have decided that a fetus is no different than a child, and are therefore not interested in making a distinction, or even entertaining the possibility. Hence it’s not worth discussing for the following reasons:

    1) Ain’t nobody gonna change their mind.
    2) This debate is boring.

  76. Are you really smart enough to decide what genes everyone’s children should get? Is anyone?

    Ron,

    That is exactly my point which is why we should not be doing it. The government should stop people from genetically engineering their children, not engage in it themselves. I am not argueing for government sponsored genetic engineering of people, I am argueing just the opposite, no genetic engineering of people beyond treating of birth defects and other genetically related handicaps. Basically if there is a way to ensure that your child doesn’t carry a gene that causes cancer, that is fine. Genetically engineering your child to a specific purpose beyond good health is not, regardless of who is doing it.

  77. Jennifer: Perhaps some people here believe that embryi and feti have rights prior to their physical existence because they are souls in Heaven waiting to inhabit bodies, even “bodies” that consist of a single cell. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  78. you are kind of saying that handicapped life has no value in of itself

    No, I am not. Check my response to Ron Bailey at 10:48 a.m.

  79. “I think not choosing this trait, where available, should be considered actionable. Except that there probably won’t be any cornsyrup in the future. Cornsyrup won’t take us as long to ween ourselves from as the cigarettes have, I don’t think.”

    Just typing that caused you to get an erection.

    Don’t deny it.

  80. You have decided that a fetus is no different than a child

    No Im not, Im not at all. Im asserting that a non-conceived fetus is different than a fetus.

  81. “I think not choosing this trait, where available, should be considered actionable. Except that there probably won’t be any cornsyrup in the future. Cornsyrup won’t take us as long to ween ourselves from as the cigarettes have, I don’t think.”

    Just typing that caused you to get an erection.

    Don’t deny it.

  82. Are you really smart enough to decide what genes everyone’s children should get? Is anyone?

    Ron,

    That is exactly my point which is why we should not be doing it. The government should stop people from genetically engineering their children, not engage in it themselves. I am not argueing for government sponsored genetic engineering of people, I am argueing just the opposite, no genetic engineering of people beyond treating of birth defects and other genetically related handicaps. Basically if there is a way to ensure that your child doesn’t carry a gene that causes cancer, that is fine. Genetically engineering your child to a specific purpose beyond good health is not, regardless of who is doing it.

  83. Jennifer: Perhaps some people here believe that embryi and feti have rights prior to their physical existence because they are souls in Heaven waiting to inhabit bodies, even “bodies” that consist of a single cell. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  84. Im asserting that a non-conceived fetus is different than a fetus.

    With the possible exception of Jesus Christ, just how many non-conceived fetuses have there been?

  85. And remember, until 1967 sixteen states once outlawed miscegenation.

    Could I get a parsing here? What does the qualifier “until 1967” add to this thought?

    If sixteen states once outlawed miscegenation, that didn’t change after 1967, did it?

    Yes, yes, I know what the intent was. Just being a word-nanny. So flog me.

  86. “Genetically engineering your child to a specific purpose beyond good health is not, regardless of who is doing it.”

    That’s absurd.

  87. John: You completely missed my point–if the government forbids it, the government has ALREADY DECIDED FOR EVERYONE what genes children should have–randomly conferred ones. That’s a eugenic decision. I trust parents more than I do governments.

  88. With the possible exception of Jesus Christ, just how many non-conceived fetuses have there been?

    That is funny.

  89. DD: Always appreciate an edit–get rid of the “once” I think.

  90. John: Speaking of Jesus Christ–Mary was a surrogate mother.

  91. No, Ron, you miss the point. If the government bans genetic engineering we just get what we have now which is nature. To say that allowing nature to run its course is the equivilent to Buck v. Bell is sophistry of the first order. Eugenics is by definition selective breading of people for certain traits. Banning genetic engineering is preventing just that. By your logic the mere act of having a child is a form of eugenics.

  92. Genetically engineering your child to a specific purpose beyond good health is not, regardless of who is doing it.

    How is your proposal different than wanting the government to tell parents they can’t raise their children to believe horrible things or they can’t yell at their children or they can’t put unhealthy pressure them to be atheletes or models or doctors? Parents have the right to be terrible parents, they have the right to emotionally scar their children for their own selfish ends, they even have the right to cut the flesh off their children (and they ought to). Why do these rights end with genetics?

  93. My (and they ought to) comment meant to say they ought to have those rights, not that they ought to cut the flesh off their children. That’s a personal decision.

  94. I think the definition of diminished IS a big issue in the statement

    “People may not seek procedures whose aim is to produce mentally or physically diminished children. That would be the moral equivalent of child abuse.”

    It assumes that we can determine what criteria are valuable in a human being. I have spent 15 years working with “diminished” people. Many are happier than anyone on this board and to characterize their lives as less worthwhile or valuable because they are diminished along some parameter of existence is crass (as are most of the comments about Deaf culture here). In some cultures those with different ability profiles are highly honored for the different perspective they bring to the community about life and what it means to be human.

    If you feel the need to regulate what decisions parents make, then it seems that you must regulate both “positive” and “negative” decisions since deciding which is which is far too subjective.

    On a side note. I think the un-intended consequences of designing humans will quickly be shown to be the far greater risk than the intended choices that Ron worries about.

  95. John: Once people have the ability to choose genes and then someone (government) denies them that choice that is a eugenic decision. No way to get around that simply be appealing to “naturalness” as the opposite of eugenics. The choice now is private vs. government eugenics, not nature vs. eugenics.

  96. I must say, I think John’s worries are premature but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to them. We’re not yet capable of genetically engineering supergeniuses, but when we are that will be a problem. Few parents would choose to have an average or even stupid child if they could get an Einstein by spending just a few hundred bucks, and a society where every single member was brilliant enough to discover relativity theory would be seriously unstable unless that society also had enough technology to ensure nobody had to do boring grunt-work like ditchdigging, data entry or food preparation, but could just sit around discovering new scientific principles all day.

    But I think we’re a long, long way from that happening, which is why I’m more concerned with issues we ARE likely to face in our lifetimes, like parents genetically engineering their children to be deaf.

  97. “Is the ability to reproduce a basic human right? NO

    Am I the only one disturbed by this?
    As far as I’m concerned, the entire point of being born on this planet (from a cold, objective, scientific and evolutionary perspective) is to reproduce. If that isn’t our most basic right, then I don’t know what is.

  98. With the possible exception of Jesus Christ, just how many non-conceived fetuses have there been?

    My disctinction was between the rights of feti that were conceived, and those that hadnt been yet. BTW, I am an atheist.
    Jennifer, your criterion of truth seems to be suffering, which is typically liberal. But really, logically your viewpoint makes no sense.

  99. Mediageek:

    I am not a litigation lawyer, and even when I was a patent litigator, I had virtually no role in scaring up suits. Not thru lobbying; not rainmaking; I did nothing like that. In fact, I was on the defendant’s side more often than the plaintiff’s. I don’t do any litigation now and hope that my current employer avoids litigation.

    However, my lawyer experience has taught me to h8 unintended consequences. This is a keen hatred for me because I foresee consequences better than just about anybody I have ever met.

    In this debate, there are two big areas of unintended consequences as I see it:

    1. Gigantic uncertainty over what a “forbidden” or “actionable” trait (handicap, if you want to be conclusory) is. We were arguing deafness on this thread, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. I gave a lot of other examples, hoping that you or somebody else might have a simple rule in mind from sorting handicaps from non-handicaps. So far nobody has come up with anything to good. If we allow this uncertainty to linger, then my prediction is: pain, specifically lawyer type pain. You want to avoid that (and I know I do), then we ought to get this question sorted before we spawn thousands of tiny litigation time bombs.

    2. Insurance companies taking over trait selection: Bailey sees wealthy parents having designer babies, but the rabble continuing to do it the old fashioned way (with lots of randomness). Maybe he is correct, but I think it will play out differently. I think there will be strong financial incentives for private health insurance to want some genetic tinkering to take place. I think they will offer the public a different deal: health insurance will pay for genetic work, but then they also get a great contractual say in trait selection. I don’t think anybody intends for insurance companies to start determining what children are like, but I can see things sliding to this end-state very quickly.

    Also, to address what Ron Bailey said about private eugenics versus government eugenics: Not all private eugenics are created equal. A private eugenics that are the result primarily of atomized, independent, authentic choices of individual parents is a private eugenics system I can get behind. On the other hand, a eugenics system that is co-opted by insurance companies seems even scarier to me than government eugenics. In other words, the term “private eugenics” is too broad to be useful here. It encompasses both the best and the worst outcomes. This kind of reminds me how the term “free markets” subsumes both competitive markets and cartels, leaving the happy slogan empty.

  100. I have spent 15 years working with “diminished” people. Many are happier than anyone on this board and to characterize their lives as less worthwhile or valuable because they are diminished along some parameter of existence is crass (as are most of the comments about Deaf culture here).

    I am not saying their lives are less worthwhile or valuable; I am saying that no one should be allowed to deliberately turn a healthy person into one with diminished mental or physical capabilities. I don’t doubt that a lot of people suffering from mild mental retardation are happier than those who are smart enough to notice bad things in the world, but that doesn’t mean I’d support a plan to make everybody happy through some master scheme to lower everyone’s IQ by sixty points.

  101. “Few parents would choose to have an average or even stupid child if they could get an Einstein by spending just a few hundred bucks, and a society where every single member was brilliant enough to discover relativity theory would be seriously unstable unless that society also had enough technology to ensure nobody had to do boring grunt-work like ditchdigging, data entry or food preparation, but could just sit around discovering new scientific principles all day.”

    Maybe there’s room for the people who want to have retarded kids after all.

  102. There’s no point in even considering regulation. If some creepy couple wants to have a retarded kid AND they manage to find a fertility doc who is willing to help make a retarded kid AND the kid lives……so what? When asked, both the parents and the doctors are going to insist that the kid was a result of some fertility accident, it’s not an exact science, these things happen, terrible misfortune, etc., etc. How are you ever going to prove otherwise in order to take the kid away and toss the parents in jail? Suppose you prove the parents and doctors conspired to make a new retard before it’s born? Would you then enforce an abortion? The cans of worms just keep getting bigger. Allowing government regulation for the sake of a few exceptionally rare cases which won’t be preventable anyway, just invites the new bureaucrasy to regulate something ELSE to justify their existence. “The law says no intentional retards,” they’ll quote, and soon “retard” will come to mean “abnormal” and after that they’ll regulate every gene you’ve got which isn’t identical to your neighbor’s based on the public whims of the moment.

    No, thank you.

    I’d rather risk the few crackpots who will want want deaf kids, or kids with three eyes, or whatever, than have the government get anywhere near oversight of my reproductive choices. Asking the government to regulate anything is inviting them to regulate everything.

  103. linguist: Depends on what a “human right” is. This is a much longer dicussion but I crib from Wikipedia the distinction between negative and positive rights:

    Under the theory of positive and negative rights, a negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another human being, or group of people, such as a state, usually in the form of abuse or coercion. A positive right is a right to be provided with something through the action of another person or the state. In theory a negative right proscribes or forbids certain actions, while a positive right prescribes or requires certain actions.

    I do not believe that I and other members of the public are or should be required to help you reproduce.

  104. Jennifer, your criterion of truth seems to be suffering, which is typically liberal. But really, logically your viewpoint makes no sense.

    “You’re a typical liberal and you make no sense.” Wow. Brilliant rebuttal. I’ll bet you were captain of the debate team in high school, huh?

  105. I could ask another question: Does a woman have a right to selectively eliminate all “HEALTHY” embryos, until she is able to find a correctly disabled one to her preference, should that be her intention? But I am afraid, Timothy, Ron and Jennifer would continue to evade the question.

  106. Jennifer, your criterion of truth seems to be suffering, which is typically liberal. But really, logically your viewpoint makes no sense.

    “You’re a typical liberal and you make no sense.” Wow. Brilliant rebuttal. I’ll bet you were captain of the debate team in high school, huh?

  107. “As far as I’m concerned, the entire point of being born on this planet (from a cold, objective, scientific and evolutionary perspective) is to reproduce. If that isn’t our most basic right, then I don’t know what is.”

    I hate to go all Randroid, but, if it has to come at someone else’s expense, then it isn’t a right.

    I have no interest in being coerced into footing the bill so an infertile couple can conceive a child.

    If they want to pay for it, or get the money from some other source, I have no problem with it.

  108. Ronald, you blew it when you answered the first question. Of course women should be prohibited from selling their children. **Children are NOT a commodity*** Children are human beings, with all the rights and responsabilities that it implies, adjusted for the age-imposed dependency.

    Unless we can make it retroactive and let your mom sell you now to a pharmaceutical research firm as a guinea pig.

  109. kids with three eyes

    I want my kid to qualify for the safe driver discount on my auto insurance. Nuttin’ crackpot about that. I am probably going to be paying those premiums, ya know.

  110. Attention hamsters, attention hamsters! Lunch break is over. Back on the treadmills!

  111. Jennifer,

    “I am not saying their lives are less worthwhile or valuable;”

    Yes you are. Think about it carefully. You are defining a person’s worth based on mental or physical capabilities that meet your definiton of “normal” and saying that it would be bad to not fit that mold (ignoring how hard it would be to determine what counts as “diminished.”)

    “I am saying that no one should be allowed to deliberately turn a healthy person into one with diminished mental or physical capabilities.”

    The thing is, capabilities are dynamic. The lines you want to draw are not that easy to find in application. What if I wanted my child to have temporal lobe epilepsy, a trait that is highly correlated with artist expression (and religious insight — direct access to God some say)? S Hawkings is physically diminished due to his genes. Would I be doing something bad to clone him and risk that my child would develop the same physical problems? Or would the intellectual gifts I hope for balance out the physical harm? Austistic spectrum disorders often accompany highly systematic thinking that is valuable in technological design fields (cf Temple Grandin or Simon Baron-Cohen discussions of the issue). Should we put autistic spectrum disorders in the good modification list or the bad modification list?

  112. Adriana, I had the impression that it wasn’t “selling kids to be guinea pigs or slaves” so much as it was letting surrogate mothers sell their services.

    On the other hand, I kind of wonder what would be wrong with ‘selling’ children to be adopted. Right now, if a woman is dirt-poor and gives her infant to an adoption agency, she gets nothing and remains dirt-poor. Meanwhile, a couple wanting to adopt that same baby has to pay the agency tens of thousands of dollars in fees. What would be wrong with cutting out the middleman here?

    I’ll bet there are a lot of couples who would like to adopt but are in this situation: “I can afford to adopt a child and give him a good life, or I can afford to pay adoption fees, but I can’t afford both.”

  113. “Unless we can make it retroactive and let your mom sell you now to a pharmaceutical research firm as a guinea pig”

    Wow. Way to make yourself look ridiculous by changing the subject.

    NOTHING in Ron’s post in any way, shape, or form, condones child abuse, which is what you are talking about. Allowing a fertile parent to sell their parental rights to an infertile couple in no way, shape, or form allows any person to abuse a child. And surprise, surprise, sperm donors already do this without anyone being able to sell children into pharmaceutical slavery (like that would be likely to arise in any event…)

  114. Jennifer, In using the word suffering and its connotations, I was specifically referring to the Liberal Mind by Kenneth Minogue. You seemed to me to be advancing the idea that suffering was some sort of key to moral truth, but completely disregarding the idea that suffering, like anything else is in the eye of the beholder. Is someone who is incapable of perceiving that they are suffering really suffering? Is someone who is retarded ‘SUFFERING’?

  115. You are defining a person’s worth based on mental or physical capabilities that meet your definiton of “normal” and saying that it would be bad to not fit that mold (ignoring how hard it would be to determine what counts as “diminished.”)

    No, I am not defining a person’s worth; I am limiting what changes parents can inflict upon their children.

    The closest analogy I can draw is to imagine that I am saying “fathers should not be allowed to rape their daughters or allow others to rape them,” and you keep interpreting that as “Oh, so you’re saying non-virgin girls are worth less than the virgin ones?”

  116. Who is to say which modifications are beneficial and which are harmful? There lies the crux of the issue. Given the choice between a world where a few misguided parents choose to mod their embryos in ways I find objectionable, or a world where the government can tell me which mods are ok and which are not (at gunpoint), I choose the former.

    nmg

  117. I can’t possibly be seeing this.

    Someone is positing that an increased cognitive ability isn’t necessarily a better thing.

    Thanks, Phil. I am now dumber for having read what you posted.

  118. I’ve only skimmed this thread today, but I just saw John’s question

    “What chance does my child born through normal process have in a world full of designer kids with 180 IQs who are 6 feet 7 and can run and jump like an NBA player?”

    and my skimming hasn’t turned up a response.

    If I had to make a choice between having a child with an IQ of 100 with the rest of the world having an IQ of 100, or having an IQ of 100 with the rest of the world having an IQ of 180, I’d choose the latter. I believe my child would get more than enough benefit from the byproducts of the high IQ people to make up for looking slow.

    The difference between zero-sum games and reality, where wealth is created, is huge. This is just another example.

    On the other hand, I didn’t get to make such a choice. My wife and I did, however, get to choose the anonymous egg donor that resulted in our twin girls. The dossiers we were provided included pictures of the women and educational backgrounds of the women and their parents as well as medical histories. IQ scores weren’t provided, but we used the information available as proxies and chose intelligence over pulchritude, even though that meant us choosing a donor who occasionally suffer from migraines.

    BTW, my wife is the child, along with four siblings, of a pre-lingually deaf woman and a post-lingually deaf man. She and her siblings hear fine, but their first language is Ameslan. IIRC, all of them-and definitely my wife-think the lesbian deaf women did the wrong thing. I suspect many of them would even want the government to step in and prevent it. But then again, none of them are fans of the deafness-is-not-a-handicap community. They might think differently had their parents had significantly better educational opportunities. It’s a real tricky topic that I’ve followed as a curious observer.

  119. If I had to make a choice between having a child with an IQ of 100 with the rest of the world having an IQ of 100, or having an IQ of 100 with the rest of the world having an IQ of 180, I’d choose the latter.

    I think that the actual question was, “Would you rather have a 180-IQ child in a 180-IQ world, or a 100-IQ child in a 180-IQ world.”

  120. “Who is to say which modifications are beneficial and which are harmful?”

    Seems to me if your meddling with a fetus’ genome results in a child incapable of, say, wiping its own ass or being completely oblivious to the 18-wheeler blaring it’s horn as it barrels down on your kid that those modifications would probably go in the “harmful” pile.

  121. Does a woman have a right to selectively eliminate all “HEALTHY” embryos, until she is able to find a correctly disabled one to her preference, should that be her intention?

  122. Do you want a kid with a 180 IQ in a 100 IQ world?

    Yes.

    Do you want a kid with a 180 IQ in a 180 IQ world?

    Yes.

    Um.

    Duh!

  123. “Does a woman have a right to selectively eliminate all “HEALTHY” embryos, until she is able to find a correctly disabled one to her preference, should that be her intention?”

    If she’s footing her own bill, and agrees to never rely on any form of public assistance.

    Sure.

    And I will mock her with merciless abandon.

  124. If I had to make a choice between having a child with an IQ of 100 with the rest of the world having an IQ of 100, or having an IQ of 100 with the rest of the world having an IQ of 180, I’d choose the latter.

    I think that the actual question was, “Would you rather have a 180-IQ child in a 180-IQ world, or a 100-IQ child in a 180-IQ world.”

    I think a world of 180 iq people would quickly decide to euthanize the slow people. This brings up a subtle point: the random differences between people in the world as we know it help us to respect those that are different, at least to the extent that we do.

    Genetic engineering has the potential to both homogenize people and to make being different a somehow blameworthy thing (what didn’t your parents have decent insurance?).

    As I advocated earlier in the thread, I think it is more important to keep the trait decisions atomized and independent, than it is to worry about public versus private control per se.

  125. Wouldn’t any study of the normal courtship process be considered eugenics? “eu?gen?ics – n – The study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding.” In my experience, people are selective about who they breed with, and if we have free will, it’s controlled, so how would this really be any different than just having sex with your spouse? The natural selection of traits isn’t truly random, because you still limit the traits that are possible to pass down by selecting a mate.

    Also, I’m not too sure how I feel about this: “People may not seek procedures whose aim is to produce mentally or physically diminished children.” I could very easily make the case that making your baby a female could count as physically diminishing it.

  126. Dave, I don’t know why you’re worried about slower people being euthanized by smarter ones.

    After all, you’re still alive, aren’t ya?

  127. If she’s footing her own bill, and agrees to never rely on any form of public assistance.

    How is this morally different from genetically engineering a disabled kid? The only thing removed is human intentionality(to some strange degree, possibly?). It’s kind of like saying we can enjoy second hand pot smoke, but not smoke it ourselves, damned our human condition!

  128. Honestly, Phil, I don’t care. I just responded to get you to stop pasting the same damned thing into the thread over and over.

    Cheers,
    mg

  129. On second thought, in that same vein, if it later came to light to the disabled child that he’d been the embryo selected for his deformities, again, I’d have no problem with him suing the everliving snot out of his parents, leaving them destitute, or worse, picking which retirement home they get shunted into.

  130. I think a world of 180 iq people would quickly decide to euthanize the slow people.

    Not at all, social cooperation is not a zero sum game, (although in a democracy it may be)

  131. if it later came to light to the disabled child that he’d been the embryo selected for his deformities, again, I’d have no problem with him suing the everliving snot out of his parents

    I’d say that, in the case of parents deliberately inflicting their kids with handicaps, give the kids the same lawsuit rights as adults have now. If someone else causes me to become blind or deaf I can sue them, so a kid deliberately made blind or deaf should have the same right.

  132. Everyone posting on this thread, and the woman whose book inspired the post, assumes that the enhancement technologies will always be perfectly beneficial to the recipients and without any side effects. To me the question has never been about the enhancements themselves but the side effects that don’t show up for years. What happens to the kids who received such benefits and later learned that the price of a 180 IQ and Tour de France – level endurance is developing fatal heart disease at 35 or having one’s germ cells so compromised that the enhanced kid’s own children are severely handicapped? I don’t see any good solutions to this one, but I think we ought to acknowledge that the problem isn’t nearly so much about the perfect technologies but what happens when things go wrong?

  133. Let’s try a hypothetical situation:

    If, as Ron maintains, that purposely engineering a child with a deleterious condition — say, Down’s Syndrome — is tantamount to child abuse, what should be the penalties? What should the government do?

    Now consider this: Thousands of Down’s babies are born each year, and thanks to new screening techniques, most of the parents knew they were going to be handicapped long before they were born.

    So, if knowingly and willfully engineering a child with Down’s Syndrome is child abuse, how then is knowingly and willfully allowing a naturally-conceived Down’s baby to be born not child abuse? Because in practical terms, the results are the same: The parents gave birth to a handicapped child simply because they wanted to.

    In my opinion, the “Right to Choose” is on a collision course with technology, and the results won’t be pretty. Unless society is willing to draw a strong line somewhere, you’re going to have all sorts of unpleasant consequences.

    Which perhaps explains why some people try to detach this issue from abortion.

  134. For some reason I am reminded of the star-bellied Sneeches.

  135. You know, I’m starting to see the downside…all the idiots blathering on about income distribution and Lorenz curves and all that will get their panties in a knot about the Gini coefficient of intelligence and how it’s not fair that some kids are smarter than others. The nannies will legislate that all kids must have the same genetic aptitude for intelligence, it will be the end of progress.

    This will actually happen faster in the relatively freer US than in Europe, because we’re less likely to ban embryo tinkering outright. I think this is especially true because they’ll break out the, “well why can only rich people get superbabies” argument. Then they will cry, like little girls, and the government will listen to them.

  136. Jennifer, you evade issues so well you could be a professional politician. Creating or increasing the probability of existing embryo with pre-exising “deficiencies” is not synonymous or morally the same as causing a disability in an otherwise healthy person.

  137. Jennifer, you evade issues so well you could be a professional politician. Creating or increasing the probability of existing embryo with pre-exising “deficiencies” is not synonymous or morally the same as causing a disability in an otherwise healthy person.

    When did I say it was? You miss the point so well you could be a professional knife-thrower’s target.

  138. Phillip,

    Yup. If I had a lever that I could pull that would raise everyone on the world’s IQ by 30 points, but leave mine alone, I’d pull it (assuming the only choice is pulling it and not pulling it, as opposed to having someone else pull it, etc.).

    I’d also pull it if I were to lose 1 IQ point and everyone else in the world would gain 30. I’d reasonably expect that over time the benefit to me would be significant. Same with losing 2. At some point though, I wouldn’t pull it. I don’t know where that cutoff is, but since I’m using the hypothetical to illustrate an aspect of what I believe about wealth creation versus zero-sum games, it’s not particularly interesting to me.

    Karen,

    When discussing ethics, often it’s useful to hold as many variables constant as possible in thought experiments. I believe that’s what many people are doing. However, saying “everyone…assumes…perfectly beneficial” is wrong. I explicitly mentioned that my wife and I selected for IQ even knowing that there was a slightly greater chance that our children would have migraines.

    It’s easier to talk about hypotheticals than actuals, because actuals require a lot more of a write-up due to the extra variables. There’s a difference between a stipulation for argument’s sake and an assumption. Stipulations make it possible to discuss ethics in the abstract, which can be useful for providing a foundation for what to do in the real world.

  139. OK Ron, now that you’ve clarified: so reproduction is a negative right in your view, correct? And no one should ever be able to interfere with it. In that case, I agree.

  140. “So, if knowingly and willfully engineering a child with Down’s Syndrome is child abuse, how then is knowingly and willfully allowing a naturally-conceived Down’s baby to be born not child abuse?”

    It would rely on the intentions of the parents.

  141. Karen,
    You’d have to subtract the amount of genetic defect that occurs now and will be avoided with the new technology from that technologies possible deleterious effects. It may be that, even when considering possibly bad side effects, the gamble might be worth the investment.

  142. First, you have the case of China where abortion, the one child policy and a grossly misogynistic culture is producing a generation where there are something like 138 males for every 100 females.

    hmmm, a negative effect of government policy becomes grounds for further government policies.

  143. NB regarding the deaf lesbian parents frequently referred to in the thread: They didn’t do it just to have a child who would “get it,” as someone said, or frivolously. They did it so that they would have a child that would speak the same language they do, and with which they could communicate. They would not be able to teach a hearing child to speak, nor would they be able to hear it and respond. A deaf child would learn to sign just as hearing children would learn to speak. (For elaboration on signing and language development, perhaps linguist will pop in.)

    That said, I vehemently disagreed with what they did and found it repulsive. Nonetheless, it wasn’t my child. That said, “deaf culture” people would do well to remember that they exist and survive due to a largely hearing world that goes to great lengths to accommodate them. Absent that, they would all either be horribly impoverished and perhaps institutionalized as retarded, or quickly dead.

  144. Fun with levers redux,

    I don’t know that anyone cares what I write, but on the off-chance that someone finds it interesting, I’d also pull a lever that doubled everyone’s wealth except mine.

    That’s different from doubling the money supply without the creation of additional wealth. I wouldn’t do the latter. In the former case, I benefit from there being more wealth on the planet even if I don’t own any of it. In the latter case I lose when my cash is devalued.

    A lot of times people ask why there are so few libertarians. I don’t think there’s a single answer, but I’d be surprised to find that there’s no correlation between who would pull my hypothetical levers and libertarians. It appears to me that zero-sum game models of wealth run deep and are hard to shake.

  145. My nephew is hearing impaired.
    Exposure to deaf culture has led him to resist calling it impairmant or disability, but that has not stopped him from securing SSI disability benefits.

  146. My nephew is hearing impaired.
    Exposure to deaf culture has led him to resist calling it impairmant or disability

    I think deaf culture is a great thing for people who are born deaf anyway and want to make the most of it; I just don’t think it should be imposed on kids who wouldn’t otherwise be deaf. Sane way I think it’s great that blind people often develop a heightened sense of hearing, but I’d never support making someone blind just so he could hear better than he otherwise could.

  147. It’s my understanding that the so-called “deaf culture” opposes the use of cochlear implants.

  148. A couple more thoughts:

    A someone pointed out already, traits rarely can be pulled out one at a time. They are connected and interlaced. So you may get blue eyes, and along with it a proneness to skin cancer. I suppose parents can weigh those choices, but who can actually PREDICT them?

    Aside from that is that genetic manipulation, like any medical procedure, is not foolproof. So what happens when a couple attempt to get a 180-IQ kid and end up with a 90-IQ kid anyway? Or worse?

    Scary as it is to say, I’m coming down on the side of “let the crazy mother try to create a retarded child if the really wants to”. Because I’m not buying that anyone’s going to be able to control this process perfectly anyway, and the alternative is that the parents of an “unintended consequences” child could also be prosecuted when the kid comes out with three legs.

  149. It’s my understanding that the so-called “deaf culture” opposes the use of cochlear implants.

    You’re right. Let me rephrase my earlier statement: deaf culture is great when it helps people feel better about being deaf, but bullshit when it insists that lacking one of the most basic senses is so fabulous that any chance to get it back must be tossed aside.

  150. Oh, and Phil, regarding the deaf lesbians…

    There’s absolutely no reason that two deaf people can’t raise a hearing child. The child would simply be bilingual (natively) in ASL and English. Many studies have been done on exactly this situation.

  151. Jennifer
    RE:
    “No, I am not defining a person’s worth; I am limiting what changes parents can inflict upon their children.

    The closest analogy I can draw is to imagine that I am saying “fathers should not be allowed to rape their daughters or allow others to rape them,” and you keep interpreting that as “Oh, so you’re saying non-virgin girls are worth less than the virgin ones?”

    Wow. That totally misses the point.
    We are talking about the nature of being in the world. This is not an argument about harming an existing person. It is about creating a person with a specific nature. You are defining one mode of existence as less valuable than another mode of existence, but you are doing it without any sense of the complications that brings up. To decide that one has “diminished” a child in some way, requires that you make a value judgement about which characteristics are worthy and which are detrimental. What metric would be used to do this? You can’t just say, “one that avoids harm to the child (aka you can’t rape your daughter)” since we are trying to define what condition of being counts as harm. If you decide that you are going to regulate against creating individuals with a certain set of characteristics, you are saying that their mode of existence is not as valuable as someone elses.

    Saying you are not making a value judgement very loudly will not change the fact that you are.

  152. This is not an argument about harming an existing person. It is about creating a person with a specific nature

    It’s about creating a person who lacks basic human capabilities. Saying “sight is better than blindness” is not the same thing as saying “people with sight are better than people who are blind.”

  153. Linguist,
    Thanks for pointing out the ASL-English Bilingual point of view… funny how people assume that a hearing child couldn’t communicate with Deaf parents, but don’t make the same assumption about parents who speak Chinese.

    And this brings up the CImplant debate. The Deaf culture community’s stance that CI is not needed comes about because they feel the mode of existence of a Deaf person is not less valuable than that of a hearing person. An ability to hear is valuable when interfacing with the hearing world, but it does not follow that interfacing with the hearing world via sounds waves is the highest goal parents should have for their child. (Full disclosure, I would support, recommend, and encourage any parents making the decision to get CI, but those that don’t are doing it based on legit positions that have been totally dismissed on this thread).

  154. Jennifer,

    “Saying “sight is better than blindness” is not the same thing as saying “people with sight are better than people who are blind.” ”

    Yeah, it is. Really. Particularly in this context. You are claiming that I am harming the child by making him exist in a certain state. Where does that assumption of harm come from? It comes from a value judgement that “sight is better than blindness.” Therefore, you claim (as did Ron), for parents to value a blind child more highly than a sighted child (to the point of wanting to raise a child in that mode of existence) is similar to child abuse (Ron’s words) or rape (your words).

    The trick, I will point out again, since this is the main issue, is how do you decide what counts as diminished? Which modes of existence do you so devalue that you are willing to prohibit them?

    Smart is better than stupid, so we can prohibit making stupid people.
    Pretty is better than ugly, so we can prohibit making ugly people.
    Sighted is better than Blind, so we can prohibit making blind people.
    Hearing is better than Deaf, so we can prohibit making deaf people.

  155. An ability to hear is valuable when interfacing with the hearing world, but it does not follow that interfacing with the hearing world via sounds waves is the highest goal parents should have for their child

    The ability to hear is valuable for more than just interacting with others who can. Just a week ago Miss Deaf Texas (aka Tara Rose McAvoy) died after being run over by a train. Even if she’d never had a non-deaf friend in her life, the ability to hear things like a freight train bearing down on her would have come in handy.

    What a brilliant fucking triumph for Deaf Culture her death was.

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/3732087.html

  156. You are claiming that I am harming the child by making him exist in a certain state. Where does that assumption of harm come from? It comes from a value judgement that “sight is better than blindness.”

    Holy Christ. So if I say “being healthy is better than having brain cancer,” are you going to claim that I’m making a value judgment against sick people?

  157. maybe someone has already said this (sorry, don’t have time to read the whole thread), but if I can add to the parade of horrors, I can see society reaching a point where Ron’s statement “People may not seek procedures whose aim is to produce mentally or physically diminished children. That would be the moral equivalent of child abuse. They may employ any technology that can reasonably be thought to be as safe as current assisted reproduction techniques.” comes to include having children WITHOUT taking advantage of technology. In other words, just plain ol’ sex> pregnancy> birth that results in a handicapped child could be (mis)construed as child abuse.

  158. The question of whether it is right to make a kid deaf/blind/retarded/whatever on purpose is a different matter entirely than whether those individuals born deaf/blind/retarded/whatever have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else under the law and/or the same “value” as human beings.

  159. Jennifer,

    (sigh) Yes, by the very rules of logic, you are making a value judgement anytime you put things in the sentence “x is better than y.” (“better” is a term which indicates value)

    But that avoids the issue, again, (sigh).

    How do you decide which of the “x is better than y” statements you are going to regulate.

    If you advocate the regulation, how would you implement it? I know for sure that I wouldn’t want to use your criteria… holy christ indeed.

  160. biologist.

    Indeed (it has been pointed out, but it is a good point)

    Did you see the movie Gattaca?
    Nice look at these issues.

  161. (sigh) Yes, by the very rules of logic, you are making a value judgement anytime you put things in the sentence “x is better than y.” (“better” is a term which indicates value)

    Speaking of logic, you might also note that you are pretending that the word “better” means the same thing in both cases. When saying “health is better than sickness”, the meaning of the word ‘better’ is different than when one is saying “I am better than you.”

    Let me remove the word ‘better’ and say “Those who are healthy are more fortunate than those who have brain cancer.” Likewise, those who can see are more fortunate than those who are blind. Also, those who have enough to eat are more fortunate than those who are starving to death. The people’s circumstances are better, but that does not mean the people themselves are.

    I don’t know if you truly don’t get this, or are indulging in sophistry.

    Either way, I have to sign off for a while.

  162. Short version: people who can see are not better than blind people, but they are better off.

  163. I’m going to make a value judgement here:

    Science, your posts in this thread have been fractally stupid.

  164. mediageek.

    Thanks for your vote… you are always so enlightened in your comments. Makes me feel humbled, truly.

    Strange to get such resistance to the idea of NOT regulating something from so many on a libertarian thread.

    Jennifer
    Sad to see that you can’t get past defending yourself to an answer to the substantive question: how would you decide what counted as “better off” or “worse off” in a way that would make the regulation of choice workable.

    We are not talking about a person’s circumstances (how subjectively fortunate they are). We are talking about their mode of being (ontology). Ron’s statement and your repeated position is that we should determine for parents which state of being is appropriate for their child (by disallowing “diminished” states of being from being chosen).

    I recall earlier in the thread something about HS debate team….

  165. How do you decide which of the “x is better than y” statements you are going to regulate.

    You’re insisting upon a complete and perfect philosophical/moral system where one may not possible. Lacking one or more of the basic senses is a very substantial disability. Being short is not.

    And forgive me for bringing up abortion, but my own view towards it demonstrates why lack of a big moral system does not mean you can’t figure out anything. In my view, aborting a fetus one day after conception is 100% okay; aborting a fetus at nine months is 100% wrong. That’s all I am certain about though – don’t ask me about the middle.

  166. “You’re insisting upon a complete and perfect philosophical/moral system where one may not possible.”

    I am absolutely not insisting upon such a thing.

    I am saying that the issue is sufficiently grey that you should let it be decided on a case-by-case basis that is in control of the parties with the most invested (aka, the parents, not Ron or Jennifer).

    It exactly parallels your example of abortion.

  167. It exactly parallels your example of abortion.

    Except I’m completely ignoring the grey areas. Were the law to be that depriving a child of one of the five senses is not allowed – and because we aren’t really definitive on what is a disabilty is outside of that – if we left everything else up to parents, would that be so objectionable a comprimise?

    I’m oversimplifing here – I have no doubt any political comprimises about this would be far more nefarious to everyone on all sides – but I am curious what you think. And apologies if I’ve completely misunderstood you.

  168. Jonas,

    No problem.

    The real issue as I see it, is that it is a problem to define which areas are grey and which are not.

    Areas that are perfectly clearly ban worthy to some (like Jennifer and Deafness), are not so clear to everyone (cf the Deaf couple mentioned earlier in the thread).

    So to me, the only way to avoid the grey areas is to ban all changes (which I don’t support), or allow people to decide for themselves.

    It is from working with populations with handicaps for the last 15 years that I have come to respect the difficulties inherent in determining what differences are good or bad outside of the particular circumstances of an individual’s life. Most of the laws and policies surrounding disability have come to realize this also. It is not enough to have a reduced capacity to be considered handicapped, it requires a coupling of that handicap with a particular context of living that prevents the individual from meeting their potential along some valued parameter of activity. This is a fabulously difficult thing to determine.

    So, to me, just like abortion, it needs to be an area where the state doesn’t have a say. It is between the family and the doctor.

  169. One possible compromise (that I don’t necessarily support): if a genetic modification causes a change that would be actionable if performed on one’s child (or perhaps on an adult, not sure), it is forbidden. So causing blindness would be forbidden, because if my parents (or you) injure me in a way that causes my blindness, they are criminal or at least liable for a tort. Similarly with an injury that causes brain damage. But I’ve never heard of a law forbidding parents to let their kids drink too much coffee and stunt their growth. Like I said, I haven’t thought this through nearly enough to support it or oppose it, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

    I myself think I come down pretty close to science’s position. I figure that there will always be some people who do things that are nasty, stupid, and/or evil. In many cases, laws regulating those actions won’t noticeably diminish the nastiness, stupidity, and evil, but will cause additional ns&e. So I incline to oppose regulations unless I have evidence that they’re necessary. But if genetic engineering becomes common and we see tens of thousands of parents crippling their kids, I think I’d reconsider.

    Final note to Dave W: Your argument about the insurance companies is pretty reasonable. But given that insurance companies don’t even attempt to encourage minor preventative care now, since they expect their customers to move on and some other company to reap the benefits, why do you think they’d invest in the comparatively expensive genetic engineering technology?

  170. I don’t find the arguments re: “What if someone intentionally genetically manipulates their kids with handicaps” very realistic. I mean, how often is that sort of thing going to happen (problem extremely, extremely rarely if at all). Besides being an absurd thing to do (and, yes, a some people do absurd things to their kids) they have to find a doctor willing to do along with it. The real issue here, it seems to me, is that the Harvard prof. thinks we need a bunch of new regulations to control even such basic things as in vitros, egg donation, sperm donation, etc., embryo donation, that are already dealt with through contractual arrangements. Too, she raises absolutely idiotic questions like: “Who owns the embryos, the parents or the clinic?” Duh! Come one, Ms. Spar, you’re a BUSINESS professor? It’s obvious to anyone with even a hint of understanding of how things work that the embryos belong to the parents (unless the parents, for some insane reason, would contractually give them to the clinic). What we have to fear here is not genetic manipulation, it’s bringing the government in so that “we as a society” are making decisions best left to individuals. Thanks, Ron, for posting this!
    –Mark Lambert

  171. Final note to Dave W: Your argument about the insurance companies is pretty reasonable. But given that insurance companies don’t even attempt to encourage minor preventative care now, since they expect their customers to move on and some other company to reap the benefits, why do you think they’d invest in the comparatively expensive genetic engineering technology?

    Good question. the details are hard to predict, but here is a plausible future that will be increasingly difficult to fight should it unfold. Please understand that this is not put forward as a specific prediction and does not represent the only way things could fall to s**t, but it is an evocative story aimed at making unintended consequences less so:

    1. Insurance companies begin by fighting fertility treatments and refusing to pay for trait selection in fertile couples.

    2. As trait selection technology progresses, it turns out at some point that the future healthcare costs benefits of trait selection outweigh the costs of trait selection. Just as an example, it may be better for the insurance company selects out autism, instead of risking that a couple will have or adopt an autistic baby who goes on the parents insurance and costs tons.

    3. So insurance company agrees to pay for anti-autism trait selection, and it becomes a popular service. Then a similar thing happens with diabetes. And myopia. And asthma.

    4. As the amount of insurance-funded trait selection increases, maybe the families become allowed to pick some traits, too. Eye color. Skin color, whatever. Stuff people might want to choose. Probably won’t add to marginal costs much once they are trait-selecting out a bunch of other stuf anyway.

    5. So far, everything is great. Insurance selects out things that soak their shareholders. Parents get a margin of consumer choice, too. Trait selection becomes routine. It aslo becomes routine for insureds to sign long contracts concerning which traits can be selected by the insurance companies. Few people read the contract, observing how undiseased all the babies seem to be coming out.

    6a. REGULATION: at this point the gov’t might choose to regulate how trait selection can be contracted. We don’t like regulation here. Bailey has already spoken on that quite clearly. Let’s assume that there is no regulation because there president and congress are solidly LP at this point in the future.

    6b. NO REGULATION: Jagadul, what do you think insurance companies would do about trait selection if it becomes both routine and unregulated? Should they be allowed to control trait selection to the extent they pay for it? Is this kind of future world problematic to you? Does it depend on how many insurance companies there are per live birth?

  172. Quick reply before I have to run out: Dave, first, I’m still not sure why insurance would care about this particular preventative measure when they don’t seem to care about all the others-although I can see refusing to cover someone who, say, had an autism gene specifically implanted for autism treatments. So I think the policy would be more likely to be a list of ‘must nots’ than a list of ‘musts.’ But that aside I don’t think you’re saying it would be a bad thing if insurance companies started insisting and paying for everyone getting the no-diabetes gene (I think you said earlier that you’d consider parents negligent who failed to get that added in) unless there was some unfortunate side-effect. And I doubt insurance would start mandating it until they were pretty sure they knew what the effects were. So the question is whether insurance companies start requiring things they shouldn’t. I find that pretty unlikely, because for the most part insurance companies don’t care about stuff that isn’t a pretty-well-established risk.

    I guess the answer boils down to: Insurance companies tend to be pretty conservative, so I doubt they’d create a society-wide change with major negative effects. They won’t move until people are heading in that direction anyway. So I don’t think the issue you raise will be too big a problem. But if we proceed down that route and it turns out that major problems are occurring, I’ll reconsider. I guess you can sum up my position with a variant of the precautionary principle: the government shouldn’t get involved unless we have strong evidence that it should, because regulation tends to be more trouble than it’s worth.

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