Designer Baby Revolution: Can We Outlaw Sexual Reproduction?
By Cameron English — August 30, 2021
Could governments mandate that we quit reproducing sexually for the sake of public health? It sounds outlandish, but there are prominent thinkers making that case.
Their argument is superficially plausible but ultimately absurd, both for scientific and ethical reasons.
…. However this particular dispute ends, the opposing sides and the underlying point of contention, who controls your body, aren’t going anywhere soon.
The reason is that advances in health care are enabling physicians to identify the genetic underpinnings of serious diseases and take preventative measures before their patients suffer the debilitating effects of these disorders.
Using in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT), prospective parents can choose which embryo they want before a pregnancy begins based on that embryo’s polygenic risk score (PRS), its chances of developing certain diseases.
IVF and embryo screening have been used for years, but advances in whole genome analysis are allowing scientists to target diseases influenced by many mutations, not just Mendelian disorders linked to single genes.
Eventually this capability could extend to selecting for traits like height, intelligence and strength.
Considered on its own, that’s an impressive development. But when we evaluate this technology alongside the ethical baggage it carries, all sorts of awkward questions materialize.
Here’s perhaps the most important one: If parents can reduce their risk of bringing disease-prone children into the world, should they be forced to do so?
Citing the existing vaccine controversy, some commentators say “yes.” Preventing sickness and death is the ethical thing to do, they argue …
…Say goodbye to “my body, my choice” arguments
An even greater issue arises when coercion enters the picture, however.
If the government can literally dictate how you reproduce, any argument based on bodily autonomy goes out the window.
Consider this related scenario. In the coming decades, it will be possible to gestate a baby in vitro for all nine months of a pregnancy, no mother required.
This invites all sorts of ethically fraught issues, as RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy explained:
As artificial wombs arrive and push the age of fetal viability earlier and earlier, the debate over abortion will transition to one over ‘extraction.’ Imagine a world where the developing embryo is viable immediately at conception.
Under current laws, states could potentially prohibit mothers from killing the fetus and require them instead to undergo an extraction procedure to place it in an artificial womb until it is ready to survive outside as a fully-formed baby.
If the state can mandate that you implant certain embryos, why couldn’t it also require “extraction” instead of abortion should you decide to terminate a pregnancy?
Some feminist scholars have asserted that fetuses don’t have a right to exist if their mothers don’t want them to, but this answer “looks problematically ad hoc,” as some philosophers have pointed out in response.
Besides, why should you have a say in what happens to a child you don’t want when public health officials disagree? Don’t be so selfish; your country needs you!
These are, I concede, creepy Handmaid’s Tale-inspired scenarios; we are many years away from confronting these sorts of policy questions, and the regulatory framework to do so is still under debate.
That said, such outcomes are not beyond possibility in a world where reproduction is treated as a public good.
If we give governments the power to dictate how we reproduce, don’t be surprised when they expand that authority over related issues. Mission creep in government bureaucracies is a well-documented phenomenon.
This has always been the logic underlying arguments against mandatory vaccination. We’re beginning to see why that decades-old argument is so important.