May 19 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Health & Medicine Year: General Rating: 7 Hot
By Dick Pelletier
Science fiction has been preoccupied with technologies to control the characteristics of our children ever since Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Now, experts say, human eugenics and the dream of creating genetically-engineered superhumans is about to become reality.
As a species we’ve always looked for ways to be faster, stronger, smarter, and live longer. Many enhancements we take for granted today; blood transfusions, vaccinations, and birth control, seemed unnatural or immoral when first introduced. Yet over time we’ve become accustomed to these controls over our minds and bodies, and have used them to better ourselves and our world.
At the turn of the 20th century, eugenics in America took the form of state-mandated sterilization for people with mental retardation, or somehow deemed to be a dreg on the public. Margaret Sanger started Planned Parenthood during this time to help rid society of the genetically unfit. In Nazi Germany during World War II, eugenics took the form of the Holocaust.
Though the idea of creating designer babies goes against much of our bioethical thinking, over the next two decades, says Futurist Magazine writer Eric Swedin, we will see an ever increasing number of humans born with enhanced genetic characteristics.
Some level of eugenics exists today as evidenced when parents wish for a specific gender in their child. More than 2,000 couples have spent $20,000 each for gender-selection treatments offered by pioneer Doctor Jeffrey Steinberg at clinics in Los Angeles and Phoenix. (cont.)
‘Family balancing’ is the refrain heard most, Steinberg says; “usually couples have four or five children of one sex and desperately want a child of the opposite sex”.
Using a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD); doctors remove several eggs from the mother and fertilize them with the father’s sperm. They extract one cell from each embryo, determine its sex; and then implant a fertilized egg with the desired gender into the mother’s womb and bring the baby to term.
Bioethicists argue that the technique could aggravate world gender imbalances. The process also alarms those with concerns over the fate of unused embryos, since many believe human life begins with creation of the embryo.
Steinberg stresses that his clients mostly opt to keep unused eggs rather than discard them, and he stresses that the technique is more humane than aborting fetuses, or practicing infanticide – the killing of female babies – which has become routine in India and China.
Researchers also use PGD to screen babies for cancer and other genetic afflictions. It doesn’t make sense, proponents say, to bring a diseased child into the world to suffer horrendous pain and cause financial hardships for the family.
The age-old science of eugenics is taking on a new, more positive 21st century shape. Swedin sees a rush of record-breaking athletes, science geniuses, and entrepreneurial wizards on the horizon. New biomedical technologies make it inevitable that society will soon experience startlingly new and profound changes in its offspring.
A breathtaking time is unfolding over the next two decades as we strive to use biotechnology to make ourselves stronger, smarter, less prone to violence, and longer-lived. Can humanity achieve these incredible goals? Forward-thinkers believe it can – and many alive today will live to witness this “magical future”.