The following comes from a Jan.15 story in Crisis magazine.

Such academic commentators as Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama and Bill McKibben have observed that human genetic engineering, nanotech and robotics will demoralize individuals and damage human community.  They write, for example, of futuristic highly-skilled classical pianists or athletes who know that their parents purchased strong musical or athletic genes for them, and of the existential crises caused regarding the source of, and credit for, their respective accomplishments.  They observe that democracy will become untenable if some use these technologies to create a master race.  They view these threats to community as prospective, though imminent, as cloning and gene manipulation research continues in earnest.

These warnings are, at once, an exaggeration and an understatement.  They are an exaggeration because, although genomic research has enabled scientists to identify the effects of many DNA sequences, we are still a while (vagueness deliberate) away from having a clearer sense of which genes influence many other traits.  They are also an exaggeration because many have observed that, to date, gene manipulation efforts reveal that genes cannot often be simply cut and pasted, one for another, especially without causing serious unanticipated effects.

….Even if genetic manipulation or cloning never become possible, the eugenic age is already well underway and is accepted by our consumer-sovereign society.  If prospective parents don’t like their unborn’s genes, they can, and often do, end the life.  For example, over 90 percent of fetuses diagnosed with Downs Syndrome are aborted. Not in some futuristic hell, but today, we are ending disability through a medically mediated rendering of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” by purging the disabled.

In a society that increasingly and appropriately declines to execute even serial killers, it seems inconsistent to effectively impose prenatal capital punishment/genocide on the disabled.  Consider further the effects of genetic screening on the self-perception of the able-bodied.  How does it feel to know you were born because you met the standards of your parents and a quality control inspector?  In place of unconditional love, reprotech allows the introduction of discrimination with regard to human dignity based on biological, psychological or educational development, or based on health-related criteria.

Some commentators have suggested that eugenic abortion or embryo selection could be legislatively limited to genes with “life-or-death” diseases. That proposal does not inspire confidence….

Most parents will de-select embryos or abort fetuses whose genes suggest they will someday have MS, ALS, breast cancer or Huntington’s.  These conditions seldom kill, or even afflict, the young.  Besides, as many have observed, the lines between disease and trait or cure and enhancement are quite blurry.  What will be the legislative status of embryos that have genes for schizophrenia?  Deafness?  Depression?  Below average intelligence or height?  Even limiting either genetic manipulation or embryo selection for seemingly esthetic purposes seems impossible, given society’s and the law’s strong support for reproductive choice.  And with reproductive choice as the guiding principle, how will we prohibit parthenogenesis, artificial wombs or chimeras?

….As the number of people with imperfections decreases, society’s acceptance of, and support groups and services for, the imperfect will shrink.  Stanford Law Professor Hank Greely has predicted that, given these competitive pressures, within 50 years, most Americans will be the product of IVF.   While allowing for some incorrect predictions in individual cases, genetic screening will cause the social stratification and personal alienation that the commentators fear, even without the genetic manipulation they foresee….

IVF fits squarely within this model of providing elective treatments for the affluent, while the poor do without basic goods and services, and medical care, in the United States and, especially, abroad.  The typical IVF cycle costs $12,000 and multiple cycles are common.  Insurance coverage for IVF is legislatively mandated in 15 of the most populous states.  By itself, IVF adds over 5 percent to medical insurance premiums. The insurance cost of IVF grows sharply when the inflated costs of post-natal care for IVF offspring are considered.  A recent study concluded that twins cost six times ($105,000) and triplets twenty times ($400,000) more than do single babies. Multiple births have increased six-fold because IVF often involves the implantation of multiple embryos.  In a lengthy article in the  New York Times Magazine entitled “The Two Minus One Pregnancy” (2012), we learn that multiples are often reduced in number, in utero, by injections of potassium chloride into the hearts of the “excess,” seemingly weaker, fetuses….

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