Babies without Sex

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture

By Jennifer Lahl, CBC President

Last December I was invited to tape a show for Dr. Oz, which aired in January of 2012. It is hard to explain what it’s like to tape a show in front of a live audience. There are all the pragmatic realities—such as the very early wake-up call for hair and make-up, show prep, hours of waiting and the sobering fact that you cannot fully control your message.

How Old is Too Old to Have a Baby?

In a scholarly article, Is Maternal Age an Independent Risk Factor for Fetal Loss?, investigators concluded that there is an increased risk of fetal loss with increasing maternal age in women aged more than 30 years. “Fetal loss is high in women in their late 30s or older, irrespective of reproductive history. This should be taken into consideration in pregnancy planning and counseling.”

 

Trent Arsenault, The Serial Sperm Donor

A self-described donor-sexual (100% of Trent’s sexual energy goes into making sperm and is not expended on having sex), virgin, and a father of 15 children and counting, Trent is part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself, altruistic sperm donors who connect through online sites like craigslist or facebook to give away their sperm in order to help someone have a baby.

Whether these sperm donors think they are doing humanity a favor by spawning their future progeny or they see themselves as benevolent do-gooders by helping couples defray costly insemination procedures, the federal government doesn’t take kindly to this sort of activity. On November 1, 2010, after inspecting Trent’s Fremont, California home “laboratory,” the FDA issued a cease and desist order due to significant violations.

However, Trent seems to show no signs of slowing down his operation, having made a recent television appearance on Anderson, updating his personal website, and continuing to grant interviews.

 
Read More: New York Magazine Profile of Trent.

You hope and pray you get a fair hearing and an opportunity to express your views. Just as important, you want your best points to survive the editing process, which will make or break the impact of your performance. When the show finally aired I was quite pleased! Dr. Oz was definitely fair as a host, and as a medical doctor, he and I actually agreed on the biological reality that delaying childbirth too long can have real, serious and potentially life-threatening risks. (See sidebar for more.)

So much is being discussed these days in the arena of bioethics that I thought I would add yet another cultural trend I find particularly disturbing, babies without sex.

If you’ve never watched the movie Gattaca, it really should be on your list of top films to view this year. Gattaca came out fifteen years ago featuring a society that embraced genetically enhanced children through new biotechnology. At the time, such a notion was purely science fiction. Today you might be shocked to see how much of the biotechnological advancements in the film are now a reality. (Trivia fact: the letters in Gattaca, G – A – T – C, come from the bases in the DNA double-helix: guanine, adenine, thymine and cytosine.)

The main character in the film is Vincent, played by Ethan Hawke. He is one of the last “natural” babies born into a sterile, genetically-enhanced world, where life expectancy and disease likelihood are ascertained at birth. A natural baby was one conceived the old-fashioned way, via male to female sexual intercourse.

Vincent’s antithesis is Jerome, played by Jude Law. Jerome is the genetically superior or gene-rich person created in the lab with all the benefits of modern biotechnology. Sadly, because of an accident, he is paralyzed and lives out his life in a wheelchair. The film pits Vincent against a societal caste system that denies him certain rights, privileges, and opportunities because he’s of a lesser status than Jerome, who up until his accident had led a privileged life.

As a fan of Gattaca, I read with much interest Bruce Goldman’s blog piece, The end of sex?. Goldman, a science writer at Stanford, sat in on Stanford law professor Hank Greely’s talk titled “The End of Sex.” Goldman’s post reported on Greely’s bold assertion that within the next fifty years the majority of babies in developed countries will be made in the lab. Greely assumes, like the writer of Gattaca, that no one will want to leave nature to chance and have natural babies.

Some, perhaps even Greely, would go even further and say it is our duty to use these technologies to insure that society isn’t burdened with natural babies who may come with all those annoying things like disease, the wrong height, hair or eye color, sex, or be of only average intelligence.

Goldman reports that Greely says that as these technologies advance, the costs will go down. Soon, “tossing a measly $5K into the kitty for prenatal genetic diagnosis to predict other, not strictly medical traits from height to sociability to IQ will prove irresistible for people already ready to fork over an extra twenty grand a year for the right preschool.” (Emphasis mine)

One attendee of the seminar, who contacted me privately by email, was extremely unnerved by what she described as Greely’s pleasure that this was the way things were headed, and his condescension at “pro-lifers who will hate this” and “won’t even see it coming.” Why will pro-lifers miss this? Because it won’t start out like Gattaca or Huxley’s Brave New World, but will slip in unnoticed when some sympathetic young couple can’t have their own children because the wife has ovarian cancer. More and more options will be made available to the couple until Gattaca’s science fiction becomes broadly accepted.

That’s how it plays out in Gattaca—a sweet, young, married couple’s first child was born with a heart defect. They find themselves in the doctor’s office being offered all sorts of enhancements and options for making their next baby. They seem hesitant and even tell the doctor they want to leave “some things to chance,” but the doctor reminds them how important it is to give their child the best advantage right from the very beginning.

And what good parent doesn’t want the “best” for their child?

It’s chilling just to type this essay. Babies without sex? It seems that is where we are headed, like it or not. Or should I say, know it or not. We aren’t in the driver’s seat, it appears, but we’re being taken for a very dangerous ride without our consent or even our knowledge.

 
This article originally appeared at tothesource. Reprinted by permission

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