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"In vitro eugenics" straight from Brave New World

*subhead*Huxley Wins*subhead*
I read somewhere that while both George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World contained dystopian futures, Huxley's world, where humans are made in "hatcheries" and the people were kept compliant, not by the threat of Big Brother, but by the numbing of their senses with the pleasure-inducing drug "soma," was a more plausible scenario.

After reading "In vitro eugenics" by Dr. Robert Sparrow in the Journal of Medical Ethics, I have to agree. Dr. Sparrow explores the possibility of creating embryos in the lab, then using the stem cells from those embryos to create egg and sperm cells, and then using those gametes to create more embryos. Essentially, this would take human reproduction into the laboratory not just for one generation, but for generation after generation. These embryos would be "orphaned at conception." They "would have no genetic parents: there would be no living individual—or indeed individual that had ever lived—who could be described as the genetic progenitor of such embryos." Sparrow calls this "in vitro eugenics":
In particular, it might allow what I will call ‘in vitro eugenics’: the deliberate breeding of human beings in vitro by fusing sperm and egg derived from different stem-cell lines to create an embryo and then deriving new gametes from stem cells derived from that embryo, which in turn might be used in the creation of another embryo. Repeated iterations of this process would allow scientists to proceed through multiple human generations ‘in the lab’.
Unfortunately, this technology of producing egg and sperm from stem cells is no longer science fiction. Scientists have already accomplished this in mice and are discussing and developing strategies to doing the same in humans.

Sparrow goes on to discuss the practical and ethical issues surrounding "in vitro eugenics." He also discusses possible uses. First, he says this technique will be used to study disease. But it won't end there. This may be a "method to bring into existence children with a desired genotype." Sparrow elaborates:
Once researchers have succeeded in creating several generations of embryos in the laboratory in the course of researching the genetics of disease, a question will inevitably arise about implanting embryos created through in vitro eugenics into the womb of a woman in order to bring a new individual into the world. Moreover, this question is likely to arise with some urgency because of the potential of in vitro eugenics to serve as a powerful technology of ‘human enhancement’. If it becomes possible to breed human beings in vitro, it will be possible to use all of the techniques of artificial selection to produce embryos with desirable genomes. In effect, scientists will be able to breed human beings with the same (or greater) degree of sophistication with which we currently breed plants and animals. Importantly, there are currently several influential bioethicists [one being Julian Salvulescu] who argue that we are morally obligated—or, at least, have strong moral reasons to—enhance future human beings. Implanting embryos that have been bred for above-species-typical capacities into the wombs of willing women would be one way to achieve this goal.
Here I will quote a passage from the first chapter of Huxley's fictional Brave New World where a group of students are visiting the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. The Director explains Bokanovsky's Process, the technique of the mass-creation of "lower" classes of human embryos (Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons) from another embryo (fertilized egg):
One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.
If there was a fantasy "fiction-becoming-reality" league, I would be wearing a t-shirt that says "Team Huxley."

(The irony that Aldous Huxley's older brother, Julian, was president of the British Eugenics Society, and now Aldous' vision is being called "in vitro eugenics" is not lost on me. Then again, maybe it is not irony. Maybe it is just that Aldous truly understood the nature of eugenics.)

Can I just say here how right the Church was, and still is, about the dangers of separating procreation from sex? Once you sever that natural pairing, truly anything goes.

I know what you are thinking. What about safety? How can this possibly continue? Surely the concern for the health and safety of the children produced with "in vitro eugenics" will stop this from ever coming to pass?

Well, Sparrow says we won't really care about safety. We didn't care about the long-term health risks to the children with IVF and other artificial reproductive technologies like ICSI and PGD before we went ahead with those, so we won't care about safety issues with "in vitro eugenics" either:
However, there are a number of reasons to believe that concerns about safety and risk are unlikely to prove an insurmountable barrier to the ethical creation of designer babies by in vitro eugenics. To begin with, as I noted above, these concerns arise regarding every new reproductive technology involving the manipulation of embryos. Until a generation of children produced by IVF (or intracytoplasmic sperm injection or cytoplasmic transfer) have lived out their natural lifespan, we will not know whether IVF (or any of these other technologies) is safe—and we certainly did not know this at the time at which those technologies were first trialled. Thus, in vitro eugenics would not raise any issues we have not confronted before.
I am afraid he is right. Soma anyone?

Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Grrr. I'd love to take this article back in time (1995) when I was trying to get across to a group of Catholic women JUST WHY the Church took its position on IVF. "Oh, but it's just about an infertile couple who desperately want a baby!" That was their argument. Given all that has transpired in the last two decades, I wonder if any of them has had a change of heart.

- Elodie

Proteios1 said...

1. This is what is done to our food chain. Both plants and animals. Engineer strains of cow, pig, chicken, corn, soybean, etc. are proprietary, widely distributed.
2. Government control maybe. Or a catalog of predictable children so parents have a limited selection of 'safe' traits, aesthetic or physical or IQ, but with other traits bred in...passivity, etc. the government L.E.A.F. Fr those encryption nuts.
3. This will decimate all other forms of normal reproduction through either legislation, tax burden or downright imprisonment. Heck. Homeschooling is illegal in some European countries, believe it or not. Prison time. Yikes.
4. Then, if a handful of Catholics can survive underground as we always have. We will start again...the problem with these strains is the lack of diversity in a constantly changing ecosystem. Once a virus or bacteria evolves and is able to wipe out these species. It all goes. Look at many of the bovine encephalitis, potatoe famines of past centuries, etc. one sweep through a genome and death rtes will wipe it all out.
This won't be pretty, but all the evidence in plants and animals used in the food chain is there. It's a risk. The way it's sustained in the food chain is hardcore antibiotic, hormone and pesticide use. Hmm, that sounds yummy.

Sand Mama said...

My biggest fear in this is what happens to the children who are essentially the property of the corporations that create them? What we are talking about here is a new kind of slavery. It is looking more and more like the world of 'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro is around the corner...

Lynda said...

This is Satan's work. That such things can even be thought of is a clear sign of how far gone people are.

Dave said...

Want a scarier thought. What if they sterilize all newborns so this will be the only way to procreate. God help us!

Mary De Voe said...

Will the human being thus created have an immortal soul or will he be Frankenstein?...and turn on his maker? What Dave said is true, Man will become the property of the corporation. Man, the sovereign person will be owned by the artificial person. Criminal and unscupulous.

Billgx said...

It might have been Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" where you read about the comparison between Orwell and Huxley. I hadn't read "Brave New World" before I read Postman, but when I did I was blown away by how prescient Huxley was back in the 1930's.

Synthetic music; that's an iPod. To Postman, our Soma was TV, but the Internet hadn't been invented yet. Huxley predicted contraceptive drugs, and the promiscuity they would enable. And they are currently working on artificial wombs. Why wouldn't women opt out of childbearing if they could let machines do that job? In Huxley's world, biological parents become irrelevant. We're working hard on making that one a reality, too. If you ask me, it's a little eerie he could see what was coming in such detail.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

I re-read Brave New World on a regular basis. It is amazing how prophetic this atheist was and he certainly doesn't portray his dystopia as anything but the road to despair as the ending of the story shows. The human heart can never be satisfied by lust, or drugs, or anything the world has to offer. As Augustine said (in my paraphrased way) O Lord, you made our hearts for Thee and ever restless will they be until they rest in Thee.

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