Eugenics, Ready or Not
Despite warnings by moral conservatives, advances in genetics and reproductive technology have created the conditions for a consumer-driven mass eugenics industry. Like it or not, science is about to pose a slather of moral, ethical and societal dilemmas
by Frank K. Saltar
A legal, social and biological revolution is taking place worldwide without much serious thinking of the consequences. Consider this: in Britain the House of Commons recently approved the use of “three-parent IVF” to remove defective mitochondrial DNA from babies.
Each year in Britain about 100 children are born with mutated mitochondrial DNA, resulting in about ten cases of fatal disease to the liver, nerves or heart. A new in vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique developed at the University of Newcastle allows doctors to replace a mother’s defective mitochondrial DNA with that of a healthy donor, presumably using pre-implantation sequencing and microscopic operation on the zygote. Mitochondrial DNA does not affect appearance, personality or intelligence, and it reduces kinship—genetic similarity—by only about 1 per cent. Still, the resulting child, though its nuclear DNA would come from its main parents, would have three parents.
Critics warned that this would set society off down a slippery slope to eugenics and “designer babies”. A government official, the “British Fertility Regulator”, replied to this warning with the observation that most people support the therapy. This was intended to assuage the concerns expressed. In fact it would seem to confirm them, since widespread support for a product or service indicates a readiness to adopt it. Sure enough, though there had been little public discussion in advance of the Commons debate, the new techniques were nonetheless approved by a large parliamentary majority. Australian scientists have since called for the British policy to be emulated.
Go to the Quandrant Online to read this excellent article on eugenics.