Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I want to have a baby. Could I see the menu, please?

The British agency that oversees fertility treatments, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), doesn't permit gender selection for any reason other than gender-associated genetic disorders. But the gentleman who pioneered preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has changed his mind about the advisability of that position.

Peter Ross of Scotland's Sunday Herald quotes Professor Lord Robert Winston—

I think there are a lot of shibboleths to which we have paid lip service, but when you analyse them they certainly don’t threaten the moral fabric of our society. And one of them is sex selection. I think if sex selection was freely available in Britain it would change the balance of society hardly at all, if at all. There is really no evidence that it would.

Given the tatters in the moral fabric of British society, it is hard to imagine what might damage it further. And Professor Winston may well be correct that in the British society of today, the effect of gender selection would be negligible if it were available.

But to Professor Winston I would make two points: First, if the effect of gender selection might be negligible in Britain, the same cannot be said for the more populous nations of China and India, where babies with external piping are very much preferred. And second, the conditions of British society will likely resemble more closely those of China and India in the not-too-distant future thanks to the destructive effects of globalization.

The reason, however, that this story caught my eye isn't that I wish to argue against throwing out the embryos with the pink bath water but that I suspect—but do not know—that gender selection may be altering the human gene pool. For instance, if there is increased competition among males for a limited supply of females, heightened aggressiveness may be a favored trait. Just what the human race needs, right?

To put this another way, I suspect that gender selection is—currently without intention—a eugenics program. Ethicists and moralists reject the notion of eugenics out of hand in part because of the unedifying efforts of the Nazis. But I'm not sure that I do, since it may be that we have one anyway.

To have a eugenics program without intent may easily turn out to be worse than a eugenics program with intent. At least the latter forces us to consider what sort of beings we wish to be. And if brought into the open, I would anticipate a jolly good fight over the matter.


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