March 04, 2009


I thought I'd weigh in some thoughts on the "designer babies" thing that hit the news. I don't know if I'm gonna say what you think I'll say.

Two years ago, back when we thought we could control our destiny, my husband and I had a discussion about which month of the year we'd prefer our baby to be born in. Subtract 9 months, and that's when we should get to work. I can't even laugh at us because I still find it so frustrating. We also had a definite gender preference and a few other minor desires.

Nine months later, when I finally did get pregnant, I had been hit with a good dose of perspective. I wrote that I had decided that none of these preferences mattered anymore, and that all we wanted was a healthy baby to join our family.

But when that baby died, and then the next one did too, I started to lose that sense of perspective. I hate to say that I started to feel entitled to happiness. We now deserve to get exactly what we want -- boy and girl twins, of course -- because of the heartache and headache we've endured. And now at this point, if I could make it be twins, I would. I would also select for gender if I could. And one of my worst fears is spending these years trying to have a baby and then to get one who has severe health problems or birth defects. I would factor that out as much as I could.

So I kinda understand where these people are coming from.

I haven't yet had to do IVF. IVF is rough. It's painful. People who do it have been through years of sorrow and then endure physical, chemical pain in order to conceive. And I don't blame them if they want to tweak the results a little bit.

I don't see this becoming The New Thing. I don't imagine that people are going to bypass the regular old having-sex route to babies and opt to spend tens of thousands of dollars and give themselves painful shots, just so they can pick blue eyes.

And, from the CBS article, I don't give a rat's behind about this "worry":

Secondly, you're going to have the rich using these technologies, and that's going to advantage them further. It's not going to be something the poor get to do.

Cry me a river. Conversely, the rich aren't going to get welfare checks to raise their 14 babies.

I understand people's revulsion to the "playing God" aspect, but I've never heard anyone bring up this argument. I'm open to discussion on this idea, and I know I haven't thought every aspect through, but I can sympathize with these IVF patients that they feel they're due a little control in their lives. I grok that.

I heard Rick Santorum on TV the other day discussing this, saying that artificial insemination is an abomination against God. It reminded me of the time Bill Maher said that people who can't conceive should "take the hint."

The only abomination is being emotionally and financially ready to raise a family and to find yourself thwarted.

Posted by Sarah at March 4, 2009 08:53 AM | TrackBack

I do see this becoming the next big thing among the wealthy actually. There have been many studies done about how physical attributes affect how others treat you and increase your future income. For instance for every inch over 5'8" you earn (typically) and extra $800 per inch.

This is just one more advantage they can give their children. Blond hair and blue eyes are traits that people find more attractive. And they are just getting started. What about height? or IQ? What if they can isolate a gene sequence for musical genius? This does put lesser economic classes at a disadvantage. Unless of course health insurance starts covering fertility treatment (that's a whole other issue)

I don't believe you should be able to even choose the gender of your child. Look how well that's working out for China? It starts us down a slippery slope that sounds scarily like eugenics.

I understand that people think they deserve to have what they want because they have spent good hard earned money on it. But they are not buying a car. It does not work that way.

I very respectfully disagree with you on this.

Posted by: Mare at March 4, 2009 09:16 AM

I have an argument pro-gender selection: I know of some cases where both parents were carriers of a genetic disease, and if their child was of one sex it would have a 50% of being afflicted, and if it were the other it would only have a 50% of being a carrier. They profiled a few families where they had already had one child who had died, because of having this disease. So they decided to spin the sperm so as to separate the x and y chromosome carrying ones, to favor the sex that would only become a carrier. Some would disagree with this, saying the other sex should still have a chance, but I think this is a completely valid argument. It's a choice for gender, not for gender's sake, but for the sake of having a healthy child.

But of course that could be the beginning to a slippery slope, but I still feel that in some cases it is justified.

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at March 4, 2009 10:03 AM

Rick Santorum and his wife have already had one child die, and it is highly likely that their most recent baby (whom I believe is about a year old) will also die. She's a Trisomy 18 baby, SEVERE birth defect. So he's not just speaking off the cuff about birth defects from the pulpit of several easy pregnancies and healthy kids.

I get both sides of this - I really do. I had my own problems getting babies to "stick" and short of abstinence as a married lady I got pregnant no matter what. For a long time there I felt like I was having miscarriages rather than periods - that was just my personal "cycle." I think if I had been able to choose gender selection to factor out one of the issues causing my miscarriages I probably would have.

But then I wouldn't have had my son.

So that leaves me back at, "I have no idea what the answer is."

Posted by: airforcewife at March 4, 2009 10:58 AM

AFW, I did not know that about Santorum, which does make his statement look less crappy. But I still disagree with him.

Posted by: Sarah at March 4, 2009 11:40 AM

Yes, we do not have to agree with someone because of their family tragedies and you would think it would make them more compassionate. However, I do sympathize with their problem.
I still have faith that you will have a baby or two or more. Human beings are so complicated but the biological trend is reproduction. I also think it would be great if you could choose what you get, in this case and others like it. I definitely don't like the Chinese thing of aborting the sex they didn't want. They do have a problem now of not enough women. Serves them right!

Posted by: Ruth H at March 4, 2009 11:54 AM

Appearance matters. As a short nonwhite person who has to look up to nearly everyone every single day, I think about this all the time.

Even so, I don't think it counts as much as other things. The advantages of height, blond hair, and blue eyes are trivial compared to a prep school education or an Ivy League degree.

The children of the rich are more likely to have all of the above in the future. And more, like IQ due to associative mating and a better environment. If equality is a concern, why worry about their hair color when there are bigger causes of disparity? Why not ban everyone whose parents have an income higher than $X from private schools? Every seat taken up by some Paris Hilton should go to a poor kid who really wants an education. I've seen rich kids waste space in expensive schools. It's disgusting. It's not fair.

The big questions are, what is 'fair', do we enforce 'fairness', and how do we enforce it?

There is a slippery slope favoring the elite. But there is another slope in the other direction exemplified by Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron". I doubt anyone really wants an HB-like society. But that still leaves an enormous spectrum of possibilities.

And in any case, the rich would pay for genetic engineering. Banning something won't make it go away. Let's suppose genetic tampering were illegal and the press found out that Richie Rich was an unnatural blond boy. Should the parents be fined? Jailed? What about Richie? Is it 'fair' for him to live with advantages his parents bought for him? Should he be subjected to a 'fair' random genetic remix? (I'd like to write a story about that ... without the trademarked characters, of course.)

Posted by: Amritas at March 4, 2009 12:25 PM

Ruth -- I agree that the aborting of babies based on gender is abhorrent. While I might not mind the practice in a petri dish, once it was implanted, the choice would be made and done.

Amritas -- Thank you for reminding me of "Harrison Bergeron." And I think you're right that hair color isn't as important as other factors. Ha, wouldn't it be funny if there turned out to be some sort of physical trait affirmative action backlash? That people who got ahead based on their looks would then be suspect of whether their looks were natural or genetically chosen for? Ha.

Posted by: Sarah at March 4, 2009 12:57 PM

Neat speculation, Sarah. Also, the perceived 'value' of physical traits might change along with their frequency.

I didn't address enhanced IQ and musical genius, which seem to be much more important than physical traits for determining a child's future. Could one ban mental 'improvements' but allow (certain?) physical ones if they are trivial? I don't think the mental 'upgrades' will necessarily lead to what parents want because of free will and environment. I have seen high-IQ people squander their intelligence. Rich parents could buy IQ, but not necessarily nurture it. And even if a kid is forced to jump through intellectual hoops, he may still reject the cerebral life when he grows up. Ditto for music. Kids aren't robots. You can't program them, not even genetically, to do what you want them to. Buying raw materials does not guarantee a house. As you wrote,

It's a waste of your money, but you have a right to waste your money.

But do we have a right to change our children? For better, for worse, or in any direction at all? People are capable of the craziest things. The potential for engineering ... arguably detrimental traits exists. Does affordability equal morality?

Posted by: Amritas at March 4, 2009 02:32 PM

I have no problem with gender selection (in this country, anyway, as I think things would balance out here even if they don't in China), and I don't have any problem with the selective avoidance of disease or genetic disorders.

When it comes to picking and choosing traits (IQ, natural talents, hair/eye color, etc.), I start to feel uncomfortable. And for me it is sort of because of the "playing God" thing. I mean, IMO, such choosing should have been done by the choice of your mate. The choice of a mate (or in certain IF cases, of the sperm/egg donor) is when (again, IMO) you choose your children's potential intelligence, their potential talents, and their potential looks. Digging into their DNA to cut & paste desired traits sounds to me like it has the potential to cause more harm than good, both in potential "side effects", and in the increased ability for a rich parent to treat their child as a trophy, like a fancy purebred dog, rather than as a loved and treasured member of the family (Something I have already seen among certain mothers of overseas adoptees in some of the more affluent areas of our city - the "Oh, where did you get yours?" thing that makes me grate my teeth when I hear it).

Basically, I'm not a big fan of the idea of genetic engineering if it is not for a specific medical purpose - to avoid disease or defects.

Posted by: Leofwende at March 4, 2009 03:26 PM

I've lived a long time and I cannot remember when I first heard the phrase, "well, they have one of each now, time to quit." It was usually a mother-in-law-saying it. So apparently from my small sample of people I've talked to in the last 50+ years, (since I was an adult) it seems to me that in the US we have a love of having one of each, not just one of one kind.
And Amitras, I can sympathize with the short thing, I am 5' (or below, it has been 5 years since the docs measured my height)and getting shorter every year. I am so tired of cabinets and everything else being for taller people. Yes, I know things could be worse but when you reach your 70's things aren't as easy anymore and my children and husband all yell at me for climbing all the time.

Posted by: Ruth H at March 4, 2009 08:21 PM

CVG - In that case can't they also do genetic testing to see which zygote's aren't carrying the defect? If they were trying to skew the odds in hopes that they would all not have the gene then I have no problem with that. What they did was no guarantee, they were just trying to better their chances. I fully believe science should be used to better the odds that a child will not be born sick.

Amritas - Nothing in life is fair. It's sucks, but there it is. No one is entitled to anything. I got picked on when I was little for being heavy and I've gotten picked on as an adult for being un-naturally tall. I spend half my time in the grocery store getting things off the top shelf for people so they don't hurt themselves climbing up. I think this designer baby thing would become the next 'in' thing. People respond to physical attractiveness more favorably. Will that be the 'edge' that gets a kid into Harvard? Maybe.

Your scenario would make an intriguing short story.

Posted by: Mare at March 5, 2009 08:56 AM

This reminds me that I need to watch Gattaca again.

Posted by: Leofwende at March 5, 2009 12:59 PM