Eugenics: Designer Babies
Eugenics: Designer Babies Okpurukre Isoken (Medical Ethics) Professor Ballantyne August 5th, 2009 Eugenics: Designer Babies Eugenics, in its broadest sense, is defined as “the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or of a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits”.
The term captures a smorgasbord of vivacious imagery etched into the annals of human history – of ghostly memories about human atrocities anxiously waiting to fade away at the twilight moments of a modern age – of overcrowded prison camps, in which the depths of travail and indolent sighs of countless defenseless victims, of bodies ravaged by scars and which have become too weak to be revitalised in any shape or manner. Or of lives consigned to “medical investigative exploration for the amelioration of human condition” by what at first sight appears to be insignificant signatures of a clerk.
Such lives were considered only sacrifices contrived by altruist motives of a beneficent governing authority. Questions if they could have been raised at all in retrospect could only be considered at someones discretionary time, and place of course. Trying to pick through the rubbles of the world’s past mishaps and distilling their lessons for application to today’s issues is like wading and battling oneself through an ever- confusing maze mired with potholes, trenches and cul-de-sacs. Tolstoy, in his masterpiece War and Peace admonished his readers that everything in history has he mirage of appearing to have been predestined, once history has occured. I believe that as potential medical experts honest and critical intellectual inquiry is only the beginning and the least of what we can do to prevent what future generations will ruefully deem as inevitable consequences of our “brilliant concoctions”. According to Congressman Greenwood’s opening statements at the hearing of the COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE, SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS March 28, 2001 convened by medical researchers, bioethicists and members of congress, “ For most of its 80 years, the brave New
World could be seen as a disturbing work of science fiction. That is no longer the case. The possible cloning of human beings is now relegated to the world—not relegated to the world of fiction. The question we must now ask is this: what should we do with this science? ” Amidst the backdrop of hefty political and legal debates over bioethics that took place in the ‘90s and early 21st century as a result of Ian Wilmot’s sheep cloning experiements, laws had been enacted that helped to curb the development of reproductive technologies. It became crystal clear that the countdown timer has now been set for he inevitable -the cloning of Homo sapiens. No one knows what would happen after that. Notwithstanding, numerous independently funded private labs across the United States and around the world wasted little time to find legal loopholes to evade the scrutiny of authorities and jumped into the hunt for the holy grail. For instance, On December 5, 1997, Chicagoan physicist and fertility expert Richard Seed announced that he planned to clone a human being before any federal laws could be enacted to ban the process. Seed’s plans were to apply the same technique used to clone Dolly.
Seed’s announcement went against President Clinton’s 1997 proposal for a voluntary private moratorium against human cloning. Several arguments may be suggested to explain this fervor. There were those who argued that reproductive freedom includes human cloning, perhaps as a means to address the problem of male infertility. Others advocated cloning as a means to replicate a deceased loved one. For yet others, human cloning is justified because it may provide important advances in scientific knowledge. To be sure, science is entitled to have ethical standards set apart from all other norms of society.
Perhaps a closer look at the accompanying evidence will reveal that this is not so. According to Jeff Stryker, a writer for the New York Times Magazine, dated August 4, 2009, sperm banking has now become a global and open market; consumers are no longer limited to the small donor pools at local mom-and-pop sperm banks. In particular, Cryos, a Denmark based company has recently sparked media interest. Its company strategy is aimed at becoming the McDonald’s of sperm banks around the world. Packed in dry ice or liquid nitrogen sperms are shipped express to its buyers in more than twelve countries around the world.
Somehow, it is able to sidestep many legal regulations imposed by domestic and local regulations on local sperm bank enterprises. Notwithstanding, the profitability of the sperm bank business has not stemmed the tide in the development of product lines catering to the whims and tastes of different consumer segments. Virginia’s Fairfax Cryobank has stepped into the competitive scene with its ”Fairfax Doctorate Donors”; since April 1999 the firm has offered, at a third more than the usual charges, sperm from medical, law, Ph. D. and other students and graduates.
Cryos offers three grades of sperm, including an ”extra” version that contains twice the number of highly motile sperm as its ”regular” brand. An Ivy league woman’s egg could nowadays fetch upwards of $50,000. The California Cryobank, located in Los Angeles has launched a new feature to help prospective baby batter buyers pick a load. Its product lines features sperms and eggs of donors that are celebrity look-alikes. Adam Sandler, Andy Roddick, and Ben Affleck are but a few noteworthy mentions. Apparently these parents are free to choose whom they want to have as their children.
The Oxford English dictionary defines the term “designer babies” as “a baby that the genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics”. According to Ritter M (2008), “news that scientists have for the first time genetically altered a human embryo is drawing fire from some watchdog groups that say it’s a step toward creating ‘designer babies’. ” Yet, the ubiquity of different sperms and eggs on the market today seems to offer a more palatable alternative to genetic engineering.
A different and perhaps more pressing issue centers around the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Here embryos are screened for gene faults before being transferred to a woman’s uterus. It has come under the spotlight recently in the UK, with high-profile cases such as that of the Leeds-based Hashmi family. The Hashmis have a child with a rare blood disorder, who urgently needs a bone marrow transplant. Through using PGD, the Hashmis may be able to have a child that is free from the disorder suffered by their existing child. The child yet to be born could also donate tissue to cure its sibling.
The Hashmi case became the subject of months of legal wrangling in the UK courts”. (Lee, 2003) In April 2009, Panayiotis Zavos, a controversial fertility researcher attracted international media attention when he announced to the world that he had cloned 14 human embryos and transferred 11 of them into the wombs of four women, at least one of whom was British. The operation failed however. According to his own words, the motivations for cloning was “not to reproduce the Michael Jacksons and the Michael Jordans in this world, and also, we are totally against designer babies.
Therefore, we are not interested in manipulating the genetic information, the genome, but rather just allowing those mothers and fathers to be, to become biological fathers and mothers of those children, and, hopefully, those children will be healthy children and we are totally committed to that… We are talking about the development of a technology that can give an infertile and childless couple the right to reproduce and have a child and above all complete its life cycle. This is a human right and should not be taken away from people because someone or a group of people have doubts about its development.
According to Lewis Wolpert, a professor of biology, the issue is an irrelevant one. Surprisingly enough, ethical issues with regards to designer babies are hard to see. In his own words, “What possible argument from ethics could be used against prenatal diagnosis of an embryo obtained by IVF, if the diagnosis prevents the implantation of embryos with defective genes? I know that some people object, but there is no evidence that the early embryo is a person. This idea is a relatively recent one, with religious underpinning but with neither argument nor evidence.
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church demands that the embryo be respected from the first instance. But what has to be considered in every case is the child and its future wellbeing, and not to do so is totally lacking in respect. Who, for example, is being harmed in all the recent fuss about choosing an embryo with the right genes to help a sibling? Both children will certainly be very well cared for. And it is care of the child that matters. (Wolpert, 2003)”. The views of religious segment of society stand in stark contrast to the notions entertained by Wolpert.
In general, they raise three primary objections. First being that cloning humans could lead to a new eugenics movement where even if cloning begins with a benign purpose, it could devolve into a scientifcally generated caste ranking of superior and inferior people. Being such, it would interferes with the natural order of creation, eliminating the sanctity of God as a creator. And what’s more, cloning could have long-term effects that are unknown and harmful. People have a right to their own identity and their own genetic makeup which should not be replicated. Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore sums it up more succinctly in humanistic terms ‘‘Cloning is presented as a means for creating life, not destroying life. Yet it shows disrespect toward human life and the very act of generating it. Cloning completely divorces human reproduction from the context of a loving union between man and woman, producing children with no parents in the ordinary sense. Here, human life does not arise from an act of love, but is manufactured to predetermined specifications. A developing human being is treated as an object, not as n individual with his or her own identity and rights. ’’ A slightly different perspective as espoused by Congressman Rush, would be a perspective on how diversity relates to medical research. In his words, “As an African-American, I’m keenly aware of racist prejudices and biases. The expansion of science can never be an end unto itself. The expansion of science must be viewed in the light of the agenda of those who espouse it and the impact it has on our public, on our way of life and on our God… As noted, science and the biotech field has brought us great successes. We must not take action which will mpede the legitimate and safe use of biotechnology…I would argue that we must act with caution to ensure that future scientific successes which will make this world healthier and more productive while tightly regulating and indeed banning those practices which pose a clear threat to the health, the safety, and the moral condition of our citizens. Might we never know how society and human clones will come to perceive one another? Perhaps not. Doron Blake is a 23 year old young man who came from the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, for which eugenic-minded California inventor Robert Graham recruited various scientific geniuses to onate sperm. When asked to talk about his experience as a sperm-bank child, Doron said, “It was a screwed-up idea, making genius people. The fact that I have a huge IQ does not make me a person who is good or happy. People come expecting me to have all these achievements under my belt, and I don’t. I have not done anything that special. I don’t think being intelligent is what makes a person. What makes a person is being raised in a loving family with loving parents who don’t pressure them. If I was born with an IQ of 100 and not 180, I could do just as much in my life. The thing I like best bout myself is not that I’m smart but that I care about people and try to make other people’s lives better. I don’t think you can breed for good people. ” According to Agar (n. d) human beings are motivated equally by both therapy and enhancement. Yet according to the examples provided above, there seems to exist an ethical divide between treating or preventing disease and enhancing traits. The privacy of persons and families being weighed against life’s existence is a rhetorical discussion that has not witnessed any proper resolution, perhaps because they are viewed as ends in themselves.
This point may help in some sort or fashion Reinhold Niebuhr’s view of social conflicts – The human person, in Niebuhr’s account, is self-interested in the extreme. While the individual “moral man” can check his natural selfishness through conscience, self-discipline, and love, social groups—tribes, movements, nations—look out for their own and strive to dominate other groups. Everybody’s motives are always mixed. Order in society is achieved through the threat of force, so “society is in perpetual state of war. ” Such intransigence in viewpoints could be the ill that lies at the heart human atrocities.
The level of anti-abortion violence, seen in the US of the last three decades, which includes arson and bombing are only symptoms of a greater ill that has been galvanizing it. There is little justifiable rationale in the paradoxical actions of engaging in bloodshed and murder if life not death is its goal. This would be the tragic consequence which C. S. Lewis talked about when he observed that ‘‘man’s conquest of nature would result in the abolition of man. ’’ COMHH References Agar N. (n. d). Designer Babies: Ethical Considerations.
Retrieved on June 16th, 2009 from http://www. actionbioscience. org/biotech/agar. html Connor S. (2009). Fertility expert: ‘I can clone a human being’ Retrieved on August 4, 2009 from http://www. zavos. org/fertility-expert-i-can-clone-a-human-being-1672095. html Lee E (2003). Debating Designer Babies. Retrieved on June 15, 2009 from http://www. prochoiceforum. org. uk/ocrreliss7. php Macrae F. (2008). Couple to have Britain’s first baby genetically modified to be free of breast cancer gene. Retrieved on June 15, 2009 from http://www. dailymail. co. k/health/article-1098034/Couple-Britains-baby-genetically-modified-free-breast-cancer-gene. html Malcolm R (2008). Genetically Modified Human Baby? Retrieved on June 14, 2009 from http://healthandsurvival. com/2008/05/12/genetically-modified-human-baby/ Subcommittee on oversight and investigations (2001, March 28). Issues raised by human cloning research. Retrieved from http://republicans. energycommerce. house. gov/107/action/107-5. pdf Thomas V (2007) Children Have Rights – Say No to Repro Tech from http://childrenhaverights-saynotoreprotech. blogspot. com/2007/02/doron-blake-genius-designer-baby. html