Pre-Natal Genetic Testing Breakthrough: "Who Deserves to Be Born"

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Why is there anything instead of nothing?

The New York Times is reporting on its front page a new scientific breakthrough in which a non-invasive technique can be used to sequence nearly the entire genome of a fetus. Basically, the team of researchers led by Jay Shendure at the University of Washington can find the entire complement of a fetus' genes floating around in the bloodstream of the woman who is bearing it. The Times reports:

The accomplishment heralds an era in which parents might find it easier to know the complete DNA blueprint of a child months before it is born.

That would allow thousands of genetic diseases to be detected prenatally. But the ability to know so much about an unborn child is likely to raise serious ethical considerations as well. It could increase abortions for reasons that have little to do with medical issues and more to do with parental preferences for traits in children.

That's right—the Times jumps immediately to highlighting the uses of a new technology—potential parental preferences for non-disease traits—that might provoke opposition to it based people's natural preferences for the status quo. And what's an article without a portentous quote from some bioethicist about how fraught with moral issues the new technology is. In this case, left-wing bioluddite Marcy Darnovsky obliges: 

"There are some scenarios that are extremely troubling," said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest group in Berkeley, Calif. The tests will spur questions on "who deserves to be born," she said.

This new breakthrough clearly implicates the abortion debate and the question of when a person becomes a person. H&R readers and commenters: let's just stipulate what we each believe about that and contemplate the odd notion of "deserves to be born."

Nobody "deserves" to be born. The advent of each one of us is entirely contingent on decisions made by our parents (and their parents and then their parents and so on down to the origin of life and the Big Bang) over which we had absolutely no say. For example, I marvel at the fact that my parents met at a New Year's party in 1953, got married two months later, and then I was born on November 23. Had they delayed their wedding one week, I would never have existed. New technologies associated with reproduction just add more contigencies to the birth of any specific individual. Of course, once born, people deserve to be treated morally by others. 

In the future when the technology is perfected and much cheaper, should would-be parents be allowed to take advantage of it? Yes, I argue in my 2001 column, Sex Selection, where I explained: 

So should parents be permitted to select traits other than the sex of their children? Few aspects of human development are more significant than one's sex; it's a central fact of one's identity as a human being. If it is ethically permissible for parents to make that choice, the case for letting them make less significant genetic choices for their offspring is already made. (Keep in mind that we are not talking about directly manipulating the genetic makeup of any individual. We're talking about permitting parents to test and choose among embryos for those traits they believe will give their children their best chances in life.)

Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu is right when he reminds us, "The Nazis sought to interfere directly in people's reproductive decisions (by forcing them to be sterilized) to promote social ideals, particularly around racial superiority. Not offering selection for nondisease genes would indirectly interfere (by denying choice) to promote social ideals such as equality or 'population welfare.' There is no relevant difference between direct and indirect eugenics. The lesson we learned from eugenics is that society should be loath to interfere (directly and indirectly) in reproductive decisionmaking."

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  1. too easy, ron bailey. I will leave it to my less sophisticated peers.

  2. HR readers and commenters: let’s just stipulate what we each believe about that and contemplate the odd notion of “deserves to be born.”

    Especially Episiarch.

  3. For example, I marvel at the fact that my parents met at a New Year’s party in 1953, got married two months later, and then I was born on November 23. Had they delayed their wedding one week, I would never have existed.

    Had they gotten married one week later, it would have been a shotgun wedding.

    Or perhaps you would have been a literal bastard and not just a figurative bastard. :-p

    1. How do you know you would not have existed, Mr. Bailey? Do you believe that your ego’s existence depended on your astrologic details? Or on a particular confluence of genes — which could (have) come about at any time, but would not have occurred had one of the other sperm in the ejaculate at that time fertilized your egg?

      What makes you think that if you hadn’t had the biologic history you have, you would not have existed? Could it not simply be that you would have existed, but been different? Does your continued existence depend on certain specific biologic occurrences as your life goes on, such that you threaten to become a non-you depending on minute metabolic details at any instant?

      For that matter, how do you know your existence depended on those particular parents at all? If your parents had never met, is it not (heh) conceivable that your ego would’ve just been associated with a different body, somewhere else, with other parents?

  4. y: If they are “less sophisticated” wouldn’t that imply that they are NOT peers?

    1. commenting peers. I see that Ted S. above has written what I thought below my station to mention.

  5. “Deserves to be born” is just a cop out for not deciding when life begins. If life begins at birth, then aborting say a Down’s kid is no different than choosing not to have children because you are genetically predisposed to have kids with whatever ailment. If it begins at conception, then abortion is infanticide and invalid for whatever reason you do it.

    So “who has a right to be born” is either a meaningless question or another way of saying “who can be lawfully murder for not meeting the standards”.

    1. Indeed. You can’t say that anybody “deserves” anything without first assuming they are a person. You can’t say that a clump of (parasitic) cells deserves anything. When you say someone deserves to be born, you are saying (a) they aren’t born yet, and (b) they are a person. IOW, only a pro-lifer can say anyone “deserves to be born.”

      “Deserves to be born” is a circumlocution used by either pro-lifers or someone who supports “a woman’s right to choose” but tries to put limits on it, based on their (arbitrary) criteria.

    2. Similarly, that “of course” people who are being born deserve to be treated morally is also merely assuming when personhood begins, not an argument. Do preemies have a greater right to live? Why not allow them to be abandoned until when they would be full term? Do you assign rights based on the availability and affordability of technology?

    3. John, this is already done. In reproductive medicine, specifically GIFT/ZIFT/IVF procedures, it is not uncommon for the potential mother to have multiple embryos implanted by one of these means and, upon successful implantation, it is also part of the course of TX to perform what is called a “selective reduction” or a “selective harvest” depending on how many children the mother wishes to deliver. This is done specifically because of the condition present where a woman is unable to carry a child to term easily and increase the chances of successful gestation and delivery of progeny. Incidentally, this is why so-called “Personhood Admendments” fail at the polls.

      This is also true of women who opt for fertility medications in order to increase their chances to conceive in the old fashioned way.

      Think of The Octomom for a moment: if she had the option to have a selective reduce 7 of those 8 eight children, should she do so?

      FTR: I believe that implantation, under Locke’s view of Natural Law that the ability to establish a property claim, entitles the fetus to self-ownership.

      Disclosure: I have performed a surgical abortion in my career. And will never do so again. SLD applies here (although it’s a bit tenuous).

    4. Another interesting aspect to your comment is that according to the Violence Against Women Act, anybody (although more than likely a man) who physically assaults a pregnant woman and causes fetal death is guilty of murder. So basically, as a woman I can kill, but you can’t.

  6. If abortion is not murder, then you very well can’t tell people what reasons they can choose one. That said, understand that there is a good chance there will be a lot fewer Asian women or gay people running around in the future.

      1. Sorry you only have stupid things to say.

        1. don’t be. the HR commenting boards are my outlet for stupidity. I assure you my research group meetings are full of critical thought (and a heaping of personal throwdowns, faith-based suppositions, ad hominems, and oddsmaking). One can’t be “on” 100% of the time.

          1. But you can be “off” 100% of the time. Good job on that one!

    1. There already are a lot fewer Asian women running around. I wonder what china is going to do with all those extra males who have zero chance of scoring a wife?

      1. stage two of the eugenics program is a technology to turn those chinese men gay. Two birds with one stone.

    2. Does that mean you think teh gay is genetic?

      ’cause like a lot of other things, it’s probably more complicated than that.

      1. I think it probably is too. But a lot of people, including Bailey I think, buy into that theory. I was just assuming he was right for the sake of argument.

        1. I think the question of whether there’s a genetic component to being gay is almost exclusively something religious people think about, people who somehow imagine that God wouldn’t create someone gay–because that would be unfair from an eternal damnation perspective.

          Otherwise, I don’t think anyone really gives a damn. People have rights regardless of whether who they identify as has a genetic component. Hell, my right to own a firearm isn’t genetic either–other than from a religious perspective–why the hell does it matter whether traits like sexuality are genetic?

          Christianity isn’t genetic, but who the hell thinks that choosing to identify as Christian shouldn’t be protected becasue it doesn’t have a genetic component?

          1. You are dead wrong Ken. Gay being genetic is one of the major premises behind the gay rights movement. That is how gays feel justified in taking on the language of the civil rights movement. If it is genetic, then it is like being black or a women and should not be something people can discriminate against you for.

            Interestingly, it used to be considered harasssy to say that being gay was genetic. It was considered just a way of saying gays were defective. But that changed in the 1990s when gay rights became a civil rights movement. Now it is the gay rights activist, not the religious people, who claim it is genetic. The religious view is that it is a choice and a sin and therefore something that can be condemned.

            1. Gay being genetic is one of the major premises behind the gay rights movement.

              It is the premise.

              1. There isn’t a gay person in the world who thinks that if it’s proven that there’s no genetic component to being gay–that their rights shouldn’t be protected.

                Gay people think their rights should be protected regardless of whether those rights are based on genetics.

                And like I said, my right to be a Christian, gun owning, libertarian, capitalist, heterosexual, all those rights of mine should be protected too–regardless of whether any of those identifiers have a genetic basis.

                1. There isn’t a gay person in the world who thinks that if it’s proven that there’s no genetic component to being gay–that their rights shouldn’t be protected.

                  The argument that there is a genetic impetus to being gay (and gender identity) is the crux of the argument to lend veracity to the claim that there is a scientific reason for the expression of the behaviour.

                  Gay people think their rights should be protected regardless of whether those rights are based on genetics.

                  Those rights should be protected. This is not in question.

                  And like I said, my right to be a Christian, gun owning, libertarian, capitalist, heterosexual, all those rights of mine should be protected too–regardless of whether any of those identifiers have a genetic basis.

                  Not of these currently have identifiable genetic markers. However, heterosexuality is the prime mover for sexual reproduction, and is, by proxy of sheer population, the default behaviour of the species and could be argued as “hard wired”, though this assertion cannot be proven.

                  1. However, heterosexuality is the prime mover for sexual reproduction, and is, by proxy of sheer population, the default behaviour of the species and could be argued as “hard wired”, though this assertion cannot be proven.

                    If attraction to men has a genetic basis, then it’s probably attached to the x-chromosome somewhere, right?

                    How can being attracted to men by way of the x-chromosome not be a prime mover for reproduction?

                    The x-chromosome men inherit from their mothers in the egg doesn’t know if it’s going to be fertilized by a y or an x.

                    As far as we know, if being a gay man has a genetic component–then it’s exactly the same prime mover for sexual reproduction that heterosexual women receive by way of the x-chromosome.

                    Men and women, we all get an x-chromosome from our mothers, right?

                    1. If attraction to men has a genetic basis, then it’s probably attached to the x-chromosome somewhere, right?

                      Where is it?

                      How can being attracted to men by way of the x-chromosome not be a prime mover for reproduction?

                      What would be the evolutionary advantage of this, going with the strict definition that the only reason for sexual reproduction is to pass along genetic material to progeny?

                      Furthermore, how does this explain so-called “gender identity disorder?

                      As far as we know, if being a gay man has a genetic component–then it’s exactly the same prime mover for sexual reproduction that heterosexual women receive by way of the x-chromosome.

                      Why have a behaviour that is not self-potentiating or self-sustaining?

                      The x-chromosome men inherit from their mothers in the egg doesn’t know if it’s going to be fertilized by a y or an x.

                      What effect does the Y chromosome have on the expression of sex, sexuality and gender?

                      Men and women, we all get an x-chromosome from our mothers, right?

                      Correct.

                    2. Where is it?

                      I don’t know, but if we assume that attraction to men has a genetic basis, then it’s safe to assume that it probably comes by way of x-chromosome, isn’t it? …since women have two of them and no y-chromosome, and reproduction hinges on them being attracted to men.

                      What would be the evolutionary advantage of this, going with the strict definition that the only reason for sexual reproduction is to pass along genetic material to progeny?

                      Don’t think of this in terms of why men and women would choose to do something that might not seem to propagate the species.

                      Think of it in terms of the x-chromosome being there and doing what it needs to do to propagate itself. If it needs to carry something forward that makes people sexually attracted to men, then that’s what its going to do regardless of whether the egg is fertilized by another x or a y.

                      The y-chromosome is mostly blank. It takes what’s on the x and mostly just makes it more masculine. Without getting into too much detail, some characteristics are clearly dominant. Some are recessive. Some are mixed–you might get a little bit more from one than the other, but you get both. Mostly, however, the y-chromosome is blank.

                      Men tend to be less like their fathers, genetically, and more like their mothers than women are.

                      I don’t know anything about gender identity disorder, and I don’t know exactly what effect the y-chromosome has on the expression of these things.

                    3. Don’t think of this in terms of why men and women would choose to do something that might not seem to propagate the species.

                      The Argument from the Definition of sexual reproduction, meaning the fertilization of an ovum with a spermatozoa, demands this.

                      Think of it in terms of the x-chromosome being there and doing what it needs to do to propagate itself. If it needs to carry something forward that makes people sexually attracted to men, then that’s what its going to do regardless of whether the egg is fertilized by another x or a y.

                      Why? This doesn’t happen by magic. What determines this need? If there is a discrete genetic sequence that governs this, it is identifiable, falsifiable and reproducible. Where is it?

                      The Y chromosome determines male gender. X + X == XX. X + Y == XY.

                    4. One more time.

                      -IF there’s something genetic that makes a person attracted to men, then it’s probably on the x–because that’s the only kind of chromosome women have.

                      -Men also get an x.

                      -The x doesn’t vary depending on whether it gets another x or it gets a y. Even if it gets a y, and you become a man. It’s still an x.

                      Think about it.

                    5. One more time.

                      -IF there’s something genetic that makes a person attracted to men, then it’s probably on the x–because that’s the only kind of chromosome women have.

                      -Men also get an x.

                      Probably doesn’t cut in science, Ken. Where is it?

                      If the claim is genetic, it would, by necessity, be identifiable, testable, falsifiable, and reproducible.

                      Think about it.

                      I have. Where is it? Conclusively. I want to see a discrete genetic sequence like any other genetic trait.

                    6. There’s something in science called inference to the best explanation.

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abductive_reasoning

                      Scientists make inferences based on the best available data all the time.

                      We can draw certain conclusions from things, such as the idea that if any genetic trait exists that makes people attracted to men, then it’s probably on the x-chromosome, where it would make women attracted to men? And that’s doesn’t make it an unscientific statement at all.

                      There’s no need to know exactly where the active parts are on the x-chromosome to know that they’re probably somewhere on the x-chromosome–if they exist at all.

                      That would be like saying I have to know exactly where I am in New York City to know that I’m in the state of New York.

                      Someday maybe they’ll find the genes they’re looking for, or maybe they’ll find that they don’t exist at all. In the meantime, there’s nothing scientifically preventing us from making inferences to the best explanation given what we know now.

                    7. There’s no need to know exactly where the active parts are on the x-chromosome to know that they’re probably somewhere on the x-chromosome–if they exist at all.

                      The veracity of the genetic claim rests upon a specific genetic sequence. Yes, inference is done in science all the time. You still have not conclusively proven your claim.

                      If they do not exist, then the behaviour is a choice, not a genetic impetus.

                    8. The y-chromosome is mostly blank.

                      Not true. I see you need a biology lesson.

                    9. Everything I read at that link you provided seems to reenforce what I was saying.

                      I apologize if there’s something I said that was technically incorrect; if there is something, I don’t see what that was from your link.

                      The fact of the matter is that according to your link, a very small portion of the y-chromosome recombines with the x-chromosome.

                      From your link…

                      The human Y chromosome is unable to recombine with the X chromosome, except for small pieces of pseudoautosomal regions at the telomeres (which comprise about 5% of the chromosome’s length). These regions are relics of ancient homology between the X and Y chromosomes. The bulk of the Y chromosome which does not recombine is called the “NRY” or non-recombining region of the Y chromosome.

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y…..chromosome

                      If you slide up to the top, you’ll see them talking about how the y-chromosome has shrunk over time, too.

                      Incidentally, this is why men…um…have nipples.

                      The X-chromosome determines most of what you will be. The y-chromosome mostly just takes what’s on the x and makes it masculine. The reason men have nipples is because we develop as essentially a female structure before these things are made masculine.

                      Sorry if you find that horrifying.

                    10. Sorry if you find that horrifying.

                      I don’t. However, it still does not answer my question of where this genetic sequence would be. You have yet to conclusively identify it. Moreover, this does not explain lesbianism either.

                      Also 50 Million base pairs located on the Y chromosome is a lot.

                      You still have not provided a discrete, genetic sequence that proves your claim that is identifiable, testable, falsifiable, and reproducible.

                      The theory has merit, but no conclusive proof.

                    11. The human Y chromosome is unable to recombine with the X chromosome, except for small pieces of pseudoautosomal regions at the telomeres (which comprise about 5% of the chromosome’s length).

                      Just because these regions are not able to combine with X, does not mean the Y is “blank”. It simply means that 5% is able to determine gender, which is male. Still doesn’t explain the genetic basis for homosexuality either way.

            2. All of the gay people I’ve known thought their rights should be protected regardless of whether being gay was genetic.

              The only people I’ve known who thought the question of whether gay rights should be protected hinged on whether being gay was genetic–were religious people.

              And their take was almost always the same: If God wanted gay people to be that way, he would have made them that way. …and since he would never want such a thing, there can’t possibly be a genetic component.

              You may see gay people respond to that argument by suggesting that it does have a genetic component, but the argument about whether being gay is genetic isn’t their argument. It’s just something they’re responding to.

              1. That is not true Ken. Gay rights actvists now consider it to be Gospel that being gay is genetic. Cynthia Nixon for example got excoriated for even implying that she might be gay by choice. It is not in response to religious people.

                http://althouse.blogspot.com/2…..e-for.html

                1. If it’s become orthodoxy among gay people that contradicting fundamentalist assumptions is the prime directive, that doesn’t show that gay people predicated their claim to rights solely on genetics. That just shows that they’re merely reacting to fundie projections.

                  And it is a fundamentalist projection. There isn’t anything in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or anywhere else that matters that says people only have rights if those rights have a genetic basis.

                  That’s just something fundamentalists have invented in their own heads–and decided to project onto the debate externally.

                  Certainly, I can name a dozen rights of mine that don’t have anything to do with genetics. If you’re insisting that gay people’s rights are somehow different in that they only exist if they have a genetic component–is for you to explain, not me.

                  Certainly, you won’t find a gay person anywhere who thinks his rights shouldn’t be protected even if being gay isn’t genetic.

                  1. That is nuts Ken. The whole premise of equal protection and anti discrimination law is that you can’t discriminate against people for being the way they were born. I can discriminate against you all day for being a Democrat or a Dallas Cowboy fan. But I cannot discriminate against you because of your gender or race. And that is because you choose to be a Cowboy fan and you don’t choose your race. If we couldn’t discriminate against people because of the choices they make, we couldn’t make decisions. This is why alcoholism has to be considered a “disease” in order to make it illegal to fire someone for it.

                    It has nothing to do with religious people of these fundementalists whoever the fuck they are. It has to do with how equal protection law has been constructed in this country for about a hundred years or more and gay people’s desire to fit under that protection.

                    And for the last time, religious people consider being gay a choice. If they didn’t, they couldn’t call it a sin and justify condemning it. It is not a sin to have brown hair.

                    1. The whole premise of equal protection and anti discrimination law is that you can’t discriminate against people for being the way they were born.

                      You’re conflating a couple of different issues there.

                      There’s this issue of who you can discriminate against, and then there’s the issue of who the government can discriminate against.

                      I would argue that you as an individual have a right to differentiate between people more so than the government does. If you don’t want to rent your store space to the Scientologists, then I think you probably have better standing there than if the government wants to discriminate against Scientologists.

                      It should be noted that being a Scientologist isn’t genetic–and yet the government is still prohibited from discriminating against people becasue of their chosen religion.

                      So, that’s the other thing you’re conflating. You’re suggesting that the government doesn’t have the right to discriminate against people for who they are because of genetics, but pointing to things like religion that the government obviously can’t discriminate against people for–which has no genetic component?

                      That seems to completely contradict your conflation of genetics with the right not be discriminated against by the government, doesn’t it?

                    2. Hey, leave us Cowboy’s fans out of it!

          2. Gays say it is genetic, thats why they always have the signs/slogans that say “Born this way”.

            1. Right, and as I said, they’re mostly fighting fundamentalist ideas about how it can’t be genetic–because God wouldn’t inflict something sinful like that on an innocent little baby.

              People on polar opposite sides of a political issue often strive to become the caricatures their opponents make them out to be.

              I don’t know if Tinkie Winkie was intended to be a gay icon before he was denounced as such by fundamentalists, but once the fundamentalists denounced Tinkie Winkie as a gay icon? He’s definitely become a gay icon now.

              Yes, if the fundamentalists claim that being gay couldn’t possibly be genetic–sure, the gay rights people will insist it is genetic. …and they don’t even need to look it up.

              My grandfather used to claim that my grandmother wasn’t really hard of hearing; she just wanted him to repeat everything he said so she could be sure to disagree with it. The fundies and the gay rights people work the same way.

      2. Sure. Like height, for example.

        Although it’s also important to remember that inherited is not the same as genetic.

        1. You cannot have one without the other. Mendelian genetics hinges on this very premise that genetic material is inherited. Which sequence of genetic material that is passed on is precisely what is being identified here.

          Genetic material is what is inherited, called a genotype, whereas what is expressed both outwardly and inwardly (most genetic traits appear inwardly), called a phenotype.

          Accounting for differences in height is under the domain of polygenic inheritance.

          1. Is height completely dictated by our genes or is it possible for environment to play a part in our growth?

            1. The base genetic sequence is “hard wired”, and let’s call this “nature”. However, mitigating factors such as: diet (like ricketts and other nutritional deficiencies), temperature, amount of exercise, and the presence of other secondary, invasive disease processes can have an effect on how those phenotypes ultimately fully express.

              This is why I say often: “Nature v. Nurture, the argument which will never be resolved and continually confounded by exception.”

            2. Diet and environment play a part.

              Pygmies for instance adapted because of calcium and vitamin D deficiency, and because being small provided some advantages fighting heat exhaustion.

              Certainly, a malnourished child of two tall people will not grow to be the height of his or her parents.

              1. Pygmies for instance adapted because of calcium and vitamin D deficiency, and because being small provided some advantages fighting heat exhaustion.

                Research also suggests that the appearance of sickle-cell anemia was brought about as a micro evolutionary adaptation to combat against malaria.

                Most genetic diseases are caused by mutations – differences in the DNA of an individual as compared to normal human DNA. Sickle cell anemia, a recessive disorder characterized by chronic anemia, episodic joint pain, and crescent-shaped red blood cells, is a relatively simple example. Interestingly, it should be noted that carriers of the sickle-cell trait (people that possess one copy of the recessive gene, as opposed to the two required for full-fledged disease) are almost exclusively of African descent and seem to have an increased resistance to malaria. Since malaria is widespread in many parts of Africa, this is a striking example of evolutionary adaptation in humans.

                More on dominant, recessive, sex-linked, and autosomal genetic diseases.

                1. Cool. Learned something new today.

                  (And I asked about the height thing cause I had a theory that I’m shorter than my little brother because I slept in a smaller bed through my teen years where he got a longer bed by the time he was in middle school.)

                  1. Cool. Learned something new today.

                    “Doctor” comes from the Latin docere, meaning “teacher”.

  7. Some people are born becasue two doubly blessed 17 year-old kids got drunk in the back of a car one night.

    How could two adults using technology to make informed decisions possibly be a step down from that?

    1. Assuming that morality has anything to do with being informed?

      1. Well morality surely has something to do with making choices.

        If this neo-luddite is worried about the moral choices two adults with a new technology will make–how can those be morally worse than the choices of two drunk kids made in the back of a car on a Saturday night?

        Take any way of looking at morality you want–which system makes the irresponsible choices of drunken teenagers better than those of informed adults with a new technology?

        1. Who is saying that the drunk teenagers are behaving morally?

          1. I’m using those kids as a basis for comparison.

            Here’s what the bioethicist said up top:

            “There are some scenarios that are extremely troubling,”said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest group in Berkeley, Calif. The tests will spur questions on “who deserves to be born,” she said.”

            She doesn’t like the moral implications of two adults with a new technology making the decision about who deserves to be born, but why is that more troubling than the circumstances under which so many other people make the decision about who deserves to be born?

            Drunk kids on a Saturday night. Welfare queens who need more money in their check. Fundamentalist Catholics, who refuse to use birth control as a matter of principle…

            I can think of so many situations in which the people who now make the moral choice about who deserves to be born–that are much more disturbing than the idea of an adult couple with a new technology.

            That’s what I was trying to say.

            1. OK, but doesn’t it depend on how people are deciding who is to be born, since a common method of doing this is to kill off a fetus in the womb?

              1. Again, I’d ask, who am I supposed to be more concerned about making the right choice there?

                Two 17 years old kids who got pregnant? Or two adults with a new technology?

                I’m still less worried about the adults with the new technology–it’s the teenagers who might throw the baby in a dumpster.

                Whether you think abortion is right or wrong is one question. But this bioethicist doesn’t seem to be asking that question. She’s saying that the decisions of adults are alarming becasue they’re made by way of this new technology.

                And I’m saying that it’s no more alarming than the way those decisions are made right now–probably much less alarming.

                1. Yes, ethicists like this seem to step over the main question (killing genetically-inadequate kids) and getting off on luddite rants against genetics in general.

        2. Because with the two drunk kids, it was fate/”it just happened”.

          With the two adults working with the new tech, they are consciously making the decision to end the “future” (in my opinion current) life of their gay and/or Down’s syndrome and/or red-haired and/or short and/or D-student child.

          1. Some of them may make choices that I don’t like.

            I’m not sure that gives me the right to take their freedom of choice away from them.

  8. And little confused by the “of course,” Ron. Seems like favoring infanticide up to several months is as legitimate a line to draw as birth or arbitrary lines during pregnancy. I think that you’re just assuming your morality. I grant it has value as a bright line, but babies are hardly independent moral actors capable of sustaining themselves.

  9. My brother had down’s syndrome. He was a wonderful person. Many people think he should never have been born. I do not have many nice thoughts about such people.

    1. I had a lit professor once, who had been confined to a wheelchair all of his life. He said people sometimes came up to him and said things along the lines of, “I don’t know how you keep going on–if I were in your shoes, I probably would have killed myself”.

      He was trying to explain to us that his life was actually worth living–and he certainly wouldn’t trade it for oblivion. In fact, he claimed his life was rich and full…

      Sarah Palin, according to her biography, chose to have a baby she had a pretty good idea was going to have some developmental disabilities. Sometimes I think libertarianism is about getting other people to have a little faith in each other to make good choices.

      I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to make the same choice Sarah Palin did, but the fact is that those people are out there. Just because the technology becomes available, doesn’t mean everyone will use it to make the same choice.

    2. I’m sure he was. Down’s kids adults are some of the only people on the planet who I adore and want to be around. They are so open and loving and awesome.

    3. I think anyone who would say that about a person will never be happy. How miserable do you have to be to think such a thing?

  10. potential parental preferences for non-disease traits

    Define “non-disease traits”.

    Using this nomenclature and the medical community’s penchant for affixing the notion of any deviation from norms to be a “disease process” (psychiatry, I’m looking at you), this gives very wide latitude in the taxonomy and classification of what is considered disease.

    This is precisely why I argue for the integrity of definitions within both scientific and biological/genetic domains, and also why the notion of ethnicity is certainly germane to the taxonomy and classification of humans from both a medical and anthropological perspective.

  11. When the ex-wife and I were pregnant with our first daughter, we were offered the opportunity to have an amniocentesis test. We both similarly feel/felt abortion should be legal but as rare as possible.

    That said, we concluded that the child (we didn’t even want to know the sex) was ours and we’d raise it with all the love we could muster even if she’d birthed a 7-leggged horse. The point is, knowing only gives you a choice.

    Although, I can also foresee Big Gov getting involved and one day dictating which fetuses should be brought to term based upon their future impact on the health care system.

    1. Is it bad that that’s where my brain went first. Not that parents would abort their babies cause they have brown eyes or are a girl when they wanted a boy, but that the government would say “your baby is predisposed to being fat and we can’t have that. Abortion for you.”

      1. See post @ 1:51.

  12. First, let’s tackle the entire presumption that personhood begins at conception. I don’t say “life” because every fucking cell is alive. What gives an egg the special status of personhood before it meets sperm (and why not grant it to the sperm beforehand for that matter? It is clearly “life”)

    So why is that clump of cells, which clearly has no potential for even being human for it has not yet developed brains, heart, etc. considered a person? Ah, but you say it will later. But that is only by virtue of being literally an integral biological part of the mother–the host organism–rather than apart from it. If that is the case, why should it be considered any differently from any other tissue, also alive? If we were to assign personhood–to treat as an individual human–to an embryo or an undeveloped fetus, that means it must by definition be biologically independent and able to surive outside the womb. That is, it’s life must be separate from the mother’s.

    1. However, even the position of life begins at conception is not enough of an argument against abortion. In that case, you have given personhood status, the status of an individual being starting with the fertilized egg. If you believe in individual rights and thus in self-ownership, or more accurately speaking property rights in your own body, then by what right can anyone else force the mother to host the embryo or fetus?

      If the mother does not want that other “person” inside her, it is considered parasitic and she has the right to remove it. It would be the same as forcefully evicting an unwanted person from your property. If that person physically attaches himself to your property, so that his life would be in danger upon removal (e.g. cutting limbs, etc), then that still does not give the right of that person to your property. If we are to give such personhood status to an embryo and later then it deserves to be subjected to the same treatment.

      1. If I forced a person to take up residence in my house, and once there, only my house was able to sustain that person, would I not have some moral responsibility to not kick them out, to their death?

    2. Even outside the womb the baby won’t survive very long without being constantly tended to by somebody. For the next like 2 years it is unable to take care of itself? Should we still consider it to be an individual human?

      1. ^^This^^ And handicapped people cannot take care of themselves without constant assistance. Is it okay to kill them too?

        That is where the whole “it can’t live on its own it must be a parasite” thinking leads. It is saying that personhood is a product of physical abilities (namely living independently). And once you go down that road, it is a quick hop skip and a jump to saying some people are less human than others and thus not entitled to the same dignity and rights.

        1. OK Darth John, let me ask you this. Does someone who is handicapped have a right to demand care from those who can provide it? What if that person would die without that care? At what point do we forgo keeping someone alive by any means necessary?

          1. If I brought that handicapped person into existence, I would say I have some responsibility to take care of that person. The mother created the child by her own acts. It is not like the child was just floating around and attached itself to her like something out of Alien.

            So I don’t think the whole “the child is a parasite” metaphor works. Mothers create the child. It is a bit rich of them later complaining that the child needs their help to live.

            1. Let’s leave out the parasite metaphor, I’m not really a big fan of it either.

              So, what happens if the mother is physically or financially incapable of caring for the child?

              1. If the existence of the child threatens the mother’s life, then I think the mother has a right to have an abortion. No where does it say we have to die for our children. As far as the financial part, you can always adopt the child. There is a shortage of babies in this country. So no mother can honestly say she will be financially ruined by the child. This would especially be true if we had sane adoption laws that allowed women to be compensated for giving up their children to adoption.

                1. As long as you see that at some point this child is likely to become a ward of the state and then it, in essence, becomes the responsibility of tax payers who have no stake in the child’s life to take care of it.

                  1. Why does the child become a ward of the state? Why is a child the mother wants to abort more likely than any other child?

                    And once again, the mother should adopt the child out if she can’t take care of it. The tax payers have nothing to do with it.

                    1. And once again, the mother should adopt the child out if she can’t take care of it. The tax payers have nothing to do with it.

                      Because this might not be an option for the mother, for one reason or another. I’m not saying that the child WILL become a ward, just that it’s very likely for it to happen. If the mother is so apathetic towards the child that she refuses to care for it, it’s most likely that DSS will step in.

        2. Nope. That it is helpless bears no relation to being a separate biological life or it’s status of personhood.

          In DesigNate’s example, why stop at 2 years old? Why not 3, 4, 5 or 6? Why 18? It’s just an arbitrary number. In fact, anyone at any age can be rendered just as helpless, but that still does not justify a (faulty) positive right to being fed or taken care of.

          You are presenting a false dichotomy of either murder or the positive right to force others to care for someone else.

          In the case of both the child and the handicapped person, the consistent application of the libertarian principle of individual rights, of ownership in self and property and that’s it, the logical implication is:
          1) you may not aggress against the child or handicapped person (so long as you are not aggressed against)
          2) you may choose NOT to take care of them; that is, you can choose NOT to feed them or care for them. If you are forced to, then why allow hospice care or care by others? If people are somehow ‘bound’ to care for others? Why is there even adoption, again, if there is an inherent obligation to care for others?

          1. You are missing one critical point. The mother created both the person and the situation. If the child existed independent of the mother’s actions and just attached itself, your analysis would work. But that is not what happens. The mother creates the child and the situation through her choice and actions. As a result, she bears the responsibility of taking care of the child.

            It is not a “parasite” when you create it.

            1. In regards to the parasite analysis, or an unwanted occupant, think about it if the embryo or fetus were outside the body. If in the future say it can be raised in a “test tube” or vat. What right does someone else have to forcefully attach the mother, or fertilizing host, via an external umbilical cord/feeding tube to forcefully drain nutrients from her (or it) to the growing embryo or fetus? If we’re going to give it status as a real person then we can’t give it some extra special right that the mother does not have but that it has on the mother.

              If the child existed independent of the mother’s actions and just attached itself, your analysis would work.

              And yet that is exactly what giving the status of personhood means in order to classify abortion as murder (which again, couldn’t be in the context of self ownership)

              By that reasoning, of foisting an obligation on the creator means that parents are forever enslaved to care for their children. And any cutoff point N would still be arbitrary and presents no rational reason for N-1 or N+1

              1. We arbitrarily assign responsibility to care for ones children all the time. Ever heard of child support? You can’t just drop your kid off on the street corner, but you can kill them so long as they are sufficiently underdeveloped?

                If I have a couple of horses, and put them in position to have offspring, I think most people would agree that I would have a moral imperative to care for the foal. Shouldn’t we, even more so, care for our own offspring?

              2. Your comment seems to indicate a desire for all the blessings of free choice with no corresponding responsibility. If I build a business and employ some people, I have certain responsibilities to my employees. If I decide to smoke weed and drive, I have a responsibility to compensate you if I hurt you or your property. If I build a baby, it would then also make sense that I have some sense of responsibility to that baby. I to share the Libertarian belief in free will/choice, but with all choices comes responsibility.

          2. Isn’t N-3 months just as arbitrary as 3 years?

    3. “But that is only by virtue of being literally an integral biological part of the mother–the host organism–rather than apart from it.”

      You clearly are ignorant the biological processes of mammalian pregnancy. An embryo/fetus is not part of it’s mother’s body. It is a complete separate organism that has a symbiotic dependence on it’s mother for nourishment and protection.

      You can come to any conclusion about what that all means ethically, but don’t base your argument on colossally bad science.

  13. I love that – new technology that allows full, non-invasive fetal gene sequencing, which can allow for early treatment of developmental diseases and the like or abortion in cases of extreme diseases to prevent SEVERE suffering – the FIRST thing that comes out is POSSIBLE ethical abuse. Instead of saying how potentitally awesome this could be, they go RIGHT into – “ZOMG?!?!?111 WHAT IF PARENTS WANT TO ABORT A BABY BECAUSE IT HAS BROWN EYES AND A PENIS!!?/?!!1”. Gotta love the state of journalism today…

    1. Bio-ethicist have to earn a living somehow.

  14. “The accomplishment heralds an era…”

    Ontology recapitulates philology?

  15. That’s one reason abortion sucks – a news item like this would be a glorious advance in medicine if it wasn’t for the obvious fact that, abortion being legal, parents can kill off their offspring based on undesirable genes.

    I noticed some debate over whether being gay is genetic. But from the choicer perspective, since a mother has the right to abort for any reason which seems fitting to her, all that’s necessary is that the mother *perceive* that the fetus is gay.

    And for all the discussion of gay rights, what about the right to life? I believe that the most voluble supporters of the right to marry someone of the same sex are also supportive of the right of a mother to kill a fetus she thinks is gay. These folks would deny (alleged) gay kids the very right to life itself, but sill claim a monopoly of support for the rights of gay people.

    1. Has someone added GAYDAR to sonogram machines?

      1. My point is that if the mother for any reason – however irrational – believes the fetus to be gay, she has the right to kill it for that reason.

        1. Or straight, though…

          1. “The law, in its majestic equality, allows mothers to kill both straight and gay fetuses on the grounds of sexual orientation.”

          2. “The law, in its majestic equality, allows mothers to kill both straight and gay kids on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

        2. My point is that if the mother for any reason – however irrational – believes the fetus to be gay, she has the right to kill it for that reason.

          This is precisely why it would be advantageous to identify a specific genetic marker for homosexuality to prevent this.

          1. How would that protect fetuses who actually *have* that particular genetic marker?

            1. There are “hate crime” laws on the books specifically protecting on the basis of sexuality/sexual identity. It wouldn’t be a stretch to apply that thinking to protecting a gestating, genetically homosexual fetus.

              Religious Pro-lifers would have to shut up about both sexuality and gender identity and necessarily protect that genetically homosexual fetus by proxy of their pro-life belief, strictly speaking.

              Would gay people argue against the reduction of a group of people that, strictly speaking, cannot reproduce (though this is not true by means of procedures cited above and from past heterosexual relationships)? I think you would see a wave of suddenly Pro-life gay people. Furthermore, where does this leave them politically?

              1. “Religious Pro-lifers would have to shut up” etc.

                Religious prolifers have been the ones proposing to ban discriminatory abortions – whether based on sex, race or sexual orientation. The choicers have so far blocked such bills – not to mention the recent bill against race- and sex- based abortion.

                Apparently, opposing SSM is consistent with supporting the right to life. How shocking!

                The consistency problems are with the crowd which proclaims its supports for gay rights, its opposition to bullying, while allowing mothers to kill their allegedly gay kids.

                1. Here’s an old example:

                  http://www.abovetopsecret.com/…..125577/pg1

                  1. And bills to ban all abortions (or 99% of all abortion) will in effect ban sexual-orientation-based abortions along with all the others.

              2. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to apply that thinking to protecting a gestating, genetically homosexual fetus.”

                So you can force a woman to carry a child to term as long as it has the genetic markers for homosexuality? Homosexual unborn have a right to life that heterosexual unborn do not?

                That is just a bizarre conclusion.

    2. The sort of people that would consider a gay gene defective tend to be the sort of people that don’t get abortions, or so I would think.

      1. But fundies are murderous haters! Of course they’d abort gay kids if it were legal – why give them the chance?

  16. “Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu is right when he reminds us, “The Nazis sought to interfere directly in people’s reproductive decisions (by forcing them to be sterilized) to promote social ideals, particularly around racial superiority.”

    The Nazis? How about the freaking American progressive movement?

    1. +1 – The American eugenicists were the first to pass these laws, the Nazis followed in their wake.

  17. Blue eyes crying in the placenta.

  18. “Of course, once born, people deserve to be treated morally by others.”

    Which presumes that birth rather than existance as an individual human organism is the condition where an expectation to be treated morally starts.

    Bailey posits that parents have an unlimited ability to destroy their children after they have existed becauser parents have a choice in whether to cause their child’s existance in the first place.

    1. Essentially this means that the decision to not have sex for the puroses of birth control is morally equivalent to abortion. I see this as the same flawed logic that equates positive rights to negative rights.

      1. Actually I should say that implies that the decision not have sex for any reason is morally equivalent to choosing to have an abortion.

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