Some people are concerned about genetically modified food, with good reason, but I’m more concerned about genetically modified kids.
One of the aims of the science of genetics is to help us be more healthy and resistant to disease. But an Oxford University bioethicist takes it further — he argues that children should be bioengineered to behave in “ethical” ways. Certain objectionable traits, he says, are genetic, and eliminating them as a child is conceived will lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society.
As the science of genetics advances, we will be able to do more. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. It’s one thing to strive for good health; it’s quite another to fiddle with genes to create (or prevent) a certain personality.
What prospective parent doesn’t want the expected baby to be healthy and strong? And if a medical technique can ensure that outcome, why not?
But the temptation will be great to take it further. Worried about the cost of orthodontics? “One set of white, straight teeth, please.”
Eyeglasses, contact lenses or laser surgery won’t be necessary — perfect eyesight will be on the shopping list.
The decision to have a child is a momentous one, but in the brave new world ahead of us, it would pale in comparison to the negotiating that would follow as the future parents sat down together to draw up specifications for the new arrival. What used to be known as childbirth will become known as “accessorizing the family.”
“Oh, blue eyes, definitely. They’ll go so well with the curtains in the nursery.”
Although the focus should be on a child’s health, I predict that the welfare of the kid will be forgotten about five seconds into the discussion.
“Let’s get the Wayne Gretzky gene. He’ll make an obscene pile of money before he’s 25 and we can retire.”
Vancouver Island parents with their eyes on the future might shop around for genomes similar to those of Diana Krall, Nelly Furtado, Ryder Hesjedal or Steve Nash. Or all of the above — ambition on your kid’s behalf should have no limits, right?
Fads will come and go.
“Oh, I see your Jordan has red hair and green eyes. Born in 2013, was she? Very 2013, that combination.”
It’s fashionable these days to blame your parents for what you have (or haven’t) become. In the future, kids could have even better grounds for blaming their parents for how things turned out. The kid you had genetically programmed to thrive in Victoria’s mild climate phones you from his new job to complain that you should have provided more resistance to cold. (You try to bring them up right and they still move to Alberta.)
Tinker with genes all you want, but experience tells me children will insist on being individuals. Even if you get the hair colour you want, the kid will probably dye it purple. Order a perfect set of ears, and chances are they will be loaded down with more hardware than Canadian Tire.
That musical genius you ordered might decide she likes auto mechanics better than music lessons.
The one you thought would be a professional basketball player could turn out to be totally uninterested in things athletic.
And that’s how it should be. There are no guarantees in this business of raising kids. The thrills (and chills) come from watching them to see how they turn out.
And how they turn out depends more on how they’re taught and treated than on their genetic makeup.
If scientists say certain genes are associated with some types of objectionable behaviour, I won’t argue, but we are more than the sum of our genes. We succeed through developing strengths, overcoming weaknesses and developing talents, not from a menu of genetic material.
Don’t worry about the genes you give your children — give them love, morals, discipline, a love for learning and a strong sense of self-worth, and they’ll be equipped to build a good life.
© Copyright 2013