In the “Body&Soul” section of the New York Post this week, a story appeared that reported an increase in parties and products tailored to couples that wish to make “child-free announcements.” These couples, according to the story, are purchasing “vasectomy cakes” for parties, along with “Cats, Not Brats” helium balloons.
Writer Anna Davies recounts a candlelit party at which a couple assembled their loved ones to break some momentous news. The wife clinked her glass and said, “We have an announcement to make…” Her husband then piped up, “We’re having a vasectomy!” Much clapping ensued.
Huxley’s Brave New World is here but it seems less brave than bad and sad. It is a culture of mutilations, abortions, eugenics, frozen and forgotten embryos, embryos treated as guinea pigs for research, children with no parents, children with too many parents. The latter — “three-parent” babies — is the latest product of that culture’s endless experimentation.
“Three-parent babies bring hope to families with deadly disease,” ran one headline this week. But even some otherwise enthusiastic proponents of IVF culture found the news of the child’s birth in Mexico unsettling.
“A reported world-first in fertility therapy — a baby boy conceived with a controversial technique that mixes DNA from three people — has made headlines across the world. But with no way of verifying the claim because the specialists behind the procedure aren’t releasing data until October, some researchers are questioning the ethics of the procedure,” according to Nature.
The first concern is that the experiment was conducted in Mexico, which is a Wild West of reproductive medicine. The lead researcher, John Zhang, has said he chose Mexico because it has “no rules” governing embryo modification. The second concern is that an experiment undertaken in the name of eliminating disease is likely to spread it.
Reported Nature: “‘They just went ahead and did it,’ says David Clancy, who studies mitochondrial biology at Lancaster University, UK. ‘The number of issues that are still unresolved — it’s just staggering.’”
Among the unknowns is the possibility that the technique could transfer some diseased mitochondria from the mother into the donor egg along with the nucleus. According to Zhang’s abstract, 5% of the embryo’s mitochondrial DNA was carried over along with the mother’s nucleus — while mitochondrial DNA samples taken from the baby after birth varied from tissue to tissue and suggested a level of faulty DNA that was at most 1.6%.
Not mentioned in most of the stories about the baby are the deaths of the other embryos involved in the experimental trials that led to it. That has become so commonplace it doesn’t even figure into the concerns of bioethicists anymore. Their hesitations instead focus on what the procedure might mean for future generations, as Slate has noted:
According to a 2014 New York Times Magazine feature, at an open-door meeting of the FDA in February 2014, Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society said, ‘These manipulations are not meant to treat people who are sick and suffering. … What we’re talking about is radical experiments on future children and future generations.”
The Times’ Kim Tingley writes that Darnovky was followed by several others voicing concerns, including Enola Aird, of Mothers for a Human Future, who referenced the 1997 dystopian science-fiction film Gattaca and warned that “Allowing the creation of children with genetic material from three or more parents would open the door to the alteration of the human species and the creation of different biological ‘Gattaca’-like classes of human beings and the dissolution of our common humanity.”
For every problem this macabre culture seeks to eliminate, it creates multiple new ones. It prides itself on lowering the number of diseases, even as it increases the number of deaths. But in a grim irony the “perfect” child to which it aims will turn out to be as unfortunate as the orphans of the past, reduced to confusion about the identity of his or her biological parents.
What was once a tragedy is now a deliberate strategy. The slogan “every child a wanted child” always gave off a eugenic chill, but now it becomes even more explicitly eugenic, as it means in effect every child a perfect child, a test few children will pass in a boutique culture that prizes “cats, not brats.”