Gattaca Redux

“Genetically superior” people are obligated to procreate, and “genetically inferior” people are obligated to restrain themselves from producing offspring.

The above statement is essentially the sediment, which remained after distilling a conversation I had with my doctor a few days ago. What he actually said, was something to the effect that if people such as me – being a person who seems to have no serious genetic frailties or hereditary black cats crossing my path in life - generated the majority of the offspring for the race known as human, there would be a little (a lot?) less pain & suffering in the world today. Nothing but an idle fantasy to be sure, but just as a thought experiment, what kind of merit does this statement warrant?

Let’s define the terms.

Genetically superior: Those people whose offspring will be less likely to have serious health concerns. Let’s make the term more PC and say “Preferred Fornicator”.

Genetically inferior: Those people whose offspring have a higher chance of being born with a debilitating disease due to a known (“known” = established from hereditary data) predisposition. I can’t think of the PC term, anything I come up with sounds just as insulting.

Examples:

Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a muscle-wasting disease that leaves young boys wheelchair-bound by age 12 and generally kills them by age 20 when the muscles that control their breathing fail.

Cystic fibrosis, a disease that seriously impairs breathing and digestion.

Huntington’s disease, a fatal, autosomal dominant neurological illness causing involuntary movements, severe emotional disturbance and cognitive decline.

Then for good measure we can toss in coronary disease, cancer & diabetes. These are diseases that can arise without a strong genetic link, however those with a family history of these diseases are somewhat more predisposed to becoming afflicted. Because of this, the artificial selection method suggested here would certainly not eliminate these (and many other) diseases, but would perhaps reduce their frequency of occurrence by a modest percentage.

As an example, let’s say that a casual study of my family’s hereditary tendencies reveals that my offspring has a 25% chance of being born with Proteus Syndrome (the affliction that Joseph Cary Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man, is thought to have suffered from) and yet I decide to reproduce anyway. If my offspring ends up being born a monster, I have placed a rather large burden not only upon myself, but also upon the shoulders of other taxpayers, as they now have to foot the bill for any assistance for which I may qualify (SSI, Medicare, etc). Worse, I have condemned the child to a short lifetime of emotional & physical misery. I (or the obstetrician) might be hit with a wrongful birth lawsuit. And there is probably more disaster on the horizon yet unforeseen.

In the above scenario, I am clearly not a preferred fornicator (PF). In my opinion it was negligent (bordering on cruel) of me to have had a child. Hopefully I would be responsible enough to take it upon myself not to play Russian Roulette with my offspring, but “hopefullys” don’t count in this thought experiment.

And I don’t want to touch upon the question of government enforcement, then it really would be Gattaca. Then we have the sticky issues such as “where do we draw the line?” to deal with. But perhaps government encouragement? Say, discounts on diapers & baby food when you present your PF card at the Safeway. After all, purely from a cold, heartless but efficient point of view it would benefit society to have fewer people dependent on public assistance, fewer people wasting away in hospital beds with Tay-Sach’s disease. Society becomes, in a sense, healthier. More capable. More productive. Shouldn’t this be in everybody’s interest?

The latest methods that are attempting to address this issue are genetic engineering & cloning. These methods draw protests on religious grounds, or are criticized as being contrary to natural law. Establishing a system wherein reproduction is discouraged for certain “flawed” genetic lines should be more acceptable for those who object to gene splicing & cloning (“playing God”). It is, in a sense, humanity taking the bull by its horns and applying the principles of artificial selection to achieve a better tomorrow.

But as long as we leave out government enforcement, all we can do to steer society in this direction is preach about the virtues of such methodology and hope that the collective conscience of the reproductive public responds.

Your thoughts?

That movie really annoyed me when (spoilers follow)

The crew of the Saturn probe board the spaceship while wearing jackets and ties! That’s taking fashion sense too far!

Since this is purely a thought experiment about the quality of humanity, I give you my thought-experimental take:[ol][]Find a really good birth control method;[]Randomly pool a whole bunch of preferred fornicators’ (PF’s) eggs and sperm;[]Artificially fertilize a random PF’s egg with a randomly selected PF’s sperm;[]Have a “suitable” baby-raiser (SBR)–no working women, please; no crabby women; no Twiggies; etc.–implanted with the fertilized egg;[]Have nice PF baby born to a psychologically-nice Surroga-Mom–PF or nay is indifferent[]Have pleasant, happy, Surroga-Mom raise nice, happy, psychologically sound, pro-Libertarian PF child.[/ol]Oh, gee. This system is almost exactly how we used to produce and raise children before the notion that children are parental property took root. Hmmm.

Attrayant, your doctor doesn’t seem to understand genetics. Or, more accurately, he doesn’t understand that we don’t understand genetics.

Determining “genetic health” on the basis of whether or not you are a carrier of the gene for this or that illness is overly narrow. The carrier for Huntington’s disease, for example, may also be the carrier of a set of genes that, in combination with the other parent’s genes, may produce the next Einstein. Indeed, for all we know, the gene for Huntington’s may also be the gene needed to produce the next Einstein.

Further, actually having a genetic disease does not mean you shouldn’t have been born. Example A - Steven Hawkings.

Sua

Eugenics is simply evil (great example using Hawkins, Sua), but let’s look at some of the nuts and bolts problems anyway.

How do we determine what is a “bad gene” and what is a “good gene” when most genes have multiple functions? Take the classic example of the recessive gene that causes Sickle Cell Anemia. O copies = normal and healthy. 2 copies = very, very sick. 1 copy = normal, healthy, and resistant to malaria. Do we breed malarial resistance out in order to breed out Sickle Cell? In this example who is “Genetically Superior”?

Also, since our knowledge is limited, we can not be certain that the genes for Parkinsons, Hodgkins, etc do not also perform beneficial functions. Breeding them out would be foolishly short sighted. Even if we could be certain that the gene set for Lou Gehrigs performs no other functions, we can’t be sure it won’t ever. The carriers might be resistant to the next plague - we can’t predict that.

Shrinking a gene pool is never a good idea. The more diverse we are the less likely we are going to go the way of the dutch elm.