Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Britain considers ban on choosing baby's sex

The British health minister, Caroline Flint, included the idea among others proposed in a review of health regulations.

Health Minister Caroline Flint told MPs she was minded to introduce a "clear and specific ban" on the use of new techniques to choose one gender of baby.

Allowing parents to pick sex for reasons such as "balancing" the make-up of their family could be the start of a "slippery slope" to designer babies, she warned.

There are plenty of other things in the article that could spark a discussion, but for the moment let's focus on this.

She's talking about fertility clinics. What she proposes outlawing is any method of screening eggs or sperm for desired characteristics -- gender, hair color, whatever -- before implantation.

My question is: why? Why is this the government's business? Why should anyone care? If they're only going to implant a subset of the eggs anyway, why shouldn't they be able to pick which eggs?

And if they use a technique such as sperm washing, which occurs prior to fertilization, there's even less reason for anyone to care.

I can see one long-term concern. By allowing us to select for specific traits we could end up harming our species' genetic diversity, become something of a monoculture genetically speaking. Which could have large ramifications down the road, from susceptibility to disease to the ability of our species to survive calamities. But that would require mass selection for a small number of traits. So the concern is more theoretical than real.


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