December 06, 2006
Some Select Defects For Their Offspring

An article in the New York Times reports on prospective parents who select for offspring who share their genetically caused disabilities.

Wanting to have children who follow in one’s footsteps is an understandable desire. But a coming article in the journal Fertility and Sterility offers a fascinating glimpse into how far some parents may go to ensure that their children stay in their world — by intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism.

The parents use in vitro fertilization (IVF or test tube babies) combined with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PIGD or PGD) to choose embryos to implant in a woman that will carry a genetic defect that will cause their children to have the same disability that the parents have.

Yet Susannah A. Baruch and colleagues at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University recently surveyed 190 American P.G.D. clinics, and found that 3 percent reported having intentionally used P.G.D. “to select an embryo for the presence of a disability.”

Mind you, they aren't saying that 3% of all PGD uses are to select for disabilities. They are saying 3% of clinics have done this sort of selection at least once. But the article also reports that other clinics have turned down these sorts of requests from potential customers. That raises the possibility that prospective parents will respond by seeking out the clinics that are willing to select for disabilities.

The article points out that while PGD improves the reliability of attempts to select for defects deaf lesbian women have used sperm from deaf sperm donors to achieve this sort of objective. Have any women intentionally chosen donor eggs from genetically defective egg donors as well? My guess is this has already happened and will again.

One of my great worries for the future is over the question of what qualities will people choose for their children when they gain the ability to choose many more genetic characteristics of their offspring. Deaf or dwarf people who choose to have deaf or dwarf offspring are especially troubling for what they say about the potential for humans to make rather clannish decisions to promote creation of separate groups.

I'm especially worried about choices that will determine aspects of personality and instincts. People may decide to give their sons aggressive instincts that, as a side effect, make them more likely to be violent. Or they may cut back on the instinct to carry out altruistic punishment or the capacity to feel empathy so that their kids focus more on their own success.

Genetically caused qualities of human minds make a free society possible. An overlapping but not identical set of genetically caused qualities of the mind make a modern technological society possible. Will those qualities become more or less common when people gain the ability to select genetic variations for their offspring?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 December 06 10:41 PM  Bioethics Reproduction


Comments
hibbs02 said at December 7, 2006 4:28 AM:

The best hope I can see is that fairly quickly we will see the ability to genetically engineer people "on the fly."

With this ability adults will be able to mold their genetics to meet their needs. I can see some college students essentially cutting out things like their sex drive, make alcohol distasteful, etc while amping up memory, concentration, and such while entering college. They could go in for the special on the "Education Success Pack" (ESP) and get through college like Doogie Howser very very quickly.

Then once that period of their life is done they could move on to a different template emphasizing different traits that would increase likelihood of success in their next endeavor. This could provide lots of imbalances and damage as well, but at least it would be "fixable" to a certain extent. For example the ESP could stunt their social growth since the person would interact most with their textbooks but in the next phase they could select for gregariousness and other socially positive traits to help balance that.

Through a 100 year period a person could go through quite a few different personality/physical types and get a feel for each one. In fact there would probably be lots of communities online like there are now with MMORPG's and you'd see postings like:

"help a noob - I'm going into Senior Varsity football this year and talked Mom into getting me some body mods. I've got enough money and recovery time for TWO. Should I go huge: bigger muscles AND muscle density? or should I just up muscle density and then try to increase speed with a nerve/neuron upgrade?" posted by FrontLine57 at 8:53:17am

"Hey FrontLine57 - the muscle density/nerve upgrade is the best if you are a receiver or something and need to maximize your speed while gaining strength. But if you are on the line like your name suggests then I would probably go with bigger muscles. They give you strength and some extra poundage. Sure, they slow you down but you are on the line, so that doesn't matter but the extra mass will come in handy I promise. Then, I might consider opting for the higher pain threshold nerve mod or having some metal structure added to bone over getting a speed nerve mod. Again, if you are on the line then speed is not your main priority. Last year I did all three (muscle/pain/metal) before the school year and I was amazed at how it upped my level of play. For just two? Muscle/Metal IMO and then just suck up the pain. Yeah, with your new mass some of the hits will hurt like hell but with the muscle/metal mods it's not like anything can actually HURT you!" posted by Sack87 at 9:37:42am

The upside of this is there would be lots of scare stories for bad choices and eventually a knowledgeable community of people to help people choose the best templates.

James Bowery said at December 7, 2006 9:27 AM:

the potential for humans to make rather clannish decisions to promote creation of separate groups.

What have you got against speciation?

People may decide to give their sons aggressive instincts that, as a side effect, make them more likely to be violent. Or they may cut back on the instinct to carry out altruistic punishment or the capacity to feel empathy so that their kids focus more on their own success.

What makes you think the current panmictic environment isn't selecting for hypocritical groups that lack the precise characteristics you value?

How do you think those characteristics arose to begin with if not "separate groups" with relatively low rates of genetic exchange?

Why won't you bother reading W. D. Hamilton's "Innate Social Aptitudes of Man"?


The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).

David A. Young said at December 7, 2006 9:28 AM:

I'm a strong advocate for allowing people great latitude in selecting traits for their children (when that becomes possible), but I think a very strong argument can be made that THESE types of choices would fall under the category of child abuse. If a deaf mother took a darning needle and ruptured the ear-drums of her new born child, that would certainly be child abuse (and not just because of the pain involved). Initially, I can't see that this is any different just because it's accomplished pre-birth. The child is not being "enhanced," it's being "disabled." This makes me want to slap somebody.

James Bowery said at December 7, 2006 10:31 AM:

Richard Dawkins also claims that indoctrinating children in religion is "child abuse". No one wants to deal with the fact that the moment you invoke the words "child abuse" you also invoke the state's power to confiscate your children. There are some rights that are more fundamental than others and the most fundamental right of all -- the right from which all other human rights may be derived by voluntary act -- is the absolute right of self-determination of mutually consenting adults forming their own cultures with NO outside interference.

Violate that and you may as well kiss the rest of your freedoms good bye.

David A. Young said at December 7, 2006 12:44 PM:

So, JB, your argument is that because a description (i.e., "child abuse") can be abused, it is never valid? In this specific case, do you deny the concept of "child abuse" entirely? Is it your contention that parents should be allowed to maim, mutilate, and murder their minor children, so long as they maintain that this is their "cultural norm?" Are there NO LIMITS on this ABSOLUTE right?

In my first post, you'll notice that I didn't say this WAS child abuse, I said that a strong argument could be made to that effect. I'm willing to be swayed by strong, reasoned counter-arguments -- but invoking "absolute" rights ain't gonna do it. No such thing.

rsilvetz said at December 7, 2006 2:33 PM:

Well, this is quite a twist. I have real mixed feelings on this one... on the one hand I understand the desire to have similar children, on the other hand it seems to me a violation of the child's sovreign right to be made whole and a violation of the Hippocratic Oath... then again it merely makes a choice of something that already happens unfocused and randomly...

James Bowery said at December 7, 2006 5:21 PM:

David A. yes I would say that there should be no limit whatsoever to what a group of mutually consenting adults agree to do within their own society so long as they do not demand that others pay the price. You can come up with all kinds of potential horrors that parents will commit against their children but I'd rather trust parents as the ultimate authority than anything else since I can come up with even worse kinds of potential horrors when ultimate authority rests with others.

You can sit around being "horrified" by what parents are doing to "the" children -- as though there were no difference between the word "the" and "their" -- all you want.

The alternative is to set some standard of child rearing that you think is proper and enforce it. If you think you have the power to do so and you decide you have the moral right to do so because -- well -- you are morally right or something -- then I'll vote to acquit anyone who does anything reasonably necessary to prevent you from exercising control over their child rearing practices. That includes killing you -- particularly if you are more powerful than they and they therefore have few other options.

rsilvetz said at December 7, 2006 7:13 PM:

James,

There is a real problem here.

There is a huge difference between removing negative characteristics, engineering positive characteristics and purposely diminishing a human being.

The first carries few ethical problems, the second creates the specter of GATTACA but I think we will dodge that with common-sense approaches, but the third is a definite violation of personal integrity.

And yes, certain minimal standards are enforceable. We've come a long way from throwing children off the Tarpeian Rock if they were malformed. Based on your argument, if a society decided it could toss them off the cliff for deformity, you would be ok with it.

When you say "demand others pay the price" it is very clear that in this case the/their children pay the price. Maybe an example not involving death. Remember the Comprachicos?. The Comprachicos were people who put little babies in pots with weird shapes. As their bodies grew, they assumed the shapes of the pots, resulting in grotesquely deformed victims used in freak shows to amuse audiences. How is this any different, if not worse, since those Ninos at least retained their faculties...

Since my last post I am now convinced that this is a clear violation of the "Do No Harm" tenet of medicine. This may in point of fact, amount to one of the few times I would grant the thought that a doctor should face criminal charges for such an action.

AnneC said at December 7, 2006 10:32 PM:

Regardless of how anyone feels about selecting the characteristics of one's offspring, I must point out that there is a HUGE difference between, say, selecting an embryo likely to exhibit a particular trait and taking a full-fledged person (perhaps a five-year-old) and attempting to alter them so that they exhibit that trait. Selecting a deaf embryo is NOT the same thing as deafening a hearing child, any more than selecting a female embryo is the same thing as castrating and performing sex-reassignment surgery on a five-year-old boy.

Most characteristics a person can exhibit, provided they're not obviously life-threatening (e.g., something like Tay-Sachs or congenital heart-valve defects), are essentially neutral as far as literal survival goes. Non-survival-related traits are really not easily classified along the lines of pathological or representative of "health"; which of us gets to decide what a human "should" be?

Things get even more interesting when you start crossing species boundaries. Chimpanzees lack the verbalization abilities that humans generally have, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that chimpanzees all ought to be sterilized on the basis that their babies will not have the same abilities as humans.

James Bowery said at December 8, 2006 10:30 AM:

And yes, certain minimal standards are enforceable. We've come a long way from throwing children off the Tarpeian Rock if they were malformed. Based on your argument, if a society decided it could toss them off the cliff for deformity, you would be ok with it.

You are oblivious to the autism epidemic's impact on siblings of profoundly autistic children -- and to the enormous cost of obtaining the assistance the state promises such families in exchange for removing from the parents their sovereign right to do with their children what they need to do to ensure they do not suffer.

Sure, someone with a brother-in-law who is a lawyer, or someone who can afford a lawyer, can obtain all the benefits offered by society -- one family with a profoundly autistic boy I know had to spend a mere $35,000 obtain such a placement -- however even that doesn't make up for the damage done to the other children.

And don't start talking about institutionalizing them. I know what goes on in state institutions when autistic youths are place in their "care" and so do you.

If you want a society that requires non-affluent families to destroy their other offspring so you can have a feeling of moral superiority, and you do not allow parents who disagree with you to secede and form a separate sovereignty free from your hypocrisy, then I again would vote to acquit them of anything they might find necessary do to prevent you from forcing them to live within your sovereignty and/or abide by your standards.

rsilvetz said at December 8, 2006 12:51 PM:

James,

Your post is almost nonsensical and also a non-sequiter. Who's talking about autism? We're talking about engineering negative characteristics. But while we are there -- Are you arguing that the autistic should be terminated in favor of the non-autistic? Over cost? Are you arguing that we do a bad job with autistic children? That the state over-regulates parents in regards to autistic children? What?

I am certainly not not advocating termination. But it seems you are. Children are not chattel and are not free to be done with as parents please. Which brings us back to minimal standards. One of which is that children's physical integrity should not be infringed upon. And we should consider it criminal to either engineer or select for negative traits. And lastly, no the embryo does not have rights because it isn't sentient.

As to parents seceding, where would they secede to? In a few generations we will almost certainly be off this rock into space, and it will be impossible to enforce matters at astronomic distances, so you may be literally right in the long-term -- groups of humans will go off and do whatsoever they please. This however, will not make it right relative to the offspring that they engineer with negative traits, should that be the case. I can only hope the vast improvement in liberty as a result of escaping literal and figurative planetary bonds will propel the human race to greater heights as opposed to a genetic chasm.

And drop the ad-hominem approach in your posting. We are strangers to each other and you have no business casting aspersions in a public forum.

rsilvetz said at December 8, 2006 1:19 PM:

Ouch!

The line above should read: "I am certainly not advocating termination."

Omer K said at December 8, 2006 3:26 PM:

There is a large element of subjectivity in deciding whether a trait is negative or positive. For instance in the case of Dwarfism.. someone who is 4 feet tall is in no way "inferior" to someone who is 6 feet tall in an objective sense whatsoever. Indeed if the world was peopled with a race of average 4 foot in height, our Oil supplies would last way longer, we could pack more people into cities and reap the benefit of corresponding economies of scale, we could grow enough food to sustain us on 25% of the currently used land etc. It seems, if it wasnt for the presence of 6 foot tall people who could compromise 4 footers by sheer strength or because of a preference in sex, the 4 footers are "SUPERIOR". A rational society then, would force people to select genes that reduced average height. A complicated business.

Then again there are traits that would be positive no matter what... Intelligence is one. Blacks may not want to become E.Asians in the sense of taking on the genetic proclivity away from physical movement and gregariousness and reduced sexuality but I doubt they would have a problem with just taking on the intellect part by itself, if that were possible.

A very mixed bag...and probably what future wars will be about.

rsilvetz said at December 8, 2006 4:35 PM:

Well, a rational society would not be force-based. Nor would rational human beings diminish their offspring because of generational resource concerns. But since there has yet never been a rational society I can't prove it to you.

And it's a fantasy that the dwarf height is not a negative. In the massive reshuffling of genes, height is a powerful predictor of sexual fitness. Tall, dark and handsome is not an accidental Holy Trinity. I have watched women select totally unfit males in every other dimension on the basis of their height alone.

Having said that negative characteristics can be defined objectively. Whatever is not a benefit to an organism. So under that criteria, you don't get to engineer a kid with high cholesterol (heart disease), a dwarf (negative correlation with sexual activity), absence of ANY of the five senses (self-evident), a moron (IQ below 60, see Randall's numerous posts on IQ topic), etc etc etc.

Gray area: Sickle cell trait. If you knew a pandemic was on the horizon and couldn't make the kid immune could you do something that confers survival advantage that modestly reduces all other functions? It's a cruel choice, but you opt for life and hope to correct the flaw later....

Omer K said at December 8, 2006 4:57 PM:

And it's a fantasy that the dwarf height is not a negative. In the massive reshuffling of genes, height is a powerful predictor of sexual fitness. Tall, dark and handsome is not an accidental Holy Trinity. I have watched women select totally unfit males in every other dimension on the basis of their height alone.

-----------------------------

Did you bother to think before replying?

Whats your point? That females choose males taller than themselves? Well in a world of dwarves, the dwarf who is 4'5" is the "tall one" compared to the average of 4' for males. Your "tall" still exists in every way in a world of dwarfs.

Secondarily, evolution may have pushed for individuals to select traits that are inefficient as a whole. Its a relativistic advantage, but an absolute loss. Read Geoffrey Miller's "The Mating Mind" to understand the profligate waste of sexual selection at work. Imagine a bird species where longer tails= better mating prospects. Soon the arms race will make it that we have itsy bitsy bird with foot long tails who cannot fly to safety or forage properly. Then natural selection will kick in to counter the sexual selection trend.

Lastly, anectodally read about how breeding collies (dogs) for looks reduced their intelligence.
http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/04/temple-grandin.html

I dont believe this particular factoid will apply to humans, but the point is unanticipated consequences will come up. And they will, in all likelihood, be undesirable.

But its clear that all negative characteristics CANNOT be defined objectively. Which is why my last sentence was about probable future wars.

rsilvetz said at December 8, 2006 6:19 PM:

We have a fundamental disagreement that cannot be resolved Omer. You don't believe in objective evaluations or objective standards. The world is not the world of dwarves. It's the world we live in. In this world, where median height is 5'10'', you damn well bet being a dwarf is a negative.

And no, evolution is not wasteful, not in the way you describe or as folks like Miller describe. The tail feathers are a proxy for fitness and this strategy has worked for eons on the planet. The species that do so, e.g. peacock, are still here, ergo they've proved they are right by surviving to this day regardless of how humans evaluate the so-called waste. In humans, tall is proxy for fitness. This is not going to change.

The standard that has evolved is hovering around a median of 5'10". In this reality and this world, being a dwarf objectively reduces available mates. I have no problem with dwarves. I have a problem with creating individuals 5 standard-deviations from the mean in height (either way) on a characteristic of crucial propagation importance.

In a laissez-faire society it might even be irrelevant. Since one would not necessarily interfere with such choices beyond moral condemnation and ostracism of doctors that do it, the obstacles to doing this type of nonsense might be non-statutory and sufficient to avoid bad consequences.

Randall Parker said at December 8, 2006 6:24 PM:

James Bowery,

You actively (and incorrectly) extend what I say a great deal when you say:

What makes you think the current panmictic environment isn't selecting for hypocritical groups that lack the precise characteristics you value?

Yes, the current environment is selecting for different kinds of humans. The selection for lower IQ is the most obvious effect. Probably greater impulsiveness is getting selected for as well. Is empathy or the impulse to altruistic punishment getting selected against? Quite possibly. I find W.D. Hamilton's speculation to be plausible at least.

But all this is besides the point: When humans get the ability to choose the genetic characteristics of their offspring the rate of genetic change in humans will accelerate by orders of magnitude. So while I'm concerned and hold politically incorrect views about current patterns of reproduction I'm even more worried about what happens when people can choose genetic characteristics with genetic engineering. The result might be great. But then again, maybe not too.

Then we come to this chain of logic:

Richard Dawkins also claims that indoctrinating children in religion is "child abuse". No one wants to deal with the fact that the moment you invoke the words "child abuse" you also invoke the state's power to confiscate your children. There are some rights that are more fundamental than others and the most fundamental right of all -- the right from which all other human rights may be derived by voluntary act -- is the absolute right of self-determination of mutually consenting adults forming their own cultures with NO outside interference.

Rights are not granted or lost by acts of government. They exist primarily because people are willing to respect the rights of others. If more than a very small fraction of the population wants to violate rights then rights will be lost.

The biggest problem is not government. The libertarian argument that government is the greatest threat is like fighting the last war. Afghanistan and Iraq are not failures of government. They are failures of peoples. Russia is becoming less free by the day with the acquiesence of the people. They do not have whatever missing elements they need to make a civil society.

There are not only taught beliefs but also biological qualities in people that make free societies possible. If we let people create any types of offspring they desire and enough of them make offspring that lack whatever qualities are needed for a free society (perhaps impulses to oppose complete domination by hierarchies or the impulse to altruistic punishment) then the short term freedom you grant them to have whatever offspring they want will eventually cost you your freedom.

You ask:

What have you got against speciation?

People are more willing to kill and enslave the out group. Species will feel less in common. They will objectively have less in common. Their values and desires will clash on much larger ranges of issues.

Bob Badour said at December 8, 2006 7:30 PM:

rsilvetz,

How exactly does allowing a fertilized embryo to come to term cause harm?

James Bowery said at December 8, 2006 8:34 PM:

If we let people create any types of offspring they desire and enough of them make offspring that lack whatever qualities are needed for a free society (perhaps impulses to oppose complete domination by hierarchies or the impulse to altruistic punishment) then the short term freedom you grant them to have whatever offspring they want will eventually cost you your freedom.

This is a very serious question for transhumanists to address:

What sort of controls do they suppose are going to prevent the creation of aggressive groups that do not themselves create the mechanisms for an ingroup to control those of us predisposed to individualistic behavior?

I'm for preemptive wars when justified, just as I am for preemptive kills when the dangers are clear and present. Justification for preemptive kills must be very strict and clearly met or not met. Likewise preemptive wars must meet similarly clear and objective standards -- standards which were not clearly stated nor met by the US when it preemptively attacked the Afghanistan and Iraqi regimes.

But you are now discussing preemptive removal of people's rights to mutual consent in social engineering! They may not be doing anything that is reasonably construed as a clear and present danger -- merely formalizing a social proposition which they agree would be worthy of their very lives and that of their posterity, and consented to by their posterity upon reaching the age of consent.

You had best make yourself clear and objective lest you find yourself the subject of an experiment conducted by some Inner Party -- an experiment to which you did not consent.

rsilvetz said at December 8, 2006 8:35 PM:

Bob,

Excellent question.

It's not the allowing a fertilized embryo to come to term that causes harm.

It's what has been done to that embryo, by diminishing it, that causes it to be a poor match to the known environment, is the harm.

Making it tangible. If humans prefer tallness, as proxy for fitness (of many measures) it is criminal stupidity to make a dwarf, regardless of parental wishes. The child is going to get hammered in the current environment.

Similarly, to take away from a human being that which is already present, for example, hearing, to make a deaf child, is also harm. The transient benefits to the parents for doing this have to be weighed against a lifetime of silence that the child did not have to suffer.

Omer K said at December 8, 2006 9:26 PM:

(rsilvetz, you seem to be unobjective, not I)

Back to my points.

Lets see what happens if people selected genes for tallness. After a generation the average height jumps to 6'5". But seeing how the only way one can be "tall" is by being taller than others the next generation is 7'5" and so on. This selection is being made on sexual selection. But after a while it gets to be too much. We cannot have 10' tall people. There would be limits to what the human frame can stand. a 10' tall person would break something if he fell, or would have weak bones or whatever. Then natural selection kicks in, which is much more brutal than sexual selection.

In my earlier bird analogy the male birds with foot long tails couldnt outrun (or outfly) predators... they were physically ripped apart and eaten. Or they couldnt gather food...they starved. Its brutal. The same will happen to humans. Of course humans could stop at some point before brutality sets in. But that would obviate the very purpose of selecting for tall genes. Its no good to be 9' tall if everyone else is too. And the added drawback of being 9' tall is we need more land for food, more space to live in cities etc (see my first post).

So how is dwarfism a necessary negative from an administrative point of view? I stress, a NECESSARY negative. It may well be negative, but logically that is not a forgone conclusion (aka not necessarily).

Being deaf on the other hand would fit the criteria for a NECESSARY Negative and should by all means be stopped. So a government could well bar deafness as a choosable criteria. But if they barred dwarfism, the bar cannot last. Its not a question of morals, its a question of what alternatives and consequences there are in the choices available.

After all, in a world of 9' individuals, the 8' person is the dwarf.

rsilvetz said at December 8, 2006 10:09 PM:

Frankly Omer, 20 years ago when I was starting out nobody would have had a problem understanding subjective v. objective and what those concepts are. Half of the stuff here at FP would go by the wayside if the difference between these two concepts was properly understood.

In the present environment (e.g. the standard of reference) and by the principle (e.g. the objective criterion) that what benefits an organism is the good, the median height is 5'10 inches [the standard] and tallness is the proxy for fitness [proxy objective criterion]. Under these conditions dwarfism is a net negative. Period. End of story.

It doesn't matter that in DwarfLand it's not a negative. Here, in reality, right now, it is.

You are right -- past 7 ft humans get into trouble. Thus by the objective criterion that it no longer benefits the organism you drop the embryo down six inches to 6'6". What happens is you hit maximal optimums with narrow spreads. This is how nature and man escapes your reductio ad absurdum scenario.

And drop the bird analogy. You don't get it. Peacocks have outdone generations worth of predators and are the real-life proxy for your analogy. There is zero issues with the tail regardless of human conceit that thinks it's an issue. Several thousand generations of peacocks have proved that the tail is the fitness proxy and their continued survival is evidence enough that the peacocks know what they are doing.

And lastly, no -- in a world of 9' individuals the 8' is not a dwarf. This has to do with the difference between the relative and the absolute. In absolute terms the 8' foot guy is a mere 11% shorter. In 6' foot land the 4' dwarf is a whopping 33% shorter.

Omer K said at December 8, 2006 10:20 PM:

If peacocks were the gold standard, all animals would be that profligate in their expressions. They are not. And the point is a case is never reached where people will not want taller children than the last generation. Its a intrinsic flaw in humanity. An equilibrium will only be reached when people are in PAIN...aka good old Malthus's theory, but applied to a different concept.

My last post was not specifically directed at you, and I will ignore your future posts. Its clear that we will not agree, and I believe you are missing the vital points of my argument on purpose to advance your own.

Randall Parker said at December 9, 2006 8:35 AM:

Robert Silvetz,

Omer K's point about the peacocks not taking over a larger fraction of the biosphere seems correct to me. Birds that have retained the ability to fly better look a lot more plentiful to me. I see blue jays a lot more often than I see peacocks. I suspect the latter have sexually selected themselves up into a narrow habitat niche.

Randall Parker said at December 9, 2006 8:58 AM:

Robert Silvetz, Omer K, Bob,

Choices about height for offspring strike me as bush league as compared to choices which influence oognitive function. Yet even just debating height choices causes obviously strong disagreements about values and rights and law.

When people start choosing genetic variations that, say, make their offspring more likely to follow orders or more independent of authority think about the political conflicts those choices will spark. In democracies the babies of today are the voters of tomorrow. What kinds of government will they select?

Whether we live in a society that libertarian or socialist or communist or theocratic will be determined by the genetic choices people make for their offspring and which choices governments allow or require. If total freedom is given to individuals to choose genetic variations for their offspring that is not a guarantee that genetically engineered future generations will choose freedom over the welfare state or fair court systems or uncorrupt governments.

Randall Parker said at December 9, 2006 2:03 PM:

Michael Vassar had problems posting (probably due to a bug in the SCODE plug-in) and asked I post his comment for him:

It seems to me that while achondroplastic dwarfism is a serious genetic disability, with better tech dwarves should be able to have children who have, for instance, defective insulin-like-growth-factor genes, and are thus small but not unhealthy. Such a difference might make interaction in a world of large objects somewhat inconvenient, but if dwarves already create small object communities, small size would make life more convenient within those communities. Making it easier for one's children to stay in one's community while harder to live outside of one's community through genetic modification seems no more objectionable than doing it by raising them as native in a
language spoken by relatively few people. Since about .01% of the population are dwarves, and there are more than 10,000 times as many English speakers as Irish speakers, this choice seems about as objectionable as raising one's children as native Irish speakers.

Also, it seems likely that there are positive externalities to dwarfism, in that it probably slightly reduces resource consumption. I wonder if NASA should try to save money on manned space flight by using (healthy, so probably not achondroplastic) dwarves. A 2/3 linear dimension but proportional human should require about half the
food other life support of a typical, much larger person.

Selecting deafness seems to be obvious child abuse. David Young's analogy is perfectly exact.

Bob Badour said at December 10, 2006 9:24 AM:

rsilvetz,

The problem I see with your position is these parents are not doing anything to harm these embryos. If the parents are harming anything, they are harming the embryos they decide not to implant. The very fact that these parents choose the embryos they choose demonstrates the embryos' fitness from a purely darwinian perspective in the current evolutionary environment.

In past environments, parents could not pick and choose among viable embryos the way they can now. And THAT--not the median height of today's population--makes the current objective reality.

The only way one can construe the choice as harming anything is by the apparent harm to the rejected embryos. Calling that harmful means one must entirely reject PIGD and selective implantation for all parents.

Consider too how these parents will interpret your attitude. In a choice of life or death, you are choosing death for the parents' themselves. You are saying that--given the choice--their parents should have killed them in favour of a sibling.

While deafness increases certain risks from the inability to react to auditory alarms and signals, the deaf parent has no reason to consider that a disability. It's the parent's daily objective reality. Similarly, a parent that favours an embryo for aggressiveness, physical stature, speed and strength due to the parent's interest and participation in football favours traits that increase risk for the offspring even if those same traits increase sexual desirability under past evolutionary environments.

I find your position the evolutionary equivalent of a general preparing to fight the previous war.

Bob Badour said at December 10, 2006 10:39 AM:

Having read the entire article about the lesbian couple who chose a deaf sperm donor, I really cannot see how what they did is really any different than a congenitally deaf couple who meet at college, get married, and decide to have kids.

I think the article (and the deaf people who originate the ideas) makes some silly arguments. For example, I don't really think deaf people make any specially worthy contribution to society. If they did, the market would reward that contribution to the point where deaf children would not need public subsidy.

I suggest that when germ-line genetic engineering makes it possible to prevent congenital deafness, society should simply end the subsidy entirely. Likewise if somatic gene therapy or stem cell therapy makes it possible to correct deafness; although, I suspect that is a much less likely outcome.

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