By Chris Wetzel, PFI Intern
Like most prophets, Aldous Huxley is without honor in his own country. Eighty years ago, Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World warned of a future Britain where children are manufactured to precise specifications with fertilization done by machines in an assembly line. Now David Cameron, Prime Minister of Huxley’s native Great Britain, is supporting a new in-vitro fertilization technique that uses DNA from three or more parents.
The UK’s Daily Mail reports glibly that the technique “could eradicate devastating genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy” by replacing the flawed piece of parental DNA with DNA from a third-party donor. The article touches lightly on ethical questions, giving the impression that they are mere unfortunate hurdles in the inevitable march of progress. To the contrary, the ethical questions surrounding this technique are several and serious.
Can a third donor be employed only to prevent disease or also to “correct” questions of preference like gender, eye-color, or height? Advocates of the three (or more)-parent approach would assure us that the technique will only be used to correct genetic diseases and disabilities, but this requires the exceedingly delicate task of defining what constitutes disability or disease. Does a baby boy projected to be 4’9” have a height disability meriting correction via a third donor or is he merely short? Should he be “corrected” to 5’7” or 6’6”?
Indeed, what is to prevent collaboration among exceedingly gifted individuals in various fields from pooling their DNA to produce children genetically advantaged in everything from intelligence to athleticism to attractiveness? The argument that use of the technique would be carefully circumscribed fails to recognize that the power of regulating when the technique may be used will soon pass from the hands of today’s advocates if it ever rests with them to begin with.
Brave New World’s depiction is especially prescient because it reveals another inevitable consequence of manipulating DNA and especially of drawing that DNA from sources other than natural parents—the severe altering or elimination of the family. Children in Brave New World are scandalized by the idea of family, and “mother” is considered a dirty word in the Huxleyan society. When DNA is cobbled together from multiple sources, parenthood eventually disappears and with it the family.
Great Britain is not alone in its pursuit of eugenic research. On June 6, the New York Times gleefully reported on a research team at the University of Washington that has sequenced the DNA of an unborn child with 98% accuracy, which allows scientists to detect potential genetic diseases like Down syndrome. Make no mistake, such knowledge will not lead to the elimination of these diseases. What will be eliminated are the human beings who bear them. Unborn children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted at a rate somewhere from 74-92%, even though many afflicted with the disease are capable of leading fulfilling, productive lives. Detection is not a cure, but a eugenic tool used to determine who is and is not worthy of being born or giving birth.
In Brave New World, the lone character who maintains that sex and children should be exclusively the products of marriage, “the Savage,” finds himself in this exchange with World Controller Mustapha Mond:
“We don’t [like inconvenience],” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right, then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
Americans must fight eugenic research to protect the sacred value of all human life and to preserve the family. This means we must choose danger and freedom over comfort and claim the right to be unhappy, for only in a world where there is unhappiness can there be sacrifice, heroism, and love.
For more: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World; Maxwell J. Mehlman, Wondergenes and The Price of Perfection; G.K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils; Lois Lowry, The Giver.