The Telegraph reports on an article in the UK Reader’s Digest by Julian Savulescu, the editor in chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics:
Professor Julian Savulescu said that creating so-called designer babies could be considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better children”.
“Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?” wrote Prof Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor in practical ethics.
“So where genetic selection aims to bring out a trait that clearly benefits an individual and society, we should allow parents the choice.
“To do otherwise is to consign those who come after us to the ball and chain of our squeamishness and irrationality.”
The Telegraph article is unclear about whether Savelescu was promoting genetic selection (screening embryos and choosing the desired one), or genetic manipulation (correcting or replacing undesirable genes), or both. But a look through Savulescu’s article shows he was referring to the first. He speaks only of the type of screening currently being done to determine if certain abnormalities are present, recommending we expand that practice into other characteristics.
I’ve talked about this before: When discussing designer babies, the wording is usually crafted to make it sound like they are trying to make sure your child is better off than he would have been (see for example, the subtitle of the Telegraph article: “Genetically screening our offspring to make them better people...” [emphasis mine])—as if they’re improving the traits of your child. But they are not. What they are actually doing is choosing which one of your many already-created children looks the best. They let him live and kill the rest.
In other words, they’re not actually improving anyone or giving anyone a better “opportunity for a great life.” They’re creating many children and consigning all but one to death.
Whenever people start talking about “designer babies,” watch for this linguistic sleight of hand. Though they try to hide all of those other embryonic humans behind the curtain, hoping you won’t notice the part those human beings are playing in this grotesque experiment, always remember that this process is about more than one child.
Prof Savulescu goes on to say in his article that eugenics is a “moral obligation” to society:
Indeed, when it comes to screening out personality flaws, such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and dispositions to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children. They are, after all, less likely to harm themselves and others. That doesn’t necessarily imply that people should be coerced into making a choice, but we should encourage them.
When I wrote about designer babies earlier this year, it was in the context of individuals narcissistically fulfilling their personal preferences, but notice how the Reader’s Digest article is moving the discussion from personal preference to “moral obligation,” which lays the groundwork for possible future legal obligation—or at the very least, community pressure.
As bioethicist Wesley J. Smith warns:
Eugenics originated as a “moral obligation,” moved from there to legal coercion, and ultimately crescendoed into the worst evils of human history. And now many of those same ideas have regained sufficient respectability the Reader’s Digest editors think them worthy of respectable presentation. This won’t end well.