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"We have 10 different babies from which you can select."
July 26, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Would you like to choose your baby? We definitely want to be able to avoid genetic mutations that could cause diseases or problems later on. But what if you could make your babies more intelligent? Or more Athletic? or More beautiful? Or affect their political orientation? (A 2011 study looked at differences between conservative and liberal leanings—and found, surprisingly, three areas that might be linked to political predisposition.) Should you be able to choose what characteristics you want your babies to have?

Is it moral?

If parents use IVF to conceive, then a genetic test—an extension of the screening tests for genetic diseases that are already routinely done on embryos—could let them pick the smartest genome from a batch of, say, 20 embryos. “It’s almost like there are 20 parallel universes,” Hsu says. “These are all really your kids.”

How different is genetic selection of babies from going to an orphanage and choosing the kid you want to adopt?
posted by TheLittlePrince (168 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Have you ever selected your child's hair and eye color at a sperm bank machine? You will!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:22 AM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, moreover "the state should be directly involved in promoting genetic enhancement."
posted by jeffburdges at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2013


It makes me uncomfortable, and I don't think the case for or against is clear cut, but I think it'll happen regardless.
posted by smorange at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fascinating topic - sounds like people are just going to do it without thinking it through first.
posted by AnnElk at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


If there is a genome that will keep my kid from writing shitty science stories when she grows up, then I would definitely choose that.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:28 AM on July 26, 2013 [22 favorites]


Should you be able to choose what characteristics you want your babies to have?

To tell eugenics make-believe bullshit marketing from resilient adaptation to randomness.
posted by elpapacito at 11:28 AM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


One one hand, I find the idea of selecting your offspring from a menu revolting.

On the other hand, this kind of thing will be most appealing to the wealthy and shallow. The results won't be much different from multiple generations of inbreeding. Sure, they will be beautiful. But their minds will conform to the expectations of the past, not the future. Life will absolutely suck for these kids, but it will become self evident how bad of an idea this is.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:28 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


b1tr0t: "One one hand, I find the idea of selecting your offspring from a menu revolting.

On the other hand, this kind of thing will be most appealing to the wealthy and shallow.
"


Basically, you find the idea revolting on both hands.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


The battlecry that best encapsulates this.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


One key problem is that consequences of the choices made will not be apparent for multiple generations.

I definitely don't want to prevent genetic research just cause we can do genetic selection much faster than what we can do today.

I mean today, we choose our mates, for various genetic characteristics that they exhibit. Selection at an embryo level is just a more direct method of doing that, isn't it?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it depends what specific kind of thing is being talked about too. Choosing one embryo out of 20 during IVF? I don't think thats monstrous, embryos are created and destroyed already and I have no problem with that. Choosing one that doesn't have a genetic disease versus one that does, for example, doesn't seem horrible to me.

Tinkering directly with genes? I'd worry about the effects, since theres no way to test it without basically experimenting directly on humans.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:35 AM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Previously
posted by en forme de poire at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2013


We have been monkeying around with attempting to artificially control and guide our own evolution for a long time, so it's not like this is a new thing. I suspect that the insatiable human desire for knowledge and power in general may not turn out in the long run to be an adaptive trait for the longevity of the species, but hey, it's kind of who we are.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:37 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I totally did this already, when I chose my wife (and she chose me).
posted by alasdair at 11:37 AM on July 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


I mean today, we choose our mates, for various genetic characteristics that they exhibit. Selection at an embryo level is just a more direct method of doing that, isn't it?

The fact that it's done by parents, deliberately, changes things. As soon as parents have the ability to change, well, everything about their children, expectations change on both sides. Parents have different expectations for their kids, and kids have different expectations for their parents. It's a whole new thing to blame each other for. This is true even if parents don't genetically engineer their children. Just the ability to do so is enough.
posted by smorange at 11:38 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Basically, you find the idea revolting on both hands.
Yes, but this degree of control will appeal most to people who will make poor decisions - making the process self-limiting. Extremely cruel to those who have to experience it, but something that we will discard quickly.

Bruce Sterling talks about this from the perspective of the genetically-engineerd child in his Long Now talk.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Basically, you find the idea revolting on both hands.

Looking for third hands? Those are only available under the "Executive Member (Gold)" menu; ask us about our new introductory rates!
posted by yoink at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


If we allow direct genetic selection, then we're allowing parents to de facto assert ownership on their child. Right now, sure, you're a product of their genes and how they bring you up, but as you grow up, you're free to reject all of their teachings and values.

I fear that we could see things like purposely selecting for extraordinary obedience, and leading to cult-like communities where those born into the group wouldn't even be able to question it or rebel.

Depending on what is found to be nature versus nurture, there is a huge potential for abuse that goes way beyond wanting little Ashley's eyes to be green rather than brown.
posted by explosion at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Let's get even more basic: should you be able to choose whether it's a boy or a girl?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imagine, for a moment, the religious fundamentalist who engineers their daughter to have Angelina Jolie's cosmetically augmented body with the intellect and personality of a golden retriever.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:45 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "Let's get even more basic: should you be able to choose whether it's a boy or a girl?"

I like that question. What about something even more basic .. should you be able to chose approximately half of the characteristics your baby is going to have?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2013


The world would be a GREAT place right now if we could have prevented there from being a John Nash, Marlee Matlin, Robert Schumann, Temple Grandin, Peter Dinklage, Miles Davis . . . .
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2013 [22 favorites]


Seriously, though, I think the ethical lines we will try to draw in this area are going to be horribly fuzzy and difficult to clarify. Would anyone argue that genes that make you vulnerable to breast cancer should be able to be selected against? What about deafness? Down's syndrome? Autism? What about what used to be called Asperger's? At what point do we say "no, this is no longer avoiding disease but selecting against personality types?" Selecting against physical deformities of various kinds probably seems like a no-brainer, but at what point do you draw the line between "deformity" and simple "unattractiveness." I think we'll be having uneasy and unhappy fights about this stuff for a long time to come.
posted by yoink at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


Even more basic: should you be able to choose whether your child will like Cilantro or not?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:49 AM on July 26, 2013 [23 favorites]


And actually, I imagine that would easier to control for than characteristics like "intelligence."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2013


yoink: "Selecting against physical deformities of various kinds probably seems like a no-brainer"

Yoink .. as FelliniBlank put it, would you have left Peter Dinklage to die as an embryo?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2013


Personally, I'm just waiting for the day they start using terminator technology on the embryos so that the genetically engineered will only be able to create even further engineered offspring. I mean, there's gotta be a way to monetize, right? Then Monsanto can get into the baby-making game!
posted by looli at 11:51 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


would you have left Peter Dinklage to die as an embryo?

He wasn't Peter Dinklage as an embryo.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2013 [53 favorites]


Yoink .. as FelliniBlank put it, would you have left Peter Dinklage to die as an embryo?

The embryo wasn't Peter Dinklage, any more than the egg I ate for breakfast this morning was a champion fighting rooster.
posted by mullingitover at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


I used to think "Boy, I can't wait for the Science Fiction future; it's gonna be GREAT!"

And that sentiment is why I never listen to children about how cool the future is gonna be anymore.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2013


Yoink .. as FelliniBlank put it, would you have left Peter Dinklage to die as an embryo?

Every sperm is sacred!
posted by Justinian at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fascinating topic - sounds like people are just going to do it without thinking it through first.

People have been doing it without first thinking it through since there first were people. I tend to think one of the keys to the success of humanity has been its tendency to fuck first and ask questions later. This kind of technological development represents the opposite end of the spectrum where the ultimate consequences are not only expected, but mapped out.

I totally did this already, when I chose my wife (and she chose me).

Indeed. The path to this point was clear once people started choosing mates of their own free will.

The world would be a GREAT place right now if we could have prevented there from being a John Nash, Marlee Matlin, Robert Schumann, Temple Grandin, Peter Dinklage, Miles Davis . . . .


This starts to sound like the anti abortion folks. Look, any birth control potentially prevents the next John Nash, Marlee Matlin, Robert Schumann, Temple Grandin, Peter Dinklage, Miles Davis from being born.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm more interested in making engineered humans who can withstand permanent weightlessness and very little food. If we're ever gonna survive off this rock, we're going to need to address the fact that being off this rock will kill us in relatively short order.
posted by mullingitover at 11:54 AM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Isn't more variation typically a good thing within a species rather than more sameyness, though? I mean from a vigor, adaptivity, etc. standpoint.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:55 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am definitely not in favor of "every sperm is sacred" or that "an egg is same as a baby" but a large part of Peter dinklage's distinctiveness (and any famous star) lies in their physical features.

Do we really want to decide what kind of physical features (or deformities) are acceptable or not?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:58 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


We already know what happens if people can sex-select: a disproportionate number of boys. It's happened in China and India, and it's a demographic disaster that may eventually result in political disaster.

And to some extent, the other kinds of choices discussed here might well ultimately have unfortunate consequences. The simple fact is that we don't know enough to make wise decisions about this kind of thing.

I fully oppose this ability.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can we just call this the Gattica question?
posted by craven_morhead at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is what will happen:

1. The "haves" will embrace this and breed out anything special-needsy, or fat.
2. The "have-nots" will not be able to do this and will continue to create humans with special needs. Some of them will be fat.
3. Funding for special-needs programs, therapies, and education will disappear because poor parents should have planned better.
posted by headnsouth at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2013 [22 favorites]


Do we really want to decide what kind of physical features (or deformities) are acceptable or not?

Been there, done that.

The key question? Who is "we"?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:05 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am definitely not in favor of "every sperm is sacred" or that "an egg is same as a baby"

Yeah, me too, and my using those examples wasn't really about special snowflakeyness of individual people or sentiment or whatever. I was attempting clumsily to get at the tensions within this weird desire we have to "perfect" the species, to eliminate perceived defects and abnormalities, when that does imply on some level that people who are outside "the norms" in some way (which we all are; we all have unusual genes in some respect) are themselves defective.

And of course, my dim understanding of evolution is that it's not at all about perfection but about change and variation and and novelty and trial and error. Mutations and genetic "defects" are normal; they're how we got the fucking astounding variety of life forms we have. That doesn't mean I'm indifferent to or blase about the pain and suffering and other not-so-fun parts of that genetic trial-and-error process for individuals, at all.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:06 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


On the one hand it's nice that Amazon will give you 20% off genetic manipulation if you let them turn on the gene that makes your baby more susceptible to online advertising.

On the other hand, Facebook is going to fill up with posts about Monsanto and their GMBs.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:08 PM on July 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Isn't more variation typically a good thing within a species rather than more sameyness, though? I mean from a vigor, adaptivity, etc. standpoint.

Yeah, but only if you're looking at the group as a whole and ignoring individual fates. Say you've got a gene that will protect you from some as-yet unencountered disease, but in the meantime your kidneys run at half capacity, or you're especially prone to blood clots, or something. You, personally, wouldn't be very happy about it, even if it's good for the species as a whole to have that gene in reserve.
posted by echo target at 12:08 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can already choose not to have a child with a genetic problem. Births of children with Downs Syndrome, Tay-Sachs, etc., are way down, due to early pregnancy testing. I suppose many people will want to make cosmetic choices, which is unpleasant and subject to trends. Heaven forbid you select green eyes when violet eyes are in. My ex- really didn't want an ugly baby/child. I'm delighted that our child is smart and funny, and it's nice that he's good-looking.

There will be soooo many unintended consequences. Will reducing certain mental illnesses reduce genius? Will there come a time when, if you choose to have a child with, say, Canavan disease, and don't abort, you lose insurance coverage? What about parents of average intelligence who have a brilliant child? Will the child have the resources to be challenged and have the opportunity to grow? Many people will select for height(it correlates with wealth and success), prompting a generation of tall people.
posted by theora55 at 12:09 PM on July 26, 2013


Can we just call this the Gattica yt question?

Dude. GattAca. That's half the joke.
posted by maryr at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2013 [32 favorites]


How many of us can say for certain that we'd be here if our parents had known exactly how we'd turn out? When I was born, my parents were told to expect that I would die within two years and/or that I would be mentally retarded. I wouldn't blame them if, given that knowledge, they had decided not to have me. I'm 38 with a masters degree, so up yours, medical profession.
posted by desjardins at 12:12 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, but only if you're looking at the group as a whole and ignoring individual fates. Say you've got a gene that will protect you from some as-yet unencountered disease, but in the meantime your kidneys run at half capacity, or you're especially prone to blood clots, or something. You, personally, wouldn't be very happy about it, even if it's good for the species as a whole to have that gene in reserve.

Thanks, that's a great example. I would suffer in that instance (and of course, we all do now -- half of the achy-painy shit I gripe about daily and several medical issues I've faced in the past come directly out of my genes), but of course, that protective gene that fucks up my kidneys might prevent the suffering of 40,000 other people someday. The ethical complexities of this stuff are byzantine.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:14 PM on July 26, 2013


TheLittlePrince: " If parents use IVF to conceive, then a genetic test—an extension of the screening tests for genetic diseases that are already routinely done on embryos—could let them pick the smartest genome from a batch of, say, 20 embryos. “It’s almost like there are 20 parallel universes,” Hsu says. “These are all really your kids.”"

The thing is, IVF is an infertility treatment with a rather low success rate. It's likely less frequently successful than most clinics actually claim. The majority who are spending large amounts of money and trying to conceive using artificial reproduction techniques like IVF or IUI are not looking to select for intelligence, beauty or brains. They may select for sex, but many clinics don't even offer that option to prospective parents. Those that do rarely advertise the fact. Too controversial.

What they're looking for is a healthy baby. Something they cannot achieve unassisted, likely an emotionally traumatic problem. In other words, they want an embryo that is likely to be viable, stick to the uterine wall like glue, not have physical problems or issues with maternal immunology, and above all develop into a healthy baby.

Looking for genetic disorders prior to implantation or during one's pregnancy isn't unusual. Before undergoing infertility treatments my wife and I went for genetic testing. Blood tests, for ourselves, to determine what potential problems might arise. This allowed us to do a CVS and amniocentesis at the appropriate point during her pregnancy, and scan for genetic abnormalities. If we had undergone IVF, we might have had those same tests run on our embryonic blastocysts, and foregone implantation if a positive indicator showed up for a genetic disorder.

Screening for aesthetic preference is a different issue than screening for genetic disorders. I bet, just as has happened for gender screening, it will become a quiet option at some clinics. But not all.
posted by zarq at 12:14 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tried to think if I had a choice, would I still go ahead having an autistic but a genius kid.

I don't know the answer but I am scared of the power the choice gives me.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 12:17 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean today, we choose our mates, for various genetic characteristics that they exhibit. Selection at an embryo level is just a more direct method of doing that, isn't it?

No, because sequencing allows you to make choices about traits that may not be phenotypically displayed when you select a mate, such as predisposition to senility in old age or certain cancers or premature baldness.
posted by maryr at 12:18 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me, no I do not. The beauty of human life, for me, is that somehow we have a destiny that is in part by hard work, desire, and urge as well as well...by chance. No one was "born" a doctor. They had that indescribable urge to become one, stay on the right path and do what is necessary to achieve it and become one. But there's that mystery that is there as to why THAT person had the talent to become one (or have the talent for music, etc). The mystery is the awesomeness of being who we are.

My infertility doc has taken an offshoot stance as to why people shouldn't choose their babies like they choose their cars or purses. I am by far a practicing religious person but I commend him for taking this stance. Way too many docs, including one that I worked for, in infertility are big proponents on customization as well as keeping their numbers high (I am no longer a candidate for even IVF thanks to diminished ovarian reserve; they said that I would fail off the bat. Why? Because if so, it would show their clinic's success numbers as being a not so successful clinic; creating humans = a business).

Anyway, it's an interesting perspective to read about (if you want to take out the religious Catholic part) :http://www.examiner.com/article/reproductive-rights-the-right-way
posted by stormpooper at 12:21 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm so conflicted about this. On one hand, I find genetic tinkering, especially for aesthetic preference, moderately terrifying, and fear the further marginalization of disabled and otherwise "different" people should it become even easier to select against those traits.

On the other hand, I'm a parent. I have bipolar disorder. I started self injuring when I was ten. And I have a daughter, and she's ten. And I watch her dissolve into tears over nothing, and I watch her getting caught in the vicious circle of blaming herself for things, and devaluing herself, and begging to know why she's alive, and telling me she wishes I would just kill her. She's in therapy, obviously, but she's ten. No ten year old--no one, full stop--should have to deal with that. And what would I do to alleviate that for her? If I were to have another child, and the option were there, I don't know that I'd be able to say "No, don't select for [xx]."

If I could pay someone to ensure that my future child would be unlike me, and wouldn't have to suffer the things that I've suffered, and the things that I'm watching my daughter suffer, I don't know how I could say no, regardless of what reservations I might have about the ethical, moral, or social ramifications of doing so. I don't know how any parent who's watched their child suffer with any illness or disability could.

I wish it were a choice I'd been able to make; I'm glad it's not a choice I had to make.
posted by MeghanC at 12:23 PM on July 26, 2013 [45 favorites]


This is what will happen:

1. The "haves" will embrace this and breed out anything special-needsy, or fat.
2. The "have-nots" will not be able to do this and will continue to create humans with special needs. Some of them will be fat.
3. Funding for special-needs programs, therapies, and education will disappear because poor parents should have planned better.


4. The year 802701 will arrive.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:25 PM on July 26, 2013


We already know what happens when people sex-select in societies that put overwhelming priority on boys: People choose boys. Not that feminism doesn't have a long way to go in the US, but especially given that there's widespread folk wisdom that girls are easier than boys as children, and the perception that career tracks are still open to them--I'm not at all sure that'd be the case, here.

I would probably select for milder versions of my mental health issues, but I'm not sure I'd go to any great lengths to care if my child was Normal, just that the problems were not debilitating. And I don't see any reason why this would result in no longer providing help for people with debilitating problems--if we had fewer people who needed lifelong care, wouldn't that be easier to cover, not harder? Of course, that all depends on if we're selecting for children with empathy or not...
posted by Sequence at 12:29 PM on July 26, 2013


Do we really want a future where PeterDinklage™ omelettes taste like cilantro?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:32 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "I fully oppose this ability."

That's really easy to say, but difficult in practice. What would you make illegal? Taking certain tests that might reveal information about a fetus' state? For medical professionals to disclose certain information to their patients? Or simply for women who have this information to have abortions? What if they decide to have an abortion for an unrelated reason, but now they can't because they have information that legally taints their decision?

I support this ability. Not because it's ideal, but because the alternative is, in the end, to tell people, particularly women, what they can and can't do with their bodies, and in general to intrude on people's privacy and right to self determination. Fetuses don't have a right to self determination (yet), people do.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:34 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Great idea what could possibly go wrong

Oh wait-
posted by windykites at 12:34 PM on July 26, 2013


Sequence: "And I don't see any reason why this would result in no longer providing help for people with debilitating problems--if we had fewer people who needed lifelong care, wouldn't that be easier to cover, not harder? "

It seems likely to me that within a generation or two, parents would be blamed for allowing a child to be born with that specific disability, and the child themselves could conceivably be viewed as a burden to society that could have been avoided.
posted by zarq at 12:35 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


(Oh, and that Peter Singer article is, as usual, very good.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:35 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


No child of mine will live in this godforsaken future we are hurtling towards. /childfree
posted by windykites at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure that the theory people might blame parents if their kids have disabilities is a decent reason to avoid reducing the number of people with disabilities if we can do so.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


We already know what happens if people can sex-select: a disproportionate number of boys. It's happened in China and India, and it's a demographic disaster that may eventually result in political disaster.

We know what happens when people can sex-select, as they can in the US or Western Europe: no such thing.
posted by atrazine at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure that the theory people might blame parents if their kids have disabilities is a decent reason to avoid reducing the number of people with disabilities if we can do so.

How do you define disability? I wear hearing aids.
posted by desjardins at 12:41 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'm just waiting for the day they start using terminator technology on the embryos so that the genetically engineered will only be able to create even further engineered offspring. I mean, there's gotta be a way to monetize, right? Then Monsanto can get into the baby-making game!

Gene that makes you resistant to certain plant toxins + gene that gives plants those same toxins = profit!
posted by odinsdream at 12:42 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is basically the plot of Gundam Wing. On the one hand all the advanced humans will live on space stations and wage eternal war on the natural born humans still inhabiting a dying Earth. On the other hand giant robot fights.

Tough call really.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 12:47 PM on July 26, 2013


Have you ever selected your child's hair and eye color at a sperm bank machine?

I'm not a machine damnit! I have feelings!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that the theory people might blame parents if their kids have disabilities is a decent reason to avoid reducing the number of people with disabilities if we can do so.

That attitude scares me, and I have a hard time explaining why in a way that doesn't make me feel like a crazy fundie. Valuing life, I foam! Caring for the vulnerable!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


How do you define disability? I wear hearing aids.

Could something like Deaf culture arise in a post-genetic age?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:53 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


That attitude scares me, and I have a hard time explaining why in a way that doesn't make me feel like a crazy fundie. Valuing life, I foam! Caring for the vulnerable!

If any reasons you can enunciate make you sound like a crazy fundie you should maybe consider whether your reasons might not be poor ones?
posted by Justinian at 12:55 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno... this is how we ended up with many different breeds of dogs, having started with just one, essentially. So as long as we are interested in having people with long floppy ears or who can run really fast -- sure, what the hell? What could possibly go wrong?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:56 PM on July 26, 2013


I totally did this already, when I chose my wife (and she chose me).

That's what I was going to say. Except it's Mr. Llama.

Anyway, I wouldn't do this, I don't think. I think it kind of would give a person a sense of security like they know all about their kid, and everything is set in stone and just press the Go button. There you are kid, hit the ground running as a smart, self-starting, extroverted liberal with lots of impulse control!

My mother had a really tough time with the realization I wasn't anything like her. I never wanted that with my daughter -- I always want her to feel that she wasn't 'supposed' to be anything but herself. I think this is sort of the opposite of that. If we had selected against shyness, for example (I'm shy, her dad is shy) then maybe we'd think she wasn't supposed to be shy ever.

Anyway, I like surprises.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


desjardins: " How do you define disability? I wear hearing aids."

I don't know. I'm only speaking abstractly about any genetic disorder that prospective parents might be able to screen for. Currently, there are a number of chromosomal abnormalities which are looked for in fetal ultrasound (such as nuchal translucency) and maternal blood serum tests, as well as placental amniotic screening and chorionic villi sampling. I guess those might get the most focus?

And then, I'm not sure where a fine line might be drawn. My son has a mild form of Fragile X. So mild he shows no symptoms. My daughter is a carrier. Their genetic makeup was revealed through in utero testing. I wouldn't considered them disabled and it seems quite unlikely anyone else would either.
posted by zarq at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2013


WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHIL--oh, right
posted by sourwookie at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2013


My SO has a disability that he was born with. It's not a very serious disability, but it has affected his life, restricted his choices, etc. He's said that if he could magically make it disappear or make it so his kids would never have it (they might), he would do so in an instant.

But, then again, there are things he's done, things he has accomplished which he never would have done if he hasn't been trying to compensate for his disability. He would be a less interesting thinker without it.

But as for my (minor) genetic condition - myopia? Definitely no upside. Let's start the effort to eliminate myopia now.
posted by jb at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "I'm not sure that the theory people might blame parents if their kids have disabilities is a decent reason to avoid reducing the number of people with disabilities if we can do so."

Please let me be clear about this: I wasn't presenting it as one. I was merely speculating about a possible outcome.
posted by zarq at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2013


This is like worrying about the long-term consequences of breeding for better eyesight. By the time anything can happen on the population-scale, technological augmentation will vastly outstrip any minor efforts to do things the genetic way. Glasses quickly because ubiquitous, followed a few decades later by laser eye surgery, and soon that will be followed by google-glass type glasses that give you telescopic vision, infrared, whatever; a determined nazi-esque program of human breeding for eyesight running since 1945 would have made no progress at all relative to what external augmentation developments can now, and will soon, provide.

The same goes for "IQ". Compared to the advantages of having an internet-connected tablet, or google-type glasses, or an implant -- or even just a low-tech first world education -- a few IQ points here or there are completely, and increasingly, irrelevant. With the rise of computers, calculation ability is already irrelevant, as are many mental visualization skills. The ability to do progressive matrices is moot as soon as you can instantly upload them to a bot to do them for you. People think that these measures are just stand-ins for deeper, more ineffable skills, but there's not much evidence for that. Heck, even the deeper contributors to success, like work ethics and a creative mindset, can be replicated with drugs, even just drugs like caffeine.

The article implies that you have to be a genius to do all the things this kid is doing, but anyone can learn the basic statistics behind GWAS and the rest. The only thing this kid has to show for himself is that he's done it a little faster than some. But kids with tablets from birth, or implanted at birth, will leave him in the dust, and even then, starting your PhD at 21 or 17 is pretty much irrelevant to what you will contribute overall. The external world is changing much, much faster than any mere genes can catch up to, even with dedicated tinkering. If you really care about your kid beating the joneses, make sure you keep abreast of all the latest developments in portable internet, augmented reality, and software. Or, you know, you could just let your kid develop into whoever they want to be.
posted by chortly at 12:59 PM on July 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


How do you define disability? I wear hearing aids.

There are people who have thought a great deal about how to define disability - and they have interesting (and very academic) things to say.
posted by jb at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems like an abysmally bad idea. We don't have enough problems with one group of people seeing another as inferior? Yes, let's let people create each other in exactly the mold they want to. There's no way this could go wrong at all. No way, I tell you.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children."
posted by briank at 1:21 PM on July 26, 2013 [19 favorites]


My parents were unable to affect my political orientation, intelligence or athletic ability before birth, but it sure as hell seems like they spent every moment of the following 18 years trying to do so.
posted by klarck at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have always said that I would totally have kids if I could ensure that they were smart, but not too smart, funny but motivated to excel, just pretty or handsome enough to ensure a decent life, but not so pretty or handsome to deal with the crazy, and so on. I've joked with my friends for decades that the main reason I'm not having kids is that I can't ensure they won't grow up to be Republicans. I've also laughed and cringed over the idea that if I were to have kids with my current partner, that poor child would pick up all of our bad traits and none of our good.

So the prospect of being able to select for specific traits kind of scares the shit out of me. Mainly because it's creepy and reads like a horrific science fiction dystopia novel, but also because it means I may have to find a new justification why I don't want kids.

Oh yeah, the tried and true answer..."They're sticky and they often smell bad."
posted by teleri025 at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that the theory people might blame parents if their kids have disabilities is a decent reason to avoid reducing the number of people with disabilities if we can do so.

This is one of those things that I think is pretty hotly debated. Many people with disabilities have found pride and/or a sense of community in that--see Deaf culture, above, or go read Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon for a far better commentary on disabled communities than I can offer here. There are many of these communities, and their unifying factor ranges from things like Deafness to autism to bipolar disorder, and a not insignificant proportion of those people feel strongly that attempting to genetically select for [children without disability x] is tantamount to genocide, and that it's a direct attack on their communities.

If people with whatever disorder feel that they're living fulfilling, meaningful lives, and that part of that derives from their disorder, is it appropriate for abled people to then say that lives with that disorder are worth less? For many people, the disorder is part of their sense of self, and in saying "We should be genetically selecting to eliminate disorder x", you're kind of throwing that in their face and saying that regardless of how the people with that disorder perceive their lives and their value as human beings, the abled person feels that they're still lesser, so, basically, screw them.

It's a complicated, messy thing. You have Deaf parents who will be devastated if their kids aren't also Deaf, and you have deaf parents who would be devastated if their kids were. You have people who've found solace and support and meaning in a community drawn from their otherness, and those people might desperately want their kids to be part of that--and you have people who would do anything possible to help their kids avoid having to deal with what the parents dealt with.

Disability is, in many ways, a culture for people, and it's a lot stickier to say "Hey, you should genetically select so that your kids won't be of your culture" than it is to say "Hey, you should genetically select so that your kids aren't disabled." But there's so much overlap there, and it's such a varied, intensely personal thing that I honestly don't think that there's a good way to deal with it.

I mean, push come to shove, straight, able-bodied, white, and male is standard and most acceptable for Western society. Anything after that starts getting fuzzy. Are we ok with selecting against gay kids? What about selecting against kids with darker skin? What about kids who will be prone to depression? What about kids with a stutter, with autism, with colorblindness, with deafness, with Down syndrome? Because literally every one of those things is something that puts people at a disadvantage (because straight white male is the easy setting for life), but none of them are indicators of lives that are inherently unhappy, unfulfilling, or in any way less full and worthwhile than the life of anyone else. Suggesting that they might be implies that people who aren't straight, able-bodied white dudes are less human than other people, and I'm pretty not ok with that.
posted by MeghanC at 1:24 PM on July 26, 2013 [15 favorites]


"Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children."

Ah, but Brave New World was the product of a better and more innocent time - in the book everyone was supposed to be conditioned to be happy, everyone was supposed to live in a conformist, soft-centered, unthinking utopia. The difference now is that everyone will be "conditioned" (or bred, or able to afford google glasses, or whatever) in order to strive more successfully in a brutal dystopia while the rich get richer, etc. I'd much rather live in Brave New World if I had to pick a future.
posted by Frowner at 1:30 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Suggesting that they might be implies that people who aren't straight, able-bodied white dudes are less human than other people, and I'm pretty not ok with that.

The primary issue with your argument is that it applies equally as well to virtually any genetic selection at all. Are you not okay with parents selecting against, say, Down Syndrome for example?
posted by Justinian at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2013


Annnd I see you did mention it. I respectfully disagree with your position, I guess.
posted by Justinian at 1:33 PM on July 26, 2013


That attitude scares me, and I have a hard time explaining why in a way that doesn't make me feel like a crazy fundie. Valuing life, I foam! Caring for the vulnerable!
I think my core problem comes down to consent. Kids can't consent to their parents' genetic engineering choices.

I'm all for radical genetic engineering. I don't think humanity or post-humanity or whatever you want to call it can survive without it. But I think we should get really good at genetically engineering animals, and then be able to upload minds to, say, an orangoutang and reverse the process before we start ordering babies out of a parts catalog.

Then people can be born into a healthy, but otherwise genetically randomized body. After you have enough experience with life, then you can opt-in to any of many possibly body forms. Otherwise the kind of body dysmorphia that causes people to prefer to transition to a different gender will look like the common cold compared to the body-identity issues that result from their parents' poor decision making.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian, I do feel like I should point out that I can say everything I said in that most recent comment, and really and truly believe that we shouldn't be picking and choosing genetic stuff, even for things like Down Syndrome. But I also know that as someone who falls into several groups of things that could theoretically be screened for, if I had the money, etc, I'd be really, really tempted to genetically select my kid to be Not Like Me.

My point was less that I think all genetic selection is bad--I am, again, conflicted on that--and more that if this is a discussion that we as a society are going to have, possibly the voices that we need to listen the most to are the voices of the people who have the disorders for which we're screening. It's difficult, I think, for even the most open-minded of abled people to look at any group of disabled people and not see, to some extent, tragedy and things that were lost. But it's important that we don't let that knee-jerk of "Oh, that's so sad," count more than the actual lived experiences of disabled people--which often include triumph and things that were gained.
posted by MeghanC at 1:43 PM on July 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


That's a very good point, MeghanC
posted by zarq at 1:51 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am so conflicted about this. My daughter has some mysterious and worrisome GI troubles, and my son has some mild motor-developmental delays. Between the two of them, I spend a lot of time at Seattle Children's; I see a lot of parents there who, beyond the shadow of a doubt, would do a lot not to be where they are right now. 8 month olds getting chemo, 19 year old medically fragile soon-to-be adults who cannot perform the most basic of self-care, children whose pain and suffering is so great it makes me cry every time we leave. On the other hand, would I have selected against my daughter's GI troubles and my son's motor delays, and thereby missed out on knowing these incredible people? I can't imagine a greater tragedy.
posted by KathrynT at 1:52 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I also have Bipolar Disorder and it hasn't made me smarter or more creative or a more interesting person because I've had to rise above it. It's made me miserable. I don't know if my children have it. I pray they don't. If I could go back in time to their fetal development and turn off that gene, would I? Yes, without a doubt. Should I be able to? I don't know. I know that the things I would correct are not what others would choose to. And I am sure there are things others would want to correct that I would consider immoral (like gender, or height). I know that my son, who has Aspergers, identifies very stongly as an Aspie, and is very quick to point out the advantages to being autistic. I, on the other hand, as his mom, see him struggling with all of the things that should being him joy in life and I sometimes wish I could wave a magic wand and make the Aspergers go away.
I'm glad my childbearing is done, and I'll never have to face these questions. That's a cop out, I know.
posted by Biblio at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


On the other hand, would I have selected against my daughter's GI troubles and my son's motor delays, and thereby missed out on knowing these incredible people? I can't imagine a greater tragedy.

I'm most emphatically not saying your choice wouldn't have been the correct one for you. But consider: Had you selected against those issues you would have gotten to know slightly different incredible people and you would say the exact same thing. That had you not selected against those issues you would have missed out on knowing those incredible people and you wouldn't be able to imagine a greater tragedy.
posted by Justinian at 2:02 PM on July 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


I think my core problem comes down to consent. Kids can't consent to their parents' genetic engineering choices.

Kids can't consent to ever being born at all. Let alone having thin calves, green eyes, right handedness, etc. If you insist on opening the consent can of worms, careful where it goes.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:03 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


(i.e. abortion)
posted by Justinian at 2:03 PM on July 26, 2013


Of course it's really easy to look at the occasional person who succeeds despite their disability, and go "See? The human spirit can triumph over anything, so we need to save these unique snowflakes!" while conveniently forgetting all the others whose lives have been completely screwed over by those disabilities. My disabilities have not made me a better artist or person. So I thank people to leave the patronizing " Oh it's really good for you" attitude behind.

I am cynical enough to think that half the reason people are against genetically engineering children is that the Jerry Lewises of the world would loose out on people to use to garner sympathy, and that people would miss on the opportunity to gawk at some poor Bayard on the street and think " But for the sake of my lucky genetics, there goes me." The other half of course it's that it's the perfect excuse control women's reproduction. If we can prevent them from having any control over what their baby is like, if we can force them to care for a terminally disabled child for the crime of having sex, well then it's only short step to controlling when and where they have children, and who with.
posted by happyroach at 2:13 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


It really is kind of a crapshoot. I suppose it would be OK if I didn't have the gene that makes me overproduce tumor necrosis factor and other immune-system cytokines since that overproduction has some unpleasant quality-of-life consequences, except that I have no idea what super helpful things that gene also might have done and be doing for me (or for future generations of humans), aside from probably making me extra-resistant to tuberculosis.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:21 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


...I spend a lot of time at Seattle Children's; I see a lot of parents there who, beyond the shadow of a doubt, would do a lot not to be where they are right now.

This is a really important point. There's a lot of misery there. There's a lot of misery across town at the Swedish Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, too. Real, human misery and suffering. And some unknown chunk of that could have been avoided through the decisions we're talking about.

There's no easy answer to this question. But it's a question we're going to have to, as a society, grow up and confront, rather than just having a knee-jerk emotional reaction one way or the other and then refusing to listen any more.

To my mind, some of the most important people we should be listening to are those miserable parents at Seattle Children's and the Swedish NICU. They live in a kind of shadow world that most people get to pretend doesn't exist, unless they hit the anti-lottery and have to become one of those parents, themselves.
posted by gurple at 2:29 PM on July 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think everybody I know would have at least chosen the sexes of their kids.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2013


Is it still unconditional love if you are selecting for personality traits?
posted by windykites at 2:34 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it still unconditional love if you give your kid, say, speech therapy for a stutter?
posted by Justinian at 2:36 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think a lot of the objections to this fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy: a belief that our ignorant fumbling with genes over the past few thousand years is somehow "better" than precision engineering. That's not to say that the fumbling doesn't "work" in the long-term view - humans who dwelt in the lap of the Himalayas eventually developed higher lung capacities and better blood-oxygen ratios - but it only happened over dozens of generations and after an untold amount of suffering.

We've already been doing this for tens of thousands of years, in every form of breeding: human, plants, pets, livestock and more. The problem is that natural evolution is (to use Dawkin's term) a blind watchmaker: a burdensome, slow process without understanding or vision.

At a personal level, what parent wouldn't want their child to have a greater resistance to cancer? Or immunity to HIV? Is it possible to untangle that from a desire for a high degree of bilateral facial symmetry? Are you truly prepared to stand in the way of a mother who says "I want to ensure that my child is not born with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome?"

If we want to survive as a species, some form of genetic manipulation is inevitable. Global warming and its knock-on effects will probably be one prime motivator, but there are many others.

We can attempt to live on lucky hunches, or we can weight the dice in our favour. I know which one I'd prefer.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would say that the greater moral failing would be if you had the ability to make your child better and elected not to.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:45 PM on July 26, 2013


Justinian: " But consider: Had you selected against those issues you would have gotten to know slightly different incredible people and you would say the exact same thing. That had you not selected against those issues you would have missed out on knowing those incredible people and you wouldn't be able to imagine a greater tragedy."

When a person becomes pregnant, they and their partner, if there is one in the picture, become parents. You don't simply become a parent when the baby is born. You become one once there is a pregnancy.

The reason I say this is because one of the roles of a parent is making decisions regarding your child. And whether they are a fully realized human being or merely a potential life, you may still need to take actions that affect them. Sometimes, those choices may be difficult ones. You may need to terminate your pregnancy through abortion or undergo selective reduction. You may need to choose whether you take certain medications during pregnancy or undergo certain procedures, or not -- each of which may affect the viability of your pregnancy and/or its duration. Even an amniocentesis or CVS carries with it a risk of miscarriage.

From the moment any pregnancy begins, there is a possibility that you as a parent may need to make choices regarding its progress.

My wife miscarried. At the time I couldn't imagine a greater tragedy. Then we had to do a selective reduction -- sacrificing one to save two others. An awful, heart-wrenching experience. I have several friends whose preemie newborns never came home from the NICU. One lost twins during childbirth. Another also went through selective reduction.

Pregnancy is an individual, subjective process. So is childrearing. It's natural to think of what might have been. As parents, we can only do our best... and hope we've made the right choices.
posted by zarq at 2:47 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I suspect love is going to be one of those things that can't be reduced to a decision tree, after a child is born. A lot of parents seem to love their kids with or without disabilities, yet would jump at the chance to improve their child's future outlook with therapeutic measures, if the opportunity presents itself. That wouldn't seem to imply that the parents are putting conditions on their love, though, from administering such fixes. That's quite a different question, however, before conception.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:47 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The deaf community problem seems difficult and unsolvable, but I grew up around a family where half the kids died in their 20's due to a rare genetic illness that became apparent in infancy. If we could prevent nightmares like that then it doesn't really matter if deaf parents have a difficult decision to make when they conceive.
posted by serif at 2:49 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if, in time, loving a child who is ugly/diseased/disabled will become socially unacceptable. Although that would be in accordance with our history as humans, not a departure from it.

the greater moral failing... it's easy to read this as meaning that you believe, say, able-bodied folks are better than disabled folks.
posted by windykites at 2:52 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


My infertility doc has taken an offshoot stance as to why people shouldn't choose their babies like they choose their cars or purses. I am by far a practicing religious person but I commend him for taking this stance... it's an interesting perspective to read about (if you want to take out the religious Catholic part)

All I was able to get out of that article stormpooper linked after taking out the religious Catholic part is that the doc is in favor of natural family planning and against abortion, but acknowledges that "While there are many women who wish to reproduce but cannot conceive, there are also women who do not wish to reproduce, but become pregnant anyway."

I didn't see anything directly referencing cars or purses. I infer that this particular doc would see nothing wrong with my not following god's plan for either the color of my car or purse, or ignoring any divine plans god might have for me to even own a car or carry a purse, that he wouldn't even see anything wrong with my going to a bicycle store to acquire a bicycle and backpack in my aim for car-free and purse-free living, even though the bicycle store people might not offer me the choice of getting a car or purse from them, and might not even mention to me that I could choose a car and purse by going somewhere else.

He doesn't seem to feel the same way about choosing babies, certainly.
posted by yohko at 2:58 PM on July 26, 2013


Science alert: What are the "genes for" most of the traits people are talking about (attractiveness, height, ethnicity, intelligence, pleasantness, manly vigor, balanced humours, piety)? Hint: we haven't found any, and probably never will, because these traits depend on gene-gene interactions, gene-environment interactions, luck, etc, all stuff that's very complicated and not reducible to a single molecule (what genes encode). So for now the discussion over whether it would be wrong to pick a smart/tall/hot baby by looking at its genome is more like debating how many Rikers existed when the teleporter messed up in that episode of TNG. Seems like the science writing and lazy philosophers are way ahead of the actual science on this.
posted by serif at 3:06 PM on July 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


One of the things that history proves, over and over again, is that large swathes of society are prone to change, whether or not they'll admit to it in the present. Imagine the world 100 years ago with this technology. Would the average parent modify their kids to be heterosexual? It'd be no question, back then. So what if ableism fades in subsequent generations? What if it didn't? What if we selected against gender dysphoria? What if we selected against psychopathy? Violence? Alcoholism? When you ask questions like these you might as well write science fiction. It's not a bad idea to suss out the ethical quandaries now but it would probably have little to no bearing on the world that would coincide with the technology.

The more pertinent ethical question is whether or not you would want to have you children genetically modified so that they had no chance of developing Tay-Sachs and reducing their chance of developing breast cancer (as per the Wired article). If you could reduce your child's chance of dying, would you? Even if it meant tampering with their genome?

It's not hard to believe that the majority of the research in the near future will be dedicated to eliminating fatal genetic disorders and reducing the rates of contracting various illnesses (like cancer). That, then, brings up issues with resource allocation, population density, quality of life, affordable healthcare, basically the same sort of thing we human beings have been dealing with for a very long time with varying rates of success. I don't believe gene manipulation would ever become so suddenly advanced that the society in which it exists couldn't face the ethical challenges that it presented but saying that is pretty much science fiction again.

It's a slippery slope and probably at least a century until we have the tools and resources to flip anything involving more than a single gene. I'm not at all qualified to comment on the work on IQ but I can say that the Zhao Bowen profile reads like typical nerd fawning over extraordinary genius and there was very little real information on genetic modification.
posted by dubusadus at 3:08 PM on July 26, 2013


MeghanC:

I, too, inherited depressive tendencies from a parent, my dad in this case. My depression has never been as severe as his although it may yet become that severe, and I tend to cycle into mania whereas he just has trouble getting out of bed. And I know that to the extent he sees that I've inherited this from him (we don't talk about it much), he feels sorry.

But I also know that who I am as a person, the things I like about my self, sensitivity and compassion and a tendency to care about the wellbeing of others, are not fully separable from my depression. And I wouldn't necessarily trade that whole package to be better adjusted and maybe care less. And I'm not saying that people who aren't depressed can't care deeply about the world, just that for me they are bound together.
posted by mai at 3:16 PM on July 26, 2013


it's easy to read this as meaning that you believe, say, able-bodied folks are better than disabled folks.

I didn't interpret it as able-bodied folks being better, but rather *having* it better.
posted by Benjy at 3:21 PM on July 26, 2013


These traits depend on gene-gene interactions, gene-environment interactions, luck, etc, all stuff that's very complicated and not reducible to a single molecule (what genes encode).

Not a problem. Gather enough data, do some statistical analysis / machine learning, and you can produce a mathematical model that takes in a genome and predicts height or attractiveness or whatever you care about. They've done it for cows and milk production; it would be straightforward to apply the methods to humans.
posted by Pyry at 3:32 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seems like the science writing and lazy philosophers are way ahead of the actual science on this.

My lab is doing network analysis of regulatory components in variants of the human genome (healthy, cancerous, tissue-type, etc.), and we aren't the only ones.

While you are generally correct that scientists can't currently do much more than screen for Mendelian or single-gene disorders, and most all GWAS studies to date have been unable to make a connection between specific sets of genetic variants and some disease or other phenotype, I suspect that 10-20 years from now, we will have sufficient data and analytical tools to make those connections — and purposefully engineer around them.

We actually have a rare opportunity present itself, where we have a window of time open to have a public conversation about the ethics of these technologies before those technologies become available — and they are coming, trust me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:42 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Not a problem. Gather enough data, do some statistical analysis / machine learning, and you can produce a mathematical model that takes in a genome and predicts height or attractiveness or whatever you care about. They've done it for cows and milk production; it would be straightforward to apply the methods to humans.

Read any human genetics papers recently? These have been basic methods for years, but unfortunately figuring out which genes predispose human beings (who live for a long time and in various conditions) to complex phenotypes isn't quite as simple as figuring out which genotypic profiles in cows (whose lives are brief and tightly controlled) correlate with the best milk (a single, well-defined measure).
posted by serif at 3:43 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Others have made this point but datum number N + 1: if my parents had nine other options from which to pick a more fashionable collection of known genetic markers the chance of my being here is not .1 but 0 point fucking zero.
posted by bukvich at 3:56 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The technology is going to happen. The challenges presented here are so difficult because they involve a serious examination of parenthood, socio-economic controls, and human rights to calibrate this for the best of all possible worlds. I'm comfortable with the choices we made in pre-natal screening, but I'm seriously very, very grateful I never had to be in the position to have to choose.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:02 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yoink .. as FelliniBlank put it, would you have left Peter Dinklage to die as an embryo?

Wow. If you think my comment implied that I would regard this as one of the "no-brainers" I mentioned, then I REALLY expressed myself badly. I'd have hoped it was pretty obvious that when I instanced Down's syndrome as a "difficult" case I'd regard dwarfism as an even more problematic one.

On the other hand, it's not obvious to me that it's a "no brainer" that if you're choosing between a number of embryos for implantation that it's ethically wrong to say "let's go with the ones that don't have the genetic preconditions for dwarfism." Surely you want your kids to have as easy a life as possible, and presumably most people with dwarfism would agree that life is easier for normal-sized people. On the other hand, it's hard to say that and not feel that it's relegating people with dwarfism to some kind of second-class status. That's what I meant about these decisions being fraught and difficult.
posted by yoink at 4:09 PM on July 26, 2013


The Wired article touches on some of the ramifications of people being able to choose to have a child with a much higher IQ than themselves, around 26 points higher.

Surely there are people out there who would choose to have a child with an IQ considerably lower than their own. After all, if your kid is a bit on the dumb side then you can feel smart by comparison. Their homework will never be over your head and they won't get too many weird ideas, right?

The real ethical challenge for genetic engineering isn't going to be on people selecting traits that the majority of the population would say are desirable. Where it gets hairy is when a Munchhausen-by-proxy parent wants a child who will be in and out of doctor's offices all the time. Or someone who will get a larger share of a trust if they have a child decides that a child who will die in a few years will be just fine for their purposes. Or is faced with a choice between an embryo with genetic markers for intelligence, athletic ability, beauty, and the "wrong" political orientation; and an embryo with genetic markers for a painful but not life threatening disease and the same political orientation as the parents. Or a parent selecting the embryo that is the best genetic match for replacing their own kidney.

If genes are found that predispose specific political orientations, especially if there is a much more reliable correlation on one side of the political orientation fence than the other... well, I guess it depends which party has more ability to push a bill through and get it signed into law.
posted by yohko at 4:13 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


My child will be slightly sociopathtic, require half as much sleep, and will be a driven overachiever.

I'll retire in comfort and my child will own Wall Street, head the CIA, KGB, or NSA, and will run a significant chunk of this world.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:19 PM on July 26, 2013


I'll retire in comfort
... or be sold into indentured servitude by your child in order to fund their first sweet, sweet margin deal.
posted by Flunkie at 4:30 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the interest of minimizing harm to the woman, minimizing the health costs pre-term, and minimizing the public costs of children and adults, I think it's appropriate to provide full disclosure to the parents.

This gives parents the ability to form a fully-informed choice as they make a twenty-plus year commitment to raising their child. Anything less reduces autonomy, restricts their choices in the most important decision in life. And costs us a bundle.

(Slightly sociopathic, Flunkie! Also, I'll select for loyalty to family.)
posted by five fresh fish at 4:37 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not a problem. Gather enough data, do some statistical analysis / machine learning, and you can produce a mathematical model that takes in a genome and predicts height or attractiveness or whatever you care about. They've done it for cows and milk production; it would be straightforward to apply the methods to humans.

*laughs first hysterically, then convulsively, then despairingly into a pile of bioinformatics journals*
posted by maryr at 4:39 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "Let's get even more basic: should you be able to choose whether it's a boy or a girl?"

I'd say no, because parents choosing a sex based on the perceived needs of today will always screw up the actual needs of tomorrow. If most parents choose to have boys (because in a chauvinist world men earn more money), then the next generation ends up sixty percent men and forty percent women, and that leads to loneliness, rage and despair. So that generation prefers to select for girls (because women are rare and precious to them) and the next generation ends up sixty percent women and forty percent men. So the cycle repeats, over and over...

Selecting for intelligence is a lot more complicated because it isn't a simple binary, but I wonder if it may lead to similar problems because parents can't predict with any certainty what traits will give their child the best advantage. Is there a reason we don't all have 150 IQs already? Some mutations may take away from base IQ but lead to an increase in spational reasoning or emotional intelligence. Maybe some of those other embryos have traits that will combine to make them great artists or visionary leaders, and the reason evolution hasn't already selected for greater intelligence is that the species needs a wide diversity of IQs and the traits that are associated with them.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:56 PM on July 26, 2013


I'd say no, because parents choosing a sex based on the perceived needs of today will always screw up the actual needs of tomorrow.

One, how do you know this?

Two, are the "needs of today" the reason a couple may choose to have one particular sex? Isn't it possible that the couple simply, say, likes baby girls?

Three, are the "needs of tomorrow" relevant to whether a couple chooses a sex for their child? Whose "needs of tomorrow" are being addressed, anyhow? The couple's? The world's? If so, why leave such a critical decision up to the couple at all?
posted by 2N2222 at 5:16 PM on July 26, 2013


But kids with tablets from birth, or implanted at birth, will leave him in the dust, and even then, starting your PhD at 21 or 17 is pretty much irrelevant to what you will contribute overall.

Kids with tablets from birth, unless things change, will be cranky uncreative sloths with a constant, restless, and only temporarily satiable hunger for gratifying forms of novelty requiring little to no effort; with a bland disinterest in, little aptitude for, and perhaps a vague suspicion of direct, spontaneous human interaction.

But this is not an excessive kiddie screen-time thread.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:57 PM on July 26, 2013


I'm much more curious about how this would affect parenting and the way parents see their children than how this would affect, like GATTACA AND STUFF AMIRITE.

Especially since, what's "beautiful"? What's "athletic"? Intelligence is probably a little more quantifiable, but what happens if your parents pick that trait for you, and then you turn out to be a really smart person who just doesn't feel that intellectually inclined or ambitious about it?

I think that, while it might be feasible to pick your favorite embryo out of a list of 20, that's just such a gigantically different thing from choosing the kind of person that embryo grows up to be. Your "athletic" embryo could be a sports prodigy as a child, and then break a bone and have to give it up forever. Your "beautiful" embryo could be an extremely adorable kid who grows up to look just average.

I already feel enough pressure from my parents about this stuff, and they didn't get to choose me off a menu. I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up completely subsumed by a genetic destiny promised to your parents by some IVF doctor.
posted by Sara C. at 6:06 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Especially since, what's "beautiful"? What's "athletic"? Intelligence is probably a little more quantifiable, but what happens if your parents pick that trait for you, and then you turn out to be a really smart person who just doesn't feel that intellectually inclined or ambitious about it?

I agree. Going in this direction veers heavily into just projection territory, which is often pretty unhealthy to foist upon a child.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


A part of me (the frustrated sci fi writer part, I guess) would LOVE to actually see an embryo menu::

CHILD A

Male. High IQ, brown eyes, 32% chance of type 2 diabetes, colorblind, shorter than average.

CHILD B

Female. Facial feature symmetry 98th percentile, blue eyes, olive skin, will grow up to hate cilantro.

CHILD C

Female. Tall, stocky build, hand-eye coordination 83rd percentile, curly hair, supertaster, lactose intolerant.

etc. etc.

I mean, if you're choosing embryos from a list, it's not just "select the sex of your child" or "decide if your child will be beautiful or not". It's more like, would you rather have an attractive son with an average IQ and green eyes, or an athletic daughter with curly hair and a gap between her front teeth. You get the embryos you get. All of them are presumably going to have potential pitfalls.
posted by Sara C. at 6:30 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would choose a fire type over a water type personally.
posted by elizardbits at 6:33 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


So much good science fiction has already been written on this topic. Two of my favorites seem especially relevant here. Greg Bear's short story "Sisters" (which can be found in his collection Tangents among other places) posits what happens in this brave new world if there is a manufacturing defect in an entire generation of engineered children. One of my favorite details in that story is when the narrator, the only non-bioengineered kid in her class, brings in a picture of her great-grandmother and everyone is floored that she looks like her great grandmother. There is also a great discussion of taste in children: most parents end up desiring the same things--tall, athletic, smart, similar appearances--but she has a few classmates whose parents had different taste, and she finds herself more attracted to those different kids. And it turns out for them to put on a play together, it's really helpful that there is some amount of diversity in appearance, skill, and interest.

Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain (written first as a novella, then expanded to a novel, then expanded to a series) begins with parents who make a simple choice to have their children engineered to not require sleep. The amazing consequences of this for those kids, their ramifaction on into the next generation (because obviously these folks are going to meet and have kids together), the interactions of the sleepless children with the rest of the world, are all deeply thought out and deeply thought provoking. The book is mostly about ethics, not the ethics of genetic engineering alone, but the mutual responsibility we have to each other, a responsibility that is not removed by engineering. It is a mind-blowing book. It is much better than this Wired article.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:51 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


If someone had asked me, when I was 22, "Do you want to have a kid who will be born with a tumor on his skull that will require surgery before his first birthday, will absolutely not sleep for more than a couple of an hours together for the first year of his life, will suffer from a global motor skills delay, balance problems, sensory processing issues, attention issues, night terrors, and general anxiety, and oh, also, by the way: he'll also eventually develop a life-threatening food allergy, too?" I would have said no.

I would have been so very wrong.

I am so, so glad nobody asked me.

(You all might be too, when my super nice, super genius kid solves global climate change and in celebration declares a national holiday devoted to cats and cupcakes while he's simultaneously being a Famous Scientist and the President.)
posted by BlueJae at 7:15 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


In looking at the social impacts of genetic engineering, I think there are a couple things that are important to consider. One is that the introduction of a new technology into a badly divided society tends to increase social inequality rather than reduce it. And the second is a point made by Richard Lewontin in the mid-nineties in critiquing the Human Genome Project's promise to provide gene therapies, which is that "the majority of the world’s population is suffering from one consequence or another of malnutrition and overwork," neither of which is solvable by gene selection.

There are some disorders and diseases that are horrible, of course, but a lot of what people think is so terrible about about disabilities is that the fact that discrimination and a refusal to provide basic accommodations persist. We're looking for genetic solutions to what are primarily social problems.
posted by looli at 7:25 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


athletic

Is there a reason everyone assumes that people would go for this? I mean, yeah, there are some really stupid people who'd probably go for this, because sports, yay.

But the bottom line is that, for most people, any athletic advantage pretty much wears off halfway through your life, if not much earlier. Even the jocks from my high school who were successful as adults aren't, like, professional athletes. They have normal jobs just like everyone else.

I might pick a kid with good hand-eye coordination, or who was physically strong, or who had rhythm, or exceptionally healthy/hardy/not allergic to stuff. I probably wouldn't pick a kid who was AWESOME at football, given any other choice of positive traits.
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 PM on July 26, 2013


BlueJae: "I would have been so very wrong.

I am so, so glad nobody asked me.
"

You mean if you had been given a choice to avoid, say, the life threatening food allergy or the tumor, you'd say no to that, even if everything else was the same?

Don't confuse your love for a flawed human being (all human beings are flawed) with love for the actual flaws.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:38 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


A point buy system to alleviate unbalanced attribute rolls would help prevent the really unfair differences, but the problem is that the very wealthy would be able to afford a higher point total and will create more powerful babies overall.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2013


Joakim, this technology does not allow you to cure children of their disabilities. It merely allows you to pick children without those disabilities. Had I picked a different child, it would have been a different child. Who no doubt would also have had loveable qualities. But it would not have been the same child. And I'm really glad I have the kid I have. (If I could cure my kid's food allergy, trust me, I'd do that. I'd happily cut off a limb to do that.)
posted by BlueJae at 7:45 PM on July 26, 2013


Would deaf people like to hear? Would depressed people like to avoid being depressed? If there were vaccines that could prevent deafness, blindness, depression etc, would parents administer it to their children? I would think so. So, why is there a debate against having a choice engineered by genetics to do the same thing?
posted by asra at 8:21 PM on July 26, 2013


asra, some of those things are actually pretty controversial. For instance a lot of deaf people say that they wouldn't prefer to hear, and there's a lot of controversy about cochlear implants and other new technologies within the deaf community.

That said, I think the deaf community is relatively unique in having these issues. I can't think of any other "disabled" group or any other medical condition where people who have it tend to argue that they're not disabled and have no medical problem. Though I'd be curious to find out about other instances of this.

The intersex community comes to mind as well, though I think the nuances are pretty different.
posted by Sara C. at 8:34 PM on July 26, 2013


That said, the existence of intersexedness as a phenomenon sort of implies that none of this is really as simple as the people pushing this as even a possibility make it out to be. My understanding is that intersexed people don't necessarily have chromosomal abnormalities.
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 PM on July 26, 2013


For instance a lot of deaf people say that they wouldn't prefer to hear

People born deaf or people who used to be able to hear and lost their hearing? I'm guessing the former.
posted by Justinian at 8:42 PM on July 26, 2013


I suppose, but in a thread about genetics, does it matter?
posted by Sara C. at 8:44 PM on July 26, 2013


It's a thread about the ethics of the thing not just the science. So I think it matters. It's easy to say you'd rather not have something when you don't know what you're missing.
posted by Justinian at 8:47 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "Let's get even more basic: should you be able to choose whether it's a boy or a girl?"

That's been available since the 80s, IIRC. I remember reading something about how they would put a man's sperm into a solution that caused the sperm most likely to result in a male to float to the top, and the sperm most likely to result in a female to sink to the bottom (or vice versa). They would then use a syringe to withdraw sperm from the desired area. I believe it was rather crude and had a far less than 100% certainty, but, IIRC, it was available. I have no cites, and I have no idea how widespread the process became, but I remember reading about it in some MM publication like Newsweek.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:54 PM on July 26, 2013


The main thing in the deaf community is that the current treatment for congenital deafness is a surgery that needs to be performed before a certain age. It's not something a child can decide for him or herself. It's also (last I heard) not a perfect cure, and doesn't necessarily restore hearing in the way that most people think of it. It also requires years of therapy in order to work. And (again, last I heard) it's too new for anyone to really know the outcomes in kids who have the implants. So a lot of deaf people feel like, what is the upside to doing this, really?

So it's a pretty apt comparison to a hypothetical genetic engineering scenario. What happens when there's this new technology out there, from which there is no turning back, and which must be chosen by the parents before the child is capable of reason? And what are the outcomes when the technology is new, and maybe it's not perfect, and there's this first generation of kids who undergo it? What does the world look like for them? What will their outcomes be? Will they lose something by having this choice made for them? And if so, will what they gain be worth the loss?

Not to mention, what does that choice mean for all the people who came before, who still have decades to live? And what does that choice mean for the parents who don't choose it for their children?
posted by Sara C. at 8:57 PM on July 26, 2013


That said, I think the deaf community is relatively unique in having these issues. I can't think of any other "disabled" group or any other medical condition where people who have it tend to argue that they're not disabled and have no medical problem.

Oh, there are plenty of people outside the narrow norm who dislike being called defective.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:00 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


BlueJae: "Joakim, this technology does not allow you to cure children of their disabilities. It merely allows you to pick children without those disabilities. Had I picked a different child, it would have been a different child. Who no doubt would also have had loveable qualities. But it would not have been the same child. And I'm really glad I have the kid I have. (If I could cure my kid's food allergy, trust me, I'd do that. I'd happily cut off a limb to do that.)"

Yeah, in this case, with this specific technology, that's the case. It's quite conceivable that in the near future, you'll be able to just fix some problems directly before gestation, though, and people will be raising the same ethical questions.

And of course you love your kid. Though it's worth noting that if you had a slightly different kid, you'd love that one, and say you'd never change him for the one you have now. So this is purely hypothetical, and all options except the one you choose are unknowable, so it's not really a great way of looking at whether this technology should be available or not.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:24 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


FelliniBlank: "Oh, there are plenty of people outside the narrow norm who dislike being called defective."

People on the autistic spectrum do have a much better case, though, I think.

That Singer essay linked in the beginning of the discussion goes through this pretty thoroughly, and one important line is this: "The racial case is easy to distinguish from the case of deafness, because although it may be true deaf people must contend with some socially constructed barriers, it is also indisputable that they lack the ability to hear."

And autistic people have some difficulties neurotypical people don't have, but many of them also have other abilities and advantages that neurotypical people don't have. So that's not a difficult case to make. Deaf culture, on the other hand, is a culture, it doesn't inherently confer any extra abilities or advantages.

(It's important to note here that he's arguing against the argument from Deaf activists that deafness should not be treated, even in people who want it, or in children of parents who want it, because it represents "genocide" against the Deaf. No one should be forced to have procedures they don't want, obviously.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:32 PM on July 26, 2013


I would have been so very wrong.

Can you not understand that you would love a different child just as much?. That you love your current child is not a condemnation of alternative children. Had your child not had name-issue-here, you'd still think it was all groovy.

If you had the choice in month number one of your pregnancy, I bet you'd choose to not have a child that has health issues.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Selection vs artificial selection? How about no selection for thirty years so the species doesn't starve itself into a dark hole we take millennial crawling back out of.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:09 PM on July 26, 2013


Or affect their political orientation?
If they have found the Jacksonian Democrat, Whig and Free Soil Party genes, the Thanksgiving arguments in this household are going to be through the roof.
posted by relish at 11:24 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Genetics determines, but we cannot possibly understand the basis of complex traits to a degree which will allow us to select them in our children.

For instance, the idea that political orientation has a genetic basis is both true and completely impossible to interpret.

Think of how difficult and protracted crop breeding is. And there, we're selecting for things that are phenotypically obvious, such as fruit weight and sweetness or time to harvest.

To top it off, the association studies which will drive this kind of technology don't even determine the actual allele which drives the association. We are only guaranteed correlation, which is good enough for association tests but not enough for engineering.
posted by melatonic at 5:04 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forget intelligence. I'd totally select for those magical sleeping through the night babies (just kidding, little snickerdoodles! Mama loves you!)

Seriously, though. I see this becoming common in countries where there are very few winners, and then fading as it turns out the genes themselves are less influential than we thought.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:41 AM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fundamental difficulty is that a single gene can have complex positive and negative effects. The usual example is the HBB gene that confers the advantage of resistance to malaria, and the disadvantage of susceptibility to sickle-cell anemia.

This gives rise to lots of potential problems if we start deliberately selecting genes from testing somehow.

1. We might select for a gene for positive reasons, and find out too late that it has negative effects in that particular body or environment.

2. We might remove useful diversity from the gene pool, if a gene for say, baldness, turns out to have useful other effects.

3. We might find we're selecting for something different than we intended. For instance, a gene might be associated with higher school test scores, but turn out to be not due to greater intelligence, but greater docility and obedience in the classroom.

4. We might end up with a collective action problem like an "arms race". If the environment is that everyone else is selecting for certain advantageous genes with certain risks, each individual parent will feel a pressure to compete to take even greater risks. Say that genes for high testosterone production are associated with greater career success, but also a greater chance of criminal record and greater health risks. If everyone else is getting the treatment, the competitive pressure to get it for your own child too. This represents a collective action problem: a rational individual's self-interest leads to worse outcomes for all (like the tragedy of the commons).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:05 AM on July 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Inevitably, genetic engineering will be used extensively, but only in ways consistent with the needs of the industrial-technological system. -- Ted Kaczynski paragraph # 124 of the manifesto
posted by bukvich at 7:01 AM on July 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


God damn it, Tyler, we specially selected you to be good at sports. Now you tell me what the hell you were thinking on the third down? You think you're going to get a scholarship with that kind of nonsense?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:08 AM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


CHILD A
Male. High IQ, brown eyes, 32% chance of type 2 diabetes, colorblind, shorter than average.
This seems so sad to me.
CHILD B
Female. Facial feature symmetry 98th percentile, blue eyes, olive skin, will grow up to hate cilantro.
The (probably irrational) idea that I wouldn't meet the unique individual that is my daughter seems so sad.
CHILD C
Female. Tall, stocky build, hand-eye coordination 83rd percentile, curly hair, supertaster, lactose intolerant.
I can't imagine her not being her.
CHILD D
Female. Tall, curly hair, supertaster, lactose intolerant, burning hatred of Chelsea Football Club and the Tory Party
Wait, go back one.
posted by fullerine at 7:54 AM on July 27, 2013


Hey, what if being in an environment that you can control completely is actually not good for you
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:02 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


So what I'm overwhelmingly hearing here is a persons desire to control a situation in which they somehow believe would lessen the suffering of potential humans based on their own personal anecdotes.
Can we really assume that a person would suffer less had they a different combination of genes? Does a disabled child really suffer more than non disabled children? Would I have suffered less in my lifetime had I some smaller chance of heart disease? Is the whole point of this to somehow try to eradicate human suffering? Can we truly examine philosophical questions of existence by tinkering with DNA in a lab?

That aside, I personally think pheromones do a hell of a lot better job at optimal gene combining than lab selection could ever come close to... But with the prevalence of hormonal birth control, that's really gone out the window in past years.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 12:49 PM on July 27, 2013


2N2222: "One, how do you know this?"

The same way anybody knows anything when we make predictions around here: I'm guessing based on my understanding of human nature.


"Two, are the "needs of today" the reason a couple may choose to have one particular sex? Isn't it possible that the couple simply, say, likes baby girls?"

Maybe. But most parents want to make choices that optimize their child's future, so it's hard to believe that something as fundamental as gender would be chosen on the basis of personal preference.


"Three, are the "needs of tomorrow" relevant to whether a couple chooses a sex for their child? Whose "needs of tomorrow" are being addressed, anyhow? The couple's? The world's? If so, why leave such a critical decision up to the couple at all?"

Exactly.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:27 PM on July 27, 2013


I have three special needs boys and have already been blamed by a few people for "knowingly breeding with bad genes", which isn't really how it happened. I can easily see such disgusting opinions become mainstream if having disabled children becomes essentially an opt-in proposition.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think some of the people who can answer this question best are the parents, like MeghanC, who actually suffer from things that they might be able to choose not to have for their children.

I have several friends who have agonized over whether to have children, knowing that there is a high chance of passing their genetic diseases to their children. If they could choose to have children without these problems (which they know firsthand) they would have a lot more choices. Right now I think at least one of them has instead chosen to not have children, despite very much wanting them.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:55 PM on July 27, 2013


These articles are overwhelmingly written by people with no experience with IVF, which is an invasive, often overwhelming process, extremely expensive ($15,000 a pop typically), requires multiple daily injections and fails at least half of the time on the first try.

In a world where about 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, and sex is a lot funner than injecting fertility drugs and spending at least $30,000, is this really likely to be an issue?

Not any time soon. And not to mention the fact that a recent study found that IVF itself can increase risk for intellectual disability slightly if you use ICSI (virtually always done when you use sperm from a sperm bank) and we've not even gotten into the fact that epigenetics (including stuff that happens in the womb like infections) has a huge influence on conditions like autism and schizophrenia.

But also, the fears that selecting against disabilities reduces support for people with those conditions has not been borne out for the most part— Down syndrome is widely selected against, and while we still have an enormous way to go, there is more support for parents with affected children than ever before and less acceptance of stigma than in the past.

Finally, genetics is massively complex and as people have mentioned above, some conditions like bipolar and autistic spectrum conditions, particularly in milder forms, come with huge gifts and there's a potential that selecting against them will also select against genius. What are people going to do when they receive a report that says embryo X is 5% more likely than embryo Y to have an autism spectrum condition and 10% more likely to have an IQ over 130 but also has a 16% chance of breast cancer in mid life and a 35% chance of Alzheimer's at 98 while embryo Y has a 25% chance of being cross eyed and a 11% chance of being musically gifted with a 40% chance of Alzheimer's and a 14% chance of breast cancer?

Sex is always going to beat dealing with all that.
posted by Maias at 5:55 PM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Re: people with disabilities who don't want to be treated. Some people with Bipolar choose not to treat it because they believe the mania allows them to be more creative. I can sympathize. I certainly feel the lack of that manic energy in my life, but I don't miss the rest of the Bipolar mess. Anyway, just a data point.
posted by Biblio at 7:45 PM on July 27, 2013


Sex is always going to beat dealing with all that.

The way dystopian fiction deals with this is to decide that the humans in their world find sex disgusting and think it's natural to be genetically engineered in a lab. Which I could see happening -- think for example of how quickly it became "gross" to pluck and slaughter your own chicken. That said, I think the "sex is considered gross in our world" to be a little bit handwavey.
posted by Sara C. at 8:00 PM on July 27, 2013


Sara C.: "That said, I think the "sex is considered gross in our world" to be a little bit handwavey."

Yeah, it's just too damn pleasurable. Even if you factor in the so called "icky parts" that vary from person to person and culture to culture.

Still, though, I agree with you that it may turn out otherwise. Seems like many people will go to enormous lengths to give their offspring every possible (perceived) advantage.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:09 PM on July 27, 2013


>The same way anybody knows anything when we make predictions around here: I'm guessing based on my understanding of human nature.

I would suggest that you have an incomplete understanding of human nature. People have made critical decisions every day to the demonstrable betterment of the future. As a result, humanity is far more prosperous now than it has ever been. History has shown that despite some monumentally bad decisions made by individuals, some of the worst and most widely destructive were made to be imposed by others on individuals. Often with the best of intentions. Pick any of the 20th century's worst monsters. Their notoriety didn't result from letting individuals choose things like fertility for themselves. There are plenty of cases where it was very much the opposite. Parental choice became purview of entities other than parents, up to and including genocide.

Maybe. But most parents want to make choices that optimize their child's future, so it's hard to believe that something as fundamental as gender would be chosen on the basis of personal preference.

I don't see why those things are mutually exclusive.

"Three, are the "needs of tomorrow" relevant to whether a couple chooses a sex for their child? Whose "needs of tomorrow" are being addressed, anyhow? The couple's? The world's? If so, why leave such a critical decision up to the couple at all?"

Exactly.


Arguing that people's fertility should be regulated by entities other than the actual potential parents is a non starter in all but the most illiberal of societies. Would you accept that Kevin Street's fertility should conform to anyone else's preferences other than Kevin Street? After all, such critical decisions are too difficult for Kevin Street to decide on his own.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:55 PM on July 27, 2013


"That said, I think the "sex is considered gross in our world" to be a little bit handwavey."

People are still having sex. Lust keeps on lurking.


Oh wow that's a lot of neon sperm.
posted by maryr at 9:18 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maias: " Not any time soon. And not to mention the fact that a recent study found that IVF itself can increase risk for intellectual disability slightly if you use ICSI (virtually always done when you use sperm from a sperm bank) and we've not even gotten into the fact that epigenetics (including stuff that happens in the womb like infections) has a huge influence on conditions like autism and schizophrenia."

It's definitely a complex topic. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) usually counter one or more conditions which are affecting fertility. In the case of ICSI the usual problem being addressed is a male factor infertility issue: low motility, a relatively common problem in which a man's sperm aren't particularly lively. Theoretically, it's possible that low motility itself might be an indicator of other potential problems, such as a possibility of mental retardation in the offspring those sperm help produce. Another common reason for using ICSI: cervical mucus abnormalities. The mucus might be too thick for the sperm to move freely, or too low a pH, or not abundant enough.

IOW, it might not be the procedure that causes the potential intellectual disability but the genetic material. When considering the potential risks of ART procedures, it's worth noting that someone is likely becoming pregnant that might not have been able to through other means.

On the other hand, during the ICSI procedure an RE is sticking an egg with a needle to inject the sperm in question. That could conceivably cause damage to the eventual fetus.
posted by zarq at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2013


Can you not actually read my comment, five fresh fish? I did in fact literally, specifically say that if I had been given information about my son's health conditions before he was born, I am pretty sure I would have chosen not to have him: i.e., it is quite possible I would have had an abortion in the first month. Because I think the-person-who-was-me-then, who had not yet been a parent and was not in the best place, frankly, to become a parent, would have been overwhelmed by the idea of being responsible for a child with disabilities, and I think I would have chosen not to have this kid, in the hopes that someday another roll of the genetic dice would get me a different, "better," result.

I do think I would have chosen that. I think it would have seemed utterly reasonable. Responsible, even. And yet, the-person-I-am-now thinks that would have been the wrong choice. Because (again, as I already literally already said above) of course I would love another child. But I am not, in fact, sure I would like another child just as much as this one. I really, really like my kid. This kid. A lot. Just how he is. And it is absolutely the case that parents don't always like their kids equally. If somehow he had been born to other parents and I met this kid as a stranger, I would really, really like this kid and want to be his friend. He is a nerd just like me; we build weird inventions together and read enormous mountains of books together and make up stories together and utterly fail at sports together, and it's awesome. But beyond the fact that I personally just like my kid, and feel that his presence in my life really makes my life better, he is genuinely a fantastic person with, I think, quite a bit to contribute to the world. He is intelligent and compassionate and creative and utterly determined to spend his life trying to leave the world a little better than he found it. And I am not sure another child of mine would have been like that; I can't know what another child of mine would have been like.

Of course if my kid had never been born I would never have known any of that about him and so would have nothing to miss. And I might be blissfully taking my healthy soccer playing girl (I did want a girl, after all, and why on earth would I have chosen to pass on my clumsiness?) to ice cream shops and baseball games without a thought about all those damn peanuts.

But I am nevertheless more than a bit unsettled at the idea that I might once have classified the blueprints for this wonderful person I love as too flawed to move forward with. Having a kid with disabilities has permanently changed my perspective.

I am not utterly morally opposed to the idea of genetic selection to prevent disabilities. There are many illnesses and disabilities that cause terrible suffering. And I do not think every sperm is sacred; I think it would be absurd to treat embryos that aren't even implanted, that are just basically the unrealized code for a potential future, as if they were people.

But I think embryonic eugenics -- I mean, eugenics is this, what this is -- is a thing we really need to think about and talk about carefully as a society before it becomes a widespread reality. My own experience makes me feel that perhaps parents are not the best judges of what genes will make the best children. Besides, where do we draw the line as to what is an acceptable flaw? I have pretty terrible myopia. I'm not sure I would have survived the hunter-gatherer days with these eyes. Should I even be here? (OTOH I bake an excellent cheesecake, and I feel that that must be worth something, but I'm not sure you could find the code for "good cheesecake baker" in my genes.)
posted by BlueJae at 7:30 PM on July 29, 2013


Zarq: ICSI is used every time frozen sperm is used— not just for men with sperm issues, or at least it was at Cornell. That means single women using sperm donors and anyone else using a donor who is not, um, there to donate at the time when the sperm is used.
posted by Maias at 5:26 PM on August 2, 2013


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