Family Issues

Billion Dollar Babies

The brave new world of designer children

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Remember when the desktop publishing revolution gave anyone armed with a LaserWriter the power to design posters, brochures, and various other printed matter that had once been left to trained professionals? A tsunami of mismatched typefaces and ugly clip-art was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world, and for many years, it was unsafe to look at the company newsletter without risking permanent retinal damage. So imagine what will happen when we all have the power to create our own highly customized designer babies.

In February, we took one short-lived baby step closer to that scenario. That's when Dr. Jeff Steinberg, director of The Fertility Institutes, a private medical practice with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Mexico, told The Wall Street Journal about his plans to offer parents more aesthetic control over the manufacture of their offspring. A couple would specify their choices of hair color, eye color, and skin tone, and then, using an established procedure known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), Fertility Institutes would identify which of the parents' in vitro embryos were most likely to produce a child with those traits. The process wouldn't be foolproof, Dr. Steinberg qualified, but parents who employed it would substantially increase their chances of getting the baby of their dreams. The Fertility Institutes began promoting this pending service on its website in December; Dr. Steinberg told the Journal that about "half a dozen" clients had inquired about the service since then.

For nearly two decades, fertility specialists have used PGD to screen embryos for cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and other genetic diseases. It can also be used simply for sex selection, and many clinics now offer this service. Dr. Steinberg's Fertility Institutes is one of them. On its website, it bills itself as "the world's leading center for 100% gender selection." Employing tactics more commonly associated with car dealerships and Vegas casinos, it also offers "low-interest 100% financing" and discounted travel packages that include airline tickets, hotel reservations, transportation, entertainment, dining, and child care services.

That's a refreshingly customer-oriented approach, but in the world of cutting-edge medicine, giving customers what they ask for is not always considered a virtue. While PGD in the service of avoiding disease has achieved widespread acceptance, PGD in the service of aesthetics and non-medical screening is a lot more controversial. "This is cosmetic medicine," Dr. Steinberg told the Journal. "Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it." In a subsequent interview on CBS, he echoed these sentiments: "I think it's very important that we not bury our head in the sand and pretend these advances are not happening."

As Dr. Steinberg's plans to offer trait selection to prospective parents attracted more and more media coverage, however, he was subjected to more and more criticism. Some genetic experts said he couldn't deliver what he was promising. Others said he shouldn't. On March 2, just two weeks after The Wall Street Journal article ran, Dr. Steinberg aborted his plan to offer this new service: "In response to feedback received related to our plans to introduce preimplantation genetic prediction of eye pigmentation, an internal, self regulatory decision has been made to proceed no further with this project," a statement on his website read. "Though well intended, we remain sensitive to public perception and feel that any benefit the diagnostic studies may offer are far outweighed by the apparent negative societal impacts involved." According to his publicist, Dr. Steinberg has no interest in commenting any further on the subject.

But even if Dr. Steinberg's head is now firmly buried in the sand, his words continue to resonate: These advances are happening. There are parents who'd like to utilize such services. If we are generally in favor of using PGD for medical reasons—of course, many people object to even this sort of usage—why are we so wary of extending the technology even further?

Media coverage of Dr. Steinberg's proposed trait selection service typically adopted a gently proscriptive tone. The New York Daily News, for example, likened it to building a customizable teddy bear. Todayshow.com compared it to ordering take-out food. The obvious question underlying these analogies: How can we treat creating a child as trivially and superficially as we treat buying fast-food via the drive-thru window? This question can easily be reversed, however: Why are so many of us content to exercise more control over our most quotidian consumer choices than we are over the most consequential decision we can make as humans? Could it be that parents determined to micro-managing their progeny's eye color are the ones who care the most?

Of course, it's not merely the prospect of green-eyed tots with complementary skin tones (and merely average brainpower) that keep transhumanists, bioethicists, and Hollywood screenwriters up at night. Eventually, genetic engineers will figure out ways to not only screen genes for mutations, but also to alter them in ways that increase intelligence or musical aptitude, augment height, amplify specific personality traits, et cetera. At that point, a new age of reproduction will be upon us, with parents eagerly designing a new generation of super-babies with all the latest bells and whistles.

If they have the money to pay for such services, that is. Critics believe a "genetic divide" will eventually develop: While the rich fortify their heirs with the best genes money can buy, the poor will be stuck playing the genetic lottery. Eventually, life on earth will devolve into a massive reality series, with a ragtag tribe of Average Joes pitted against an invincible army of genius supermodel millionaires.

But are we really so sure that this is how it's going to play out? Think of the smartest people you know—are they also the richest people you know? Enhancing our wealthiest embryos with extra IQ points and superior athletic skills may simply lead to a lot of investment bankers bitterly disappointed in how their son the anthropology professor/yoga instructor turned out.

In addition, what's better for society in the long run—smart rich people or dumb rich people? Maybe Bill Gates' designer baby will grow up to discover a way to make gene enhancement more affordable. Maybe he'll also set up a foundation that offers gene enhancement "scholarships" to families who would otherwise not be able to obtain these services.

One thing we know about humans: They behave in unpredictable ways. They use new technologies in ways the inventors of those technologies never imagined. At this point, when we haven't even discovered what kind of cultural impact giving parents the ability to choose their child's eye color might have, how can we know what it is about next-stage designer babies that we're trying to protect ourselves from?

As The Wall Street Journal reported, PGD is currently "unfettered by any state or federal regulations in the U.S." That freedom from government interference has allowed geneticists to develop procedures that have resulted in thousands of healthy pregnancies since the early 1990s. As the potential for aesthetic and non-medical genetic screening grows more concrete, however, opposition to PGD and related technologies is manifesting itself at the legislative level. A few weeks ago in Georgia, for example, the state senate passed a bill that appears to make PGD illegal—its text reserves embryo "solely for the purposes of initiating a human pregnancy by means of transfer to the uterus of a human female for the treatment of human infertility." The Center for Genetics and Society is calling for Congressional hearings regarding the fertility industry. According to Slate's William Saletan, these efforts mark the beginning of "a nationwide project to regulate the emerging industry of embryo production." For anyone who believes not only in the possibilities of extending reproductive options, but merely protecting the ones we currently enjoy, it is no time to have one's head in the sand.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato is a writer living in San Francisco. Read his Reason archive here.

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  1. A couple would specify their choices of hair color, eye color, and skin tone, and then, using an established procedure known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), Fertility Institutes would identify which of the parents’ in vitro embryos were most likely to produce a child with those traits.

    And what, pray tell, happens to the embryos don’t have the right hair color, eye color, or skin tone? A short trip to the federally-funded stem cell harvesting plant, I imagine.

    Yeah. I remember hearing that prenatal genetic testing would ONLY ever be used to detect crippling genetic disorders. The slippery slope is not a logical fallacy when dealing with illogical humans, I guess.

  2. Why are so many of us content to exercise more control over our most quotidian consumer choices than we are over the most consequential decision we can make as humans? Could it be that parents determined to micro-managing their progeny’s eye color are the ones who care the most?

    Right on, Greg. Heck, if parents really cared about their children, they would kill the ones with bad teeth and speech impediments as soon as such defects were known to them. It’s for the children!

  3. A tsunami of mismatched typefaces

    I saw a baby just the other day with Brush Script eyes and Helvetica ears. Creepy.

  4. And what, pray tell, happens to the embryos don’t have the right hair color, eye color, or skin tone? A short trip to the federally-funded stem cell harvesting plant, I imagine.

    Got something against recycling GodBoy?

  5. Another reason why I am glad that I have never had the desire to become a parent.

  6. Got something against recycling GodBoy?

    I don’t know — is GodBoy #2 or #4 plastic?

  7. I wonder if that doctor in the picture realizes that, had his parents been able to screen his embryo for baldness, he would have been sent to be chopped up for spare parts too.

    That’s what pro-choicers never seem to think of…but I think about it 24/7. But for the grace of Nature there goes I.

  8. Aesthetic genetic engineering is not the bottom, nor even the middle, of a slippery slope. Rather, it is a way-point halfway up the mountain to full parental control of the genetic signature of their offspring. Everybody wants to have smart, good looking, ethical children, but when people start to actually do something about it, there’s no end of carping.

    Don’t worry Luddites, you don’t have to fuss around with your antiquated ethics. When the New Types start to come out, the market will make the decision for you.

  9. But what about the children? Won’t anyone think of the children?

    Seriously, though, I cringe at what I might look like if my parents had been able to genetically engineer me to their aesthetic tastes. I will forever and always advocate the random method of genetic distribution.

  10. Slippery Slope | March 24, 2009, 7:28am | #

    Nietzche? Is that you, old boy Friedrich?

  11. I wonder if that doctor in the picture realizes that, had his parents been able to screen his embryo for baldness, he would have been sent to be chopped up for spare parts too.

    Guess what, Chris–every egg your mom bled out each month that wasn’t fertilized could have been a human too. Every sperm you spill when you jerk off to your tentacle porn could have been a human too.

    Such speculations are pointless. “Yeah, your parents might have chopped you up for spare parts!” Well, they didn’t. And if they had, you wouldn’t know about it anyway.

    Simmer in your irrationality, it’s what you’re good at.

  12. Though it is a bit comical to see so-called libertarians puffing their chests about how the future popularity of selective embryo destruction will prove them right. What does the market prove about the War on Drugs and socialist economic policies? They’re quite popular, aren’t they? Perhaps something being popular doesn’t prove it’s right.

  13. Guess what, Chris–every egg your mom bled out each month that wasn’t fertilized could have been a human too. Every sperm you spill when you jerk off to your tentacle porn could have been a human too.

    Uh, no and no. You seem to be laboring under a pre-1700 biology. Ova and sperm are not, and can never themselves become, human beings.

  14. Ova and sperm are not, and can never themselves become, human beings.

    They are both needed for an embryo, so they are fundamental building blocks. Why is their waste/destruction ok, but not that of a few embryonic cells? Your arbitrary line amuses me.

  15. THe thought of this type of selection makes me shudder. I am not sure why; it will be the subject of much personal journal writing, to be sure.

    I wonder what the potential is for the reduction of genetic variation and loss of individualism (prized by libertarians, no?). While eye, skin, and hair pigmentation can be more or less guaranteed with this procedure, have doctors been able to isolate genes that dispose one to depression, alcoholism, sociopathic/psychopathic behavior, high/low intelligence, athletic or musical talents, etc? I thought that was what the principle of “attraction” was in ordinary human relationships. We choose mates based on our attraction to them as one most likely to a) contribute quality genetic material to our own and produce offspring, and b) provide quality parenting to said offspring (more or less at least, in most Western Societies). We try to select out negative traits, or at best get the most desirable traits and then do the “nurture” portion to try to augment those desirable traits.

    And then there is the nurture aspect of child-rearing that most non-parents I’ve encountered only understand in an academic sense. You cannot underestimate the effect of environment on a child’s life. And perhaps wealthy people who are able to afford this procedure are capable of providing a materially rich environment, but in my experience, I have seen the children of wealthy people want for love, attention, touch, and even winter coats that fit properly because the parents were so preoccupied with their own lives that their offspring, genetically perfect or not, were an afterthought.

    This is a tangled argument, indeed. The process of selecting for even gender or aborting a child with Down’s syndrome diagnosed in utero is an abhorrent thought for me, yet I know it is likely done thousands of times a month in America. What level of intervention is moral? Antibiotics and surgery when warranted by infection or injury, but not genetic selection to weed-out undesirable traits like brown eyes or short torsos?

  16. It’s not an arbitrary line. Sperm and ova are not separate human lives — they carry only 23 chromosomes which are exact copies of the genetic material of the human which produces them. (there is mixing between the two sets of chromosomes in the crossing over stage, but that still involves only genetic material from the gamete-producing human)

    Whereas an embryo contains a unique genetic code stored in a full complement of 46 chromosomes, distinct from either parent. Also there is the fact that an embryo can develop into a human being given the right environment, whereas an ovum or sperm in the same environment has no chance of doing this.

  17. I dissaprove of couples using PGD to enhance the aesthetic of their offspring. However, I’ll support their right to do so if they choose.

  18. Whereas an embryo contains a unique genetic code stored in a full complement of 46 chromosomes, distinct from either parent.

    So does every miscarriage, failed implantation, and so on. So what if there is a unique code? Why is this significant?

  19. I think about it 24/7. But for the grace of Nature there goes I.

    Maybe you should stop drinking. Or start.

  20. ‘nuf said, jtuf. That is what any libertarian argument should boil down to: allow people to choose their non-criminal actions (and also allow them to live with the consequences).

  21. I love it. This is the epitome of an unfettered free market choice.

  22. Yo, fuck Gattaca.

  23. Epi, just because embryos can die doesn’t mean they’re not human beings. I’ve heard it sometimes happens to already-born people too. It might even come to pass for you and I someday.

  24. Of course, calling the offspring produced in this manner “designer babies” is a misnomer anyway. All they’re doing is producing a shitload of embryos and killing off all the ones that don’t fit the desired criteria.

    Sure, a lot of technology and know-how is required to identify those traits, but in the final analysis the process isn’t that different from that of your average eugenics-obsessed totalitarian dictator.

  25. What do the bioethicists think? Is this something that will be allowed? They are the ultimate arbiters of this type of thing.

  26. People are worried about this stuff because they watched Blade Runner one time too many. There is nothing unusual about selecting positive physical characteristics for your child – like you do every time you try and chat up a chick with a banging body* Genetic manipulation just makes the process more reliable, once you convinced the girl to breed with you.

    *(one that has a waist to hip ratio around 0.7 – if that isn’t arbitrary…)

  27. Sure, a lot of technology and know-how is required to identify those traits, but in the final analysis the process isn’t that different from that of your average eugenics-obsessed totalitarian dictator.

    Too true. This isn’t genetic engineering, its preemptive eugenics.

    Look at how people use plastic surgery – to look as much like each other as possible. If/when we do start using genetic engineering to determine looks, the world will fill up with Kens and Barbies.

    And you can bet that, if forced to choose between perfect teeth, on the one hand, and high IQ on the other, 90% of the world’s populace will go with the teeth.

  28. There is nothing unusual about selecting positive physical characteristics for your child – like you do every time you try and chat up a chick with a banging body

    Somehow I doubt that the desire to produce attractive offspring is what motivates guys to do such things (especially since great care is usually taken to ensure that no offspring will be produced from such pairings). There may be an unthinking urge that directs one to mate with those who have good genes (though the typical traits men look for have more to do with the ability to bear and nurse children rather than impart genetic material to them).

    And in any case, choosing one mate over another doesn’t necessitate the destruction of other human lives. A better analogy would be walking into a room full of women and killing all the ones you don’t want to mate with.

  29. And you can bet that, if forced to choose between perfect teeth, on the one hand, and high IQ on the other, 90% of the world’s populace will go with the teeth.

    You see the bad teeth constantly. Stupid people shut up every now and then. Even Joe did.

  30. Though it is refreshing to meet a libertarian who still associates sex with reproduction. Well met, domoarrigato!

  31. Stupid people shut up every now and then. Even Joe did.

    I disagreed with him sometimes, but I always respected joe. He’s many things perhaps but not a stupid guy.

    Also, I think slightly fucked up teeth can actually be kind of endearing. Steve Buscemi, for example did well with his chompers and Madonna did well with hers. Me, personally, I’m congenitally missing a lower tooth so my jaws don’t align properly.

  32. crimethink,

    It’s an unconscious genetic imperative. I find the girls with plenty of baby juice for my kiddies. The fact that I use a condom because I don’t want to pay child support has naught to do with anything.

    We know you equate an embryo with an adult human life in terms of rights, but I disagree. You can push that paradigm all you want with your anaolgies carefully chosen for shock value, but I will never buy it.

  33. Perhaps I suffer from an overwhelming romantic swoon in this regard, but doesn’t adversity and difficulty of circumstances tend to produce intriguing art and writing and music and science? If we remove all obstacle to success by manipulating the genetic makeup of our inheritors, will we also remove creativity and innovation? After all, if there are no problems or obstacles to overcome, there is no need for creative solutions.

  34. The medical term is hypodontia, but don’t worry my face is only slightly fucked up [citation needed].

  35. Though it is refreshing to meet a libertarian who still associates sex with reproduction. Well met, domoarrigato!

    And fun – don’t forget the fun. It is actually fun, by the way. If you do it right, that is. Kids are fun too, but obviously much more work.

  36. but doesn’t adversity and difficulty of circumstances tend to produce intriguing art and writing and music and science?

    I’d say so.

  37. I find the girls with plenty of baby juice for my kiddies. The fact that I use a condom because I don’t want to pay child support has naught to do with anything.

    Well the important point here is that getting “baby juice” is clearly not a conscious desire of yours, if you’re at the same time consciously trying to avoid producing any juice-craving babies.

    Unless you want to go down the Intelligent Design path, where I cannot follow, chasing breasts and wide hips has mostly to do with the statistical advantage men who chase such things have in the reproduction game, no conscious desire on the part of anyone. Not even comparable to what’s being discussed here in this article.

  38. I don’t know if I buy the whole selection by attraction thing. I was attracted to my wife by her rocking body, but my daughter having a potentially rocking body like her mom only causes problems for me.

  39. Nick,

    Too true. But I fear that you (and all those who obey human sexuality) are an unwitting pawn of Mother Evolution. Throw off her shackles!

  40. Hey hey hey hey hey
    If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
    Never make a pretty women your wife
    Go for my personal point of view
    Get an ugly girl to marry you

    CHORUS:
    If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
    Never make a pretty women your wife
    Go for my personal point of view
    Get an ugly girl to marry you

    A pretty women makes her husband look small
    it very often causes a system fall
    As soon as he marrys her then she starts
    looking for things that will break his heart
    but if you make an ugly women your wife
    you’ll be happy for the rest of your life
    An ugly women will put peals on that
    and she’ll always give you a piece of that.

    [CHORUS]

    Don’t let your friends tell you you have no taste
    go ahead and marry anyway
    Her face is ugly her eyes don’t match
    take it from me shes a better catch

    [CHORUS]

    Dude 1:say man
    Dude 2:hey man
    Dude 1: I saw your wife the other day
    Dude 2: Yeah
    Dude 1: Yeah and Shes Ugly
    Dude 2: Yeah shes Ugly but she sure can cook baby.
    Dude 1: Yeah

    [CHORUS]

  41. For the record, “baby Juice” or boob-juice as my husband affectionately calls it, doesn’t have anything to do with bra size. I produce plenty of milk for my four month old with my smaller than average bosoms.

    Nick, my husband is already shuddering thinking about someone being attracted to our daughter the way he was attracted to me. There is a large evolutionary, animalistic, sub-conscious component to human mating instincts that we cannot yet quanti-or quali-fy. Perhaps that is why suggesting that we use external laboratory methods to determine our genetic leavings is so horrifying.

  42. Of course the upside to having attractive female offspring is that they’re more likely to attract worthy (ie, rich, powerful, and pro-life) male mates.

  43. I’m only interested if I can order laser eyes.

    Beyond that I will stick to homemade wine, cleaning house, paying for dinner, and occasionally begging in order to procreate.

  44. Well the important point here is that getting “baby juice” is clearly not a conscious desire of yours, if you’re at the same time consciously trying to avoid producing any juice-craving babies.

    Well my point was that conscious desires (having someone hot to bang) are related to unconscious desires (having many healthy children) through the inexorable force of natural selection and it’s interaction with sexual selection. Men who found unhealthy traits desireable, would be at a disadvantage etc etc.

    The fact that people have conscious desires not to actually father any sprog and use birth control doesn’t stop the cock from wanting what the cock wants.

  45. But see domo, your original claim is that people are *selecting* traits for their offspring by their choice of mates, so this is no different. That’s simply not true.

    First off, very few people are consciously taking such factors into account when selecting mates. Even unconsciously the genetic makeup a potential mate would contribute to offspring in general takes a back seat to selecting a mate well-suited to producing and caring for potential offspring. ie, money, power, strength for males, and wide hips and functional-looking breasts for females.

  46. But see domo, your original claim is that people are *selecting* traits for their offspring by their choice of mates, so this is no different. That’s simply not true.

    People think abut the traits their children are likely to have – I know women do, based on several sweaty, collar-tightening conversations I have had. I think some of it is conscious, but most of it is unconscious. I don’t see how that interferes with my claim that people “select” for traits that they like. My conclusion is that, having selected the mate for the traits you want, it’s not much of a stretch to manipulate the process to ensure your offspring actually end up with those traits.

  47. I’m ordering the abilitty to fly, and super strength for my kids. Sure it costs a bit more, but I think it will be worth it in the end !

  48. As a short man of average to somewhat above average intelligence.

    I WOULD NOT HESITATE to give my children greater height if nothing else, and higher IQ as a second option.

    And yes Godboy, I personally would have preferred to never have been born than have been born with the genetics I’ve been handed.

  49. And yes Godboy, I personally would have preferred to never have been born than have been born with the genetics I’ve been handed.

    Very well. But it is the very heart and soul of libertarianism that no one else can make such a decision for you.

  50. People think abut the traits their children are likely to have – I know women do, based on several sweaty, collar-tightening conversations I have had.

    Well that would explain why women are beating down my door all the time. Thanks for the info.

    My conclusion is that, having selected the mate for the traits you want, it’s not much of a stretch to manipulate the process to ensure your offspring actually end up with those traits.

    I think there’s a fundamental difference. Were it not for the fact that scores of embryos must be sacrificed using the methods Beato writes glowingly about, I’d be prepared to live and let live even though I think micromanaging your kids’ genetics after they’re already in existence is morally turpitudinous.

    It’s kind of sad how Beato and Ron Bailey and their transhumanist ilk are running around beating their chests about how evolved they are, when really they’re just super-chimpanzees with big sticks. Birds kick their hatchlings out of their nests and gerbils eat their young if they appear to be too much trouble, yet no one seems to applaud them for their intelligent sensibilities.

  51. Very well. But it is the very heart and soul of libertarianism that no one else can make such a decision for you.

    I think most libertarians recognize that parents are fully entitled to make decisions for their children.

    Also the decision to not be born will never be decided by the embryo, once it is actually able to make the decision the choice has already been made for it when it WAS born. Or it hasn’t been born and thus lacks the faculties to make the decision. So the decision of if and how is and should be left to the parents.

  52. It’s kind of sad how Beato and Ron Bailey and their transhumanist ilk are running around beating their chests about how evolved they are, when really they’re just super-chimpanzees with big sticks. Birds kick their hatchlings out of their nests and gerbils eat their young if they appear to be too much trouble, yet no one seems to applaud them for their intelligent sensibilities.

    Isn’t it great then how modern science allows Bailey and Beato to preempt the tragedy of forcing them eat their baby or throw them out of their apartment window? Instead they can simply choose to evacuate the undeveloped mass of cell with a simple medical procedure?

  53. I think most libertarians recognize that parents are fully entitled to make decisions for their children.

    Whether they eat tofu or hamburgers for dinner, yes.

    Whether they live or die? Not so much, for this libertarian at least.

  54. val, I support legalization of suicide. So once the embryo has had a shot of this whole life thing, he or she can decide whether to continue.

    And just because we recognize that a drunk person is not fit to make life-altering decisions like getting married or signing a contract, doesn’t mean we recognize the authority of some other person to make such a decision for them.

  55. Crimethink,

    So you oppose designer babies because the process involves destroying embryos. Fine, fair enough, we can agree to disagree on this point.

    You say, though, that micromanageing your kids genetics is “morally turpitudinous” even if it wouldn’t involve destroying embryos. Why?

    Birds kick their hatchlings out of their nests and gerbils eat their young if they appear to be too much trouble, yet no one seems to applaud them for their intelligent sensibilities.

    The laudatory thing here is selecting better offspring before they become actual beings. See, we get better outcomes, without killing actual babies. No one gets hurt! The species is improved. Win, win. We are lucky to have such large cerebrums, would be a shame not to use them.

  56. Whether they live or die? Not so much, for this libertarian at least.

    If your two children both lost use of their kidneys and you had to choose one of them to donate one of yours to, I think you would have the right to choose which one would receive it. (I’m assuming the other parent is incompatible.) Most parents would prefer to delegate that right to the doctors, but I think it would be theirs to delegate. Choosing which of many possible embryos to bring to term is, in my opinion, little different.

  57. It is possible that designer babies will result in unintended bad consequences. Unfortunately the alternatives all include yielding the decision to the morons in clowns suits masquerading as “government officials.”

  58. The laudatory thing here is selecting better offspring before they become actual beings. See, we get better outcomes, without killing actual babies. No one gets hurt!

    Yes, if you artificially define the difference between a human being and a not-human-being as being exposed to air after passing through the birth canal, then you can sleep well at night, content that your large cerebrum has rationalized the problem away for you. Those of us who seek a consistent, natural definition for human life are not so blessed, whatever size our cerebra are.

    And, as RC points out above, the things that people will engineer will hardly “improve the species” by any sane metric. Explain how nature would select for blue eyes and straight teeth please.

  59. Yes, if you artificially define the difference between a human being and a not-human-being as being exposed to air after passing through the birth canal, then you can sleep well at night, content that your large cerebrum has rationalized the problem away for you.

    Come, come, now, that’s pretty extreme. I favor limits on abortion if the fetus could survive out side the womb. I would prefer we give progressively more rights as life advances – kind of like not being allowed to vote until you are 18. If my stance rationalizes the problem away, it’s only because it’s rational to begin with…

    And, as RC points out above, the things that people will engineer will hardly “improve the species” by any sane metric. Explain how nature would select for blue eyes and straight teeth please.

    Nature did select for blue eyes and straight teeth! As well as dark skin in the tropics, and the sickle cell trait, etc. How else do you think these traits occur in nature with frequency?!

  60. Brent,

    If there were no other options available in your extremely contrived situation, I could see some parents willing to donate both kidneys to save their kids. Of course no doctor would perform such a feat, so it wouldn’t happen. In any case, it is quite different from the situation we’re discussing. In your example it is inescapable that one of the children will die; this is not the choice of the parent.

    Whereas in the “designer baby” technique outlined here, extra embryos are produced with the explicit intention that all but one will be destroyed. This is just as serious a crime as the actual destruction of the embryos that takes place later, since the latter is a foregone conclusion given the former.

  61. I favor limits on abortion if the fetus could survive out side the womb.

    As the Ferengi say, I’m all ears. What type of limits do you support? I hear such claims of “more rights with more advanced fetal development” all the time from pro-choicers, but it usually goes up in a cloud of pink smoke when I press for details, as they can’t bring themselves to say no to a woman’s request for an abortion because the kid is coming at a really inconvenient time.

  62. Nature did select for blue eyes and straight teeth!

    Amazing that there’s such a market for colored contact lenses and braces after a million or more years of human evolution. I suppose nature selected for those fireworks that appear when you rub your eyes, too.

  63. What type of limits do you support?

    prohibition if the doctor determines the baby could survive. I would favor penalties for violating it as well, though I would prefer penalties to be administrative, not criminal in nature. I didn’t promise you would like the answer.

    Amazing that there’s such a market for colored contact lenses and braces after a million or more years of human evolution.

    I’m not an anthropologist, but I’d be willing to bet that our teeth were straighter when our lives were primarily concerned with finding ur next meal. The pressure against that trait would have been much more severe than now. There are different pressure at different times for different groups of people. I don’t claim that natural selection optimizes human genetics, just that it works in perpetuating the species, and that a lot of human behaviour can be better understood within that context – obviously there is plenty of room for odd effects. Like Episiarch’s taste for midget porn…

  64. val, I support legalization of suicide. So once the embryo has had a shot of this whole life thing, he or she can decide whether to continue.

    right because I’m sure that mass of cells that is unable of any perception or thought being ejected from the womb is the same swallowing the wrong end of a 45.

    Yes, if you artificially define the difference between a human being and a not-human-being as being exposed to air after passing through the birth canal, then you can sleep well at night, content that your large cerebrum has rationalized the problem away for you. Those of us who seek a consistent, natural definition for human life are not so blessed, whatever size our cerebra are.

    Oh please spare us your condescending superiority complex. All you’re doing is screaming “wont someone please think of the children” and fainting. Except you use way more words. I don’t know by what logical or even natural definition a blastocyst or the later larger clumps of goo are the same as a baby. There is a very common tool used to tell things apart, and its not genetic DNA analysis. They are called your senses, try using them, poke a baby poke an embryo, smell one smell the other, do they look different, does one respond to input from you does the other? Yeah they are two completely different things.

  65. What’s truly disturbing isn’t so much that parents may be able to alter their offspring’s development; it’s that it’s done on the rationale that it’s for the betterment of the species without wondering if this was a choice best left up to the child in question, for the child in question. This is not like removing a cancer; this is fundamentally altering a key component to what makes us us. I would think that any truly caring parent would avoid making such a choice that does not rightfully belong to them.

    Sorry, but I don’t live in order to improve my species, or someone’s idea of aesthetics, or the state. I live for my own reasons! To hell with anyone who thinks they can design my life better than myself. Let me live, and live my own way, and I won’t meddle in your life in return. I’ll appreciate any help you can offer, but don’t take or change anything of mine without my permission.

  66. Someone asks crimethink, “What came first the chicken and the egg ?”

    He gets all snide, “They are exactly, you hear me, EXACTLY the same thing. Yes, if you artificially define the difference between a chicken being and a not-chicken-being as being exposed to air after cracking the shell and leaking all over the kitchen counter, then you can sleep well at night, content that your large cerebrum has rationalized the problem away for you. Those of us who seek a consistent, natural definition for chicken life are not so blessed, whatever size our cerebra are”

  67. I tend to agree with crimethink’s opinion of the morality of all this.

    But I have to say that I think it would be a bad idea to pass laws against it. Because then the only people who will be allowed to genetically engineer their children with impunity will be Congress.

    Imagine a race of super-human politicians… not very pretty.

  68. Never said that adults and embryos are the same thing, val. (most chicken eggs don’t contain chicken embryos, btw) When I say that Socrates and Plato are both humans, I’m not saying that Socrates is Plato, am I?

  69. ” I thought that was what the principle of “attraction” was in ordinary human relationships.”

    I’m just looking for someone stimulating.

  70. DavidW,

    The rationale isn’t that it’s for the betterment of the species – it’s for the betterment of the offspring as defined by the choice of the parents. I was responding to those people who cry “oh noes, without random chance, the species could wipe itself out by having too many blue eyes – we don’t KNOW what the effects could be” My point being, we already do that, just less efficiently, so there is no reason to fear.

    val – bravo…

  71. crimethink, I am curious why you think tinkering is morally dubious, even if embryos were not destroyed.

  72. “Genetic manipulation just makes the process more reliable, once you convinced the girl to breed with you”

    And the downside that no one seems to pick up on here is that this selected offspring comes about sans fucking.

    Good times. Good times.

  73. Right, val. It is right and good to destroy a brown-eyed embryo on the off chance that he or she will regret not having blue eyes and have their life end in a more messy fashion as an adult.

    My “legalizing suicide” remarks were half in jest, to be honest, to highlight the absurdity of deciding that someone is better off not being born because they would develop brown hair and crooked teeth. Heck, I could understand such an attitude if we were talking about some severe genetic disorder like Down’s syndrome, however much I disagree with it. But if we ever needed an example of slippery slopes, here it is.

  74. OO===D

    And the downside…

    My argument has been devastated. I lose.

    btw, is it just me, or did you lose a few inches? I seem to recall you being about OO======D yay big at one point… Wait a minute, were you watching “the view,” this morning?

  75. “Also, I think slightly fucked up teeth can actually be kind of endearing. Steve Buscemi, for example did well with his chompers and Madonna did well with hers. ”

    I saw an interview of scores of chicks asking what it was that they found attractive in men. One of the hottest of the bunch said chipped or missing teeth. She said she couldn’t explain why that was, just that she found it sexy.

  76. to highlight the absurdity of deciding that someone is better off not being born because they would develop brown hair and crooked teeth.

    As opposed to the absurdity of deciding someone is better off not being born because their brown hair and straight teeth resulted from a choice rather than random chance…

  77. “I don’t know if I buy the whole selection by attraction thing. I was attracted to my wife by her rocking body, but my daughter having a potentially rocking body like her mom only causes problems for me.”

    There’s always Romania.

  78. twig and berries,

    It might have something to do with being willing to get into a fight, unlike those pretty boy types. But I’ve never heard of that before, maybe women are smarter than I’ve given them credit for in the past! 😉

  79. She said she couldn’t explain why that was, just that she found it sexy.

    Oh man, am I on board with that. Smoking hotties with crooked teeth that I am all about:

    Katherine Heigel (hotter before she fixed them)
    Chyler Leigh (lexie from Grey’s)
    Jewel
    Kirsten Dunst

    the list goes on…

  80. domoarrigato,

    The reasons I oppose cosmetic genetic tinkering originate from a source that I have pledged never to cite on this forum. I don’t want to give certain folks the opportunity to pull out the old ad religionem arguments against me.

    I don’t oppose gene therapy to correct serious disorders like Turner’s Syndrome, though (as long as the “therapy” doesn’t involve killing off the “defectives”)

  81. As opposed to the absurdity of deciding someone is better off not being born because their brown hair and straight teeth resulted from a choice rather than random chance…

    Nice strawman you’ve got there. Pity if someone should happen to light it on fire…

  82. “I think most libertarians recognize that parents are fully entitled to make decisions for their children.”

    Really? REALLY?

    There are people that have their own limbs removed because for them, it’s the only way for them to feel “whole”. I kid you not and yes, there are doctors willing to perform this surgery.

    Let’s take your theory a little further down the road. If one of these “whole” persons decides to have a kid and can find a doctor willing to manipulate an embryo so that it is born without limbs, it that parental discretion really okay with you and the other Libertarians on this blog?

  83. “If your two children both lost use of their kidneys and you had to choose one of them to donate one of yours to, I think you would have the right to choose which one would receive it. (I’m assuming the other parent is incompatible.)”

    I’d give one to each of them.

  84. It is right and good to destroy a brown-eyed embryo on the off chance that he or she will regret not having blue eyes and have their life end in a more messy fashion as an adult.

    crimethink, I’m not gonna beat around the bush, I’m about as far on the other side of this debate from you as it gets, so yes I think its right and good to destroy an embryo that could eventually have brown eyes, (did you see the difference there? embryos don’t have eyes), for that matter i think its fine to destroy an embryo because you just found out that spring babies are in fashion right now and your due date falls in the winter. You know why I think that? Because embryos aren’t babies. They are an unthinking, unfeeling mass of cells. Just like I don’t shed a tear for the potential live’s lost in my sticky gym sock, I wont shed any tears here.

    Its very reasonable to have a discussion that would set out a threshold on nonbaby/baby based on some set of indicators; brain activity, movement, viability, etc… But the things you preach are just nonsense.

  85. Looking out my window, there’s a woman in a wheelchair parked on the sidewalk smiling and clapping, and she’s been going on for at least five minutes now. Yet you people would condone her being destroyed as an embryo to prevent a lifetime as disability.

    You brutes! You want to silence the smiling clapper!

  86. crimethink, If your only reason in thinking tinkering is morally dubious is because of religious faith, then the only way for me to refute the immorality of tinkering for you would be to refute religion. Which is obviously pointless. It’s a shame – I had hoped you had a better argument.

    I don’t think my comparison is a strawman – at least not especially so. Insisting gene selection be left to random chance means other non-random combinations of genetic material never come to life. Therefore, by preventing such tinkering, one would indeed be “deciding these people aren’t born” on the basis that their genes were selected.

  87. “I’m not an anthropologist, but I’d be willing to bet that our teeth were straighter when our lives were primarily concerned with finding ur next meal. The pressure against that trait would have been much more severe than now.”

    I read a piece that touched on this some years ago. An extremely nearsighted kid in 2009 can see with the help of glasses and surgery. An extremely nearsighted kid born 12 thousand years ago would have been eaten by a bear.

    Same with hearing aids and the like. As technology improves as a compensator for bad genetics, bad genetics thrive more than ever before.

  88. “Someone asks crimethink, “What came first the chicken and the egg ?””

    The Chicken.

    Eggs can’t cum.

    But dinosaurs predated chickens so maybe it’s eggs.

  89. Looking out my window, there’s a woman in a wheelchair parked on the sidewalk smiling and clapping, and she’s been going on for at least five minutes now. Yet you people would condone her being destroyed as an embryo to prevent a lifetime as disability.

    I look out my window, and I see a woman with no wheel chair, having lunch with her parents. Yet you would deny her existence and her parents happiness and comfort, by sticking your nose where it has no business being, and forcing these parents to keep the undesired, flawed, burdensome clump of cells, instead of letting them abort and trying again.

    Either way a life that could be, isn’t. In one scenario that decision is left to the people who are most impacted by it. In the other a bunch of nosy busy bodies force their morality on others.

  90. Crimethink, am I right in understanding that your problem with this is less being able to select for traits than the disposal of the non-selected? For instance, daddy spews in a cup, Mommy gets a needle work done and they pick the best of both lots to combine but no others wouldn’t trigger the lights and alarms for you? Honest question – I can see both sides – where it’s wrong to stop the life process once it’s begun but not a problem if you choose not to start it in the first place (by not matching the unchosen goo and eggs), even though the end result is identical from the who lives/doesn’t live/dies standpoint.

    Me, I’m curious to have all of the roulette chances I can convince or con women into giving me off the record, but would rather choose if I’m going to be involved in raising. I suspect that that’s not a bad mirror of what people really choose – the right now girl is rarely as good as the right girl. Also, when I don’t have to bear the price of raising (or paying alimony) I’ll take all the lottery tickets i can get, but if i have to bear the price, and higher price increases likely satisfaction (by paying doc, buying nice things for prettier girls or paying for private schools for one versus public for 6) I attempt to maximize returns.

    yeah, engineer and economist. it kinda shows sometimes.

  91. “Socrates and Plato are both humans, I’m not saying that Socrates is Plato, am I?”

    I’ve often wondered if Plato made up Socrates simply as a literary device.

  92. Same with hearing aids and the like. As technology improves as a compensator for bad genetics, bad genetics thrive more than ever before.

    All the more reason for parents to intervene. I wonder what traits are under the most selective pressure in the modern world?

  93. Any embryo that is conceived, I contend, should be allowed to be born. Were my morality followed, either the “desired” embryo would be brought to term (if nature cooperates) or it would never have existed in the first place (which is NOT equivalent to being conceived and then destroyed).

  94. “btw, is it just me, or did you lose a few inches? I seem to recall you being about OO======D yay big at one point… Wait a minute, were you watching “the view,” this morning?”

    You confuse me with my cousin.

  95. val,

    I don’t give two shits about hypothetical human beings who may or may not be conceived in the future. What I’m concerned with is human beings who already exist at the time of action, which in my view includes embryos.

  96. “I wonder what traits are under the most selective pressure in the modern world?”

    Sanity.

  97. I’ll say this much, nature sure as heck selects against the combination of intelligence and honesty. It is the stupid or self-deluding who have the most will to survive and reproduce.

  98. “I’ll say this much, nature sure as heck selects against the combination of intelligence and honesty.”

    Yup.

    Oldest brother: PhD, Post-Doc, childless.

    Other brother: Masters in Computer Science: childless.

    Sister: MBA: childless.

    High school drop-out gangbangers: kids galore.

  99. All, I know is if I had the chance to change my genetics now, maybe make me a bit smarter, better memory, and be able to eat all I want without getting fat, I would jump on it.

    And I’m certain if you asked almost anyone would you rather be smart or stupid if given the choice they aren’t going to pick stupid. Same of course for attractive.

    So what’s wrong with choosing smart and good looking?

  100. Of course the upside to having attractive female offspring is that they’re more likely to attract worthy (ie, rich, powerful, and pro-life) male mates.

    Alas, if only this were always true. My GF’s older (23yo) , over-weight if not down right fat, not too bright daughter is likely getting married to an awesome dude that I have no doubt will be successful no matter how success is defined. The younger (19yo), absolutely smoking hot daughter pisses away her sweet jeans on a fucking girl-pants wearing emo musician that will probably never amount to anything.

  101. fucking girl-pants wearing emo musician

    but he’s so deep

  102. So what if parents chose the child’s hair and eye color? It’s not like this child will be super-child. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who observes the world that there is no one single hair or eye color that is faster, smarter, and more talented than anybody else? It varies so much among the same color, there can be very different individuals. Thus, I don’t think this will hamper the kid’s individuality, and it won’t let them have it easy in life either. Now, what shouldn’t be allowed is giving your kid super-enhancers, like extra steroidedup muscles to be good in sports, that’s really going to ruin everybody else’s chances. Hair and eye color don’t matter a bit. Who cares? It’s the parents own genes and the woman’s own womb anyways, she’s the one carrying the baby, of course she has a right to decide which combination of her and her partners’ genes she wants to carry. Doesn’t affect anybody else though. No biggie.

  103. LUDDITES are a scourge to humanity. Shame on anyone who opposes this highly beneficial technology.So far
    the only arguments against it are based
    on ignorance and emotionally driven nonsense.

  104. Can’t anyone pretty much make trait selections just by simply picking a person with certain traits and conceiving children with them. The only
    difference is we can do this with more
    accuracy and intention. Where’s the harm? Once again it needs to be clarified that they can only select traits that are already present in the parents. That’s all.

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