The term “designer baby” is a derogative term for the use of reproductive and genetic technologies to accomplish an optimal recombination of the parents’ genes. This case argues that the voluntary use of genetic technologies, as well as prenatal screening and abortion is both moral and desirable. It does not address the morality of abortion (defended in this case) or the safety of particular technologies – an important consideration, but not a fundamental issue.
Parents ought to want healthy children
While there are many valid motivations to become a parent, in choosing to create a human being, parents assume a moral obligation to provide for and educate their children to become independent, mature adults. Beyond the legal obligation of providing minimum care, to the extent that parents love and value their children (and there is no reason to have children otherwise), parents ought to strive to maximize their child’s ability to become fully functional adult human beings – physically, spiritually, socially, romantically, etc. This means providing both appropriate education, and taking care of their physical needs.
Health can be objectively defined in relation to the requirements of human life
It is possible to make judgments about which mental and physical states are objectively superior in relation to other states. For example, a broken leg, a bout of flu, or a headache are undesirable because they prevent one from accomplishing a whole range of actions which are required for human life. We recognize this when we use technology (medicine) to help people overcome and heal from their injuries and illnesses. The same applies to genetic physical and mental deformities, which adversely impact one’s ability to accomplish his values. If someone suffers from clinical depression or schizophrenia, we offer them drugs that improve their ability to use reason to deal with reality and achieve the values they desire. If healthy, successful, productive human life is a value, then it is moral to use all available technology to maximize human potential to achieve the values they desire.
Biotechnology adds new tools to an ancient arsenal of genetic techniques for better offspring
If health is desirable and can be objectively defined, then parents ought to choose to have healthy children. They do this in a variety of means: Genetically, humans instinctively seek mates likely to produce healthy offspring – this is the basis of selective sexual attraction based on physical traits. Consciously, parents choose partners who share their child-rearing values. They also take measures to prevent child defects, such as abstaining from drugs during pregnancy and choosing to have children earlier in their life. Genetic counseling and prenatal screening are just two new tools for enhancing an ancient process.
The Gattaca objection confuses the potential for the actual
The Gattaca objection to screening undesirable traits is that people with undesirable traits have made many valuable contributions, and are capable of living fully productive lives. Supporters often give examples of great scientists like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawkins with genetic or developmental abnormalities, or of people with serious impairments such as Down Syndrome who nevertheless hold jobs and assume most of the functions of normal adults.
This objection confuses between the seen and the unseen. What we see is that many people with undesirable traits are unusually successful, either in relation the average person, or to people with their symptoms. What we don’t see are all the people who failed to achieve their values because of their symptoms. If their genotype or embryo had been eliminated before birth, the unhealthy people would not exist, but an equal number of healthy people would. Unless the undesirable symptom itself contributed to their success, the percentage of unusually successful healthy people would be far higher than the number of extraordinarily successful unhealthy people. Certainly, healthy people would have a better chance at a normal life than someone with a chronic syndrome such as Down Syndrome, Tay-Sachs, or Spina bifida.
Genetic diversity is valuable – but only if it is used to enhance human life, not impair it
The “neurodiversity” movement opposes genetic screening on the grounds that atypical neurological development should be recognized and respected. The movement has a valid point insofar as neurodiversity has played a critical part in the development of human civilization. If every human being had exactly the same intelligence and developed in the same way, we would have no great scientists, artists, intellectuals, or entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, the neurodiversity advocates only support “diversity” when it is due to ignorance, not conscious choice. They support a baby being born with Autism, Parkinson’s disease, dyslexia, or other disorders because the parents had no choice in the matter, but they oppose giving the parents the power to choose to have a child which is healthier than he would “naturally” be. If most parents could consciously choose what traits to give their children, they might prefer more intelligence, curiosity, a longer life, or stronger muscles. These are also varieties of genetic diversity.
Objections to genetic counseling and gene engineering are ultimately objections to technology
Few parents would choose to have their children be born blind, deaf, retarded, or crippled. Yet this is precisely what the “diversity” advocates want: to prevent parents from being able to improve on the “natural” forms of biodiversity. Traits due to sexual selection, random genetic mutation, and embryonic variation are acceptable to them, but traits due to conscious human choice are not.
Genetic screening via sexual selection has been practiced since the dawn of life itself. No one suggests that we should pick a mate entirely at random, so the objection to genetic screening and engineering is due to the element of technology. Their objections are not to “designer babies” as such, but to the use of technology to improve the lives of human beings. They apply equally to a child whose genes are altered after birth, or to an adult. The logical conclusion of this neo-luddism is the opposition of all man-made improvements to human life as “unnatural.”