2011 November 27 Sunday
Breeding Has Created Bulldog Monstrosities

The bulldog has more health problems than just about any breed. An excellent New York Times piece entitled "Can the Bulldog be Saved?" looks at why humans created and continue to perpetuate this suffering and short-lived breed and just how many health problems it suffers.

“We have, to some extent, accentuated physical characteristics of the breed to make it look more human, although essentially more like caricatures of humans, and specifically of children,” he told me. “We’ve bred bulldogs for their flat face, big eyes, huge mouth in relation to head size and huge smiling face.” (Advertisers and animators have long recognized that giving an animal big eyes and a big head is a surefire way to endear it to humans. When Walt Disney created Bambi, the studio wanted the character to be an accurate depiction of a deer. But when the original Bambi sketches were deemed not “cute” enough, Disney shortened Bambi’s muzzle and made his head and eyes bigger.)

In an essay in the anthology “Thinking With Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism,” Serpell wrote that “if bulldogs were the product of genetic engineering by agripharmaceutical corporations, there would be protest demonstrations throughout the Western world, and rightly so. But because they have been generated by anthropomorphic selection, their handicaps are not only overlooked but even, in some quarters, applauded.”

Read the full article and appreciate what human-guided selection has wrought. Most bulldogs can't have sex on their own or give birth unassisted. They are that messed up. Their live expectancy averages just 6 years. How sad. They suffer more than their owners recognize. The article quotes breeders who are in total denial. My advice: Override your instincts and choose a very healthy breed that hasn't been severely damaged by the show breeders. In the 19th century Charles Darwin called the bulldog a monstrosity. It has gotten worse since then. Don't contribute to the creation of monstrosities.

The tragedy of the bulldog and the denial of its breeders makes me wonder what humans will do when they gain the ability to choose offspring genetic variants. Obviously the potential benefits are huge. But I'm reminded of the parents who dress up their 6 year old daughters for fashion shows. Will they opt for genes that maximize cuteness? Will they even go for genes that delay puberty and keep the kids looking very young into adulthood?

How about the parents who want their kids to become various kinds of athletic stars? How extreme will they go? I think we'll witness something akin to a series of arms races. Imagine lots of parents going for genes to make 7 foot tall basketball players. I even expect the genes of the best basketball players will be stolen for procreative purposes. Ditto football players and athletes for other games.

Will parents choose genes that create more extremes in personality? One can imagine some parents aiming for offspring minds that are perfect to become a calculating, driven, domineering, and charismatic CEO while other parents aim for cognitive attributes that make a great scientist or iconoclastic inventor or musician. Will psychopathy become more or less common as a result of parental control of offspring brain genes? Will genetically engineered women be more or less feminine?

By Randall Parker    2011 November 27 03:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
2011 March 02 Wednesday
Surrogacy, Donated Egg, Who Is Mom?

In a legal case in Camden County New Jersey a couple used his sperm and donated egg to carry a baby to term in a surrogate woman. Now the wife wants her name on the birth certificate and The state Registrar is balking that the wife has no legal standing to claim maternity.

But the state Registrar, an office that records birth certificates, asserted after the child's birth the wife had no legal grounds to claim maternity. Her only option, it said, is stepparent adoption.

The Family Court judge in Camden agreed with the Registrar, which wants to issue a second birth certificate -- this one with the mother's name left blank. And now, a three-judge appellate panel has upheld the Registrar's view.

Since the wife did not contribute either a womb or an egg she really wasn't the mother at the moment of birth. She can only establish a mother's role by acting as one.

What will get more interesting: Embryos constructed using DNA from several donors with the resulting embryo implanted in a future artificial womb. When that baby emerges from the artificial womb who is Mom for the birth certificate? There won't be an obvious candidate.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 02 11:31 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2011 February 16 Wednesday
61 Year Old Gives Birth To Grandchild

A Chicago woman took matters into her own hand in order to become a grandmother.

Almost 39 weeks ago, Kristine Casey set out on an unusual journey to help her daughter and answer a spiritual calling.

Her goal was achieved late Wednesday when she gave birth to her own grandson at age 61.

I'm not sure this sets any kind of record. A 65 year old woman in India gave birth from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other women in their 60s have managed to give birth using hormones to make their wombs function to accept embryos prepared by in vitro fertilization. Also, a 52 year old woman gave birth to her grandsons. But some of the IVF pregnancies of women in their 60s were using donated eggs rather than eggs from daughters. So did this Chicago woman set a record for age of a woman giving birth to her grandchild?

Grandma might end up paying a big price for helping her daughter. Older women who rev up their wombs to carry an IVF baby run the risk of getting cancer.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 16 10:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2011 February 02 Wednesday
Financial Schemes For Use Of Egg Donors

A fertility clinic offers intriguing choices for financing the use of egg donors and in vitro fertilization to start a pregnancy.

Shady Grove Fertility's Shared Risk 100% Refund program continues to be a very popular option for patients.  The Shared Risk program offers IVF and Donor Egg patients up to six treatments for a flat fee, with a guaranteed, 100% refund if treatment is not successful. More than 1,000 patients enrolled in the Shared Risk 100% Refund program for IVF or Donor Egg treatment last year, an increase of nearly 18% over 2009.

Think about where this can lead. As biotechnology for selecting genetically genes and embryos for implantation improves one can imagine fertility clinics offering financial guarantees for how smart or good looking a baby will turn out to be.

For especially desirable egg donors it is possible for prospective parents to pool their money to offer greater incentives for especially desirable egg donors. If a donor can produce enough eggs from a single hormone treatment then more than one woman can get embryo implants using some of those eggs.

Shared Donor Egg Program – Allows two to three recipients to share the eggs of a single donor, which can reduce the cost of treatment by up to 50%. Can also be offered in conjunction with the Shared Risk 100% Refund program.

What works against this in the longer run: The desire to genetically test more embryos in order to increase the odds one of the embryos will combine all the desired genetic variants known to exist in the egg donor and sperm source. As pre-implantation genetic testing of embryos becomes more detailed in terms of what it can predict about the resulting babies many couples will opt to create many embryos. Think of it as throwing the dice multiple times in hopes of winning all you want. Since most embryos will not include the ideal combination of egg donor genes and sperm genes it will be advantageous to fertilize many eggs. That means fewer eggs will be left over for use by another couple.

In the even longer run donor egg shortages will cease to be a constraint on starting pregnancies as techniques to produce eggs from normal skin cells will no doubt be discovered and shifting into clinical use.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 02 11:37 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 January 23 Sunday
Britain To Raise Limits On Egg Donor Payments?

Allowed egg donor payments in Britain are quite low. My take: Why make any limits at all?

The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) believes that the current level of remuneration – £250 per donation for "reasonable expenses" and loss of earnings – could be deterring donors.

Meanwhile, demand from infertile couples for donated eggs and sperm is steadily rising. Up to a seventh of British couples have problems conceiving.

Why go thru the trouble and risk of drug treatments for fertility to donate eggs for a mere £250? It is no wonder that couples in Britain have a hard time finding egg donors. If the prices for donation were entirely unregulated then women with the most desirable attributes then the quality of available eggs would rise substantially.

In the next 10 years genetic testing is going to improve enormously in how much it tells us about genetic attributes. Genetic variants that influence intelligence, personality, physical appearances and other attributes will be identified. While many of those attributes can be tested for in potential donors without looking at genes what testing will provide is odds that offspring will get the desired attributes. If, for example, a dominant genetic variant provides some attribute a donor who has the variant on both of a pair of chromosomes will pass this attribute to all offspring. Whereas a donor with ad desired variant on only one chromosome would be less desired.

By Randall Parker    2011 January 23 11:29 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 October 25 Monday
Poland Debates IVF Regulation Or Ban

The Polish Parliament is debating laws to regulate in vitro fertilization (IVF). Since no consensus has emerged 6 proposals that span a wide range of possible approaches are being debated.

The Sejm is debating a total of six bills, which range far and wide in their approach to the procedure. One bill for example proposes state subsidization for IVF, while another wants those that offer and use the procedure to be imprisoned.

The Catholic Church in Poland is strongly opposed to IVF. That they call it "the younger sister of eugenics" as a way to smear it is curious. What is morally wrong with trying to give your children a better average genetic complement than you have in your own body?

Bishops of Poland's influential Roman Catholic Church have branded in vitro fertilization (IVF) "the younger sister of eugenics" in a letter aimed at swaying lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate.

What is evil about wanting to give your kids better genes? To put it another way: Suppose you were going to have kids. If you could get your full genome sequenced along with that of your husband or wife (or sperm donor or egg donor) and then select which chromosome from each chromosome pair to give to your future son or daughter would you do it?

Progeny get only half of each parent's DNA. Currently which chromosome from each pair goes to make each baby is a random process for almost all babies. Well, some if your chromosomes have more harmful mutations than the other member of each pair. So you can deal your kids a better genetic deck if you can control which chromosome gets donated from each pair. In essence the Catholic Church in Poland is trying to avoid the day when people will do just that.

While a ban on IVF would not have a big impact today it will have a tremendous impact 10 years from when when it becomes possible to do orders of magnitude more kinds of genetic testing of embryos. Advances in techniques for embryo testing combined with a coming huge flood of genetic knowledge derived from cheap DNA sequencing technologies will make embryo genetic testing extremely powerful. On average parents in 2020 who embrace IVF with genetic testing will have healthier, smarter, and better-looking kids than parents who do not do so. If Poland does not allow IVF plus genetic testing then the Poles will literally fall behind in human evolution.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 25 12:01 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2010 August 31 Tuesday
Surrogacy And Reproductive Tourism In India

Rent-a-womb is a big international business in India.

You can outsource just about any work to India these days, including making babies. Reproductive tourism in India is now a half-a-billion-dollar-a-year industry, with surrogacy services offered in 350 clinics across the country since it was legalized in 2002. The primary appeal of India is that it is cheap, hardly regulated, and relatively safe.

Note this combination: Hardly regulated and safe. I bet surrogacy dad Patri Friedman is not surprised.

Once it becomes possible to create eggs by turning adult cells back into stem cells even women in their later 40s and later will be able to have biological children using surrogacy. Many women who spend her 20s and 30s making lots of money will find surrogacy an attractive proposition.

So what do you think of surrogacy? Acceptable between consenting adults? If not why not?

By Randall Parker    2010 August 31 11:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (25)
2010 March 09 Tuesday
DNA Extracted From Fossil Elephant Bird Eggs

DNA extracted from fossil eggs thousands of years old might allow eventually resurrection of extinct species.

An international team isolated the delicate DNA molecules of species including the massive "elephant birds" of the genus Aepyorni.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B research demonstrated the approach also on emu, ducks and the extinct moa.

Some of the extinct species were wiped out by humans. Should we bring them back?

In one case 19,000 year old DNA was isolated.

They said: "We show that genetic material is preserved in the eggshell matrix and have successfully imaged the DNA via microscopy.

"Using new techniques we obtain DNA signatures from a variety of fossil eggshells, including the extinct moa and elephant birds and 19,000 year-old old emu."

It isn't clear what the quality is of this DNA. But sequencing of lots of poor quality DNA samples of the same species might allow reconstruction of sequence of sufficient quality as to allow bringing back such a species to life.

I'm less worried about bringing back really large species since they can easily be hunted down and killed if they cause unexpected problems. But restored small species are much more problematic if they live in ways that make them hard to track and kill. A 3 meter high elephant bird that eats vegetation isn't going to get out of control.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 09 11:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 March 04 Thursday
Oklahoma Might Ban Market For Donor Eggs

The chief argument against the egg market is that banning it would protect donors.

A measure passed Thursday by the state House, intended to make it illegal for a woman to sell her eggs, could jeopardize state fertility clinics, doctors at two Oklahoma City facilities said Thursday.

House Bill 3077 easily won House approval, passing 85-8. It now goes to the Senate.

This bill would have a number of deleterious effects. First off, it would reduce the supply of eggs. Second, it would lower the quality of eggs. The women who are the healthiest, smartest, prettiest, and with best dispositions would not get offered the tens of thousands that now entice them to donate eggs. With less competition bidding up prices lower supply would force seekers of eggs to lower their standards. So babies born from donated eggs would be less intelligent, less attractive, and less healthy.

A young woman who has a highly desired profile can make a lot of money from egg donation to help pay the cost of college. So sellers can derive a benefit at a stage in life when money is scarce.

The development of more detailed and revealing genetic tests will soon make possible much more accurate assessment of genetic potential of eggs. So we can expect market prices for the most desired eggs to rise once quality measurement becomes more precise. The identification of the very best will become easier to do. In areas which continue to allow the market to function higher donor egg quality will produce even bigger advantages from market incentives.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 04 10:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2010 January 17 Sunday
59 Year Old Pregnant After Baby At Age 57

Susan Tollefsen, who gave birth to her 2 year old daughter Freya when she was 57, is now 59 and pregnant with baby #2.

A 59-year-old woman has become the oldest person ever to be offered fertility treatment by a British clinic.

Doctors at the private London Women’s Clinic on Harley Street, one of the most successful IVF units in the country, have unanimously agreed to help Susan Tollefsen conceive.

Leave aside the ethical considerations due to possible harm to the fetus due to developing in a 59 year old womb. It is amazing that a 59 year old womb might carry a baby to term. Of course, a few older women have already completed pregnancies successfully (though some with premature delivery). Rajo Devi, 70 when she gave birth to a premature baby, might hold the record for oldest woman to deliver a baby. This is risky stuff for the woman. 69 year old Spanish woman Maria del Carmen Bousada died of cancer 2 years after giving birth to twins. She might have gotten the cancer from hormones used to reverse her menopause. Since her brother might not live long enough to raise the twins they'll probably wind up orphans at some point. Higher rates of complications with age stir ethical debate about elderly women starting pregnancies.

The willingness of some women in their 50s and older to try to start risky pregnancies makes me think women like them will eventually try untested risky stem cell rejuvenation therapies to make their wombs and other body parts more able to carry a baby to term. The desire to reproduce is an instinct that drives some to take considerable risks with their health and the health of the babies they bear.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 17 06:54 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 January 05 Tuesday
Octomom Doc Accused Of Negligence

The California Medical Board doesn't think highly of medical procedures that produce octuplet pregnancies.

A disciplinary complaint filed by the California Medical Board said that Dr Michael Kamrava acted “beyond reasonable judgment” by helping Nadya Suleman to conceive octuplets.

8 babies developing in a womb are each going to get well less than ideal nutrition for optimal development of brain and body. Such babies are at risk of learning disabilities and other problems later in life.

A disaster?

Dr. Richard Paulson, who heads the fertility program at the University of Southern California, said it sounds like Kamrava did nothing ''to prevent this disaster.'' ''An octuplet pregnancy, in my opinion, is a disaster,'' said Paulson, who has no role in the case.

Was this fertility doctor negligent? Was Nadya Suleman irresponsible and were her actions harmful to the public interest? Does the public interest matter? Are there external costs to pregnancies?

By Randall Parker    2010 January 05 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 October 18 Sunday
Tragedy Of The Commons Applies To Reproduction?

In a blog post about Elinor Ostrom's sharing the Nobel Prize in economics for work on the Tragedy of the Commons and how people voluntarily reduce the size of that tragedy John Tierney of the New York Times tries to argue that people do not have children for a profit. I think he's taking too narrow a view of profit.

First, Dr. Hardin himself misapplied the fable. Declaring that “overpopulation” was a tragedy of the commons, he warned that “freedom to breed will bring ruin to all.” He and others advocated a “lifeboat ethic” of denying food aid, even during emergencies, to poor countries with rapidly growing populations. But “overpopulation” was not even a theoretical example of the tragedy of the commons. Parents are not like the cattle owners who profit individually by adding cows to the pasture (while collectively destroying it). Parents, unlike the cattle owners, have to pay to feed and house and educate their children, and the high economic costs of children are one reason that birth rates have declined around the world — without any of the coercion discussed by Dr. Hardin and some other ecologists (like Paul Ehrlich).

Parents either profit or expect to profit. Their expected profit is in pleasure and satisfaction. They really expect to get a lot out of raising children or else few would choose to do so.

Why do people in business want to earn big profits? They want to use that money for their pleasure and satisfaction. Making babies is a way to basically skip a step. Rather than making money to buy things parents just make the things (in this case babies) directly.

I expect the current decline in fertility in much of the world will turn out to be a temporary phase (assuming the human race isn't wiped out by robots or nanobots). Life extension will bring a halt to aging. People will have thousands of years in which to reproduce. Likely some will make many babies. Quite possibly some will give their offspring stronger innate desire to reproduce. Robin Hanson thinks our distant descendants will run up against growth limits due to a limited number of atoms in the Milky Way Galaxy. Click thru and read Hanson's comments in that post about the delusory era we live in today. I fully agree.

Given a similar freedom of fertility, most of our distant descendants will also live near a subsistence level.  Per-capita wealth has only been rising lately because income has grown faster than population.  But if income only doubled every century, in a million years that would be a factor of 103000, which seems impossible to achieve with only the 1070 atoms of our galaxy available by then.  Yes we have seen a remarkable demographic transition, wherein richer nations have fewer kids, but we already see contrarian subgroups like Hutterites, Hmongs, or Mormons that grow much faster.  So unless strong central controls prevent it, over the long run such groups will easily grow faster than the economy, making per person income drop to near subsistence levels.  Even so, they will be basically happy in such a world.

The limits will come sooner if we allow robots to become sentient and reproduce. The limits will also come sooner if other intelligent species exist on planets around other stars in our galaxy. As for whether people will be happy: I expect they'll see the limits to resources centuries in advance and start competing with each other. Interstellar war between groups of humans and/or robots will cut back populations long before resources are exhausted.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 18 08:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (25)
2009 September 29 Tuesday
Accidental IVF Implantation Produces Baby

A pair of reports underscore how in vitro fertilization is creating a strange new world. 40 year old Carolyn Savage of Ohio was accidentally impregnated with another couple's embryo and due to religious beliefs carried the baby to term before handing over the baby boy to his biological parents.

Imagine this woman hadn't been willing to give up the baby. Well, how would a court rule? Would different courts render different decisions?

A 26 year old transsexual who started out as a female is going to try for another IVF pregnancy after miscarriage the first time. Her/his 43 year old girlfriend is too old for kids.

Ruben Noe Coronado Jimenez, 26, sparked a debate in Spain about the ethical use of reproductive technology, when he revealed earlier this year that he was carrying twins following IVF treatment.

The babies were due to be born this month but Mr Coronado, from Jaen in Andalucia, suffered a miscarriage in May during the 18th week of pregnancy.

So he's shifting back toward being more of a she in order to carry a baby to term.

A British fertility doctor says some women are literally dying to have a baby. The instinct to reproduce runs strongly in some.

Women are risking death and bankruptcy in their desperation to become mothers, according to Professor Sammy Lee, one of the country's leading experts on infertility.

...

"I have treated young women with cancer who have refused to have treatment for their illness until they have got pregnant and given birth, knowing they are risking their lives," added Lee, who has helped some couples through 12 cycles of IVF. The maximum number of treatments provided on the NHS is three. "Some of these women do, indeed, go on to die [from the cancer], but they die happy, feeling that they have achieved something greater than their own continued existence."

How to approach these issues? Women putting their lives at risk, really old women having babies they can't live long enough to raise, accidental implantation of wrong embryos, people shifting their bodies toward the feminine side of the ledger to have a baby. Weird wild stuff. I'm struck by the need for standards aimed at protecting the future babies. Prospective parents really just represent themselves and their own desires as they try to create babies who will have to live with the consequences of these decisions. Who represents the interests of the babies?

By Randall Parker    2009 September 29 12:23 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 September 23 Wednesday
Gregg Easterbrook Argues For Ethical Acceptability Of Cloning

Gregg Easterbrook argues cloning is not unnatural.

Others argue that cloning is "unnatural." But nature wants us to pass on our genes; if cloning assists in that effort, nature would not be offended. Moreover, cloning itself isn't new; there have been many species that reproduced clonally and a few that still do. And there's nothing intrinsically unnatural about human inventions that improve reproductive odds—does anyone think nature is offended by hospital delivery made safe by banks of machines?

Do you oppose allowing cloning of humans to make nearly genetically identical copies? If so, why?

Update: My own take: I would want to create clone based on a genetically patched, fixed, and improved version of my current DNA. I would not want to exactly clone myself. I'd want to do genetic fixes basically like software bug fixes and only then create a sort of clone 2.0.

We are all born with hundreds of genetic mutations that are harmful without any benefit. Once we know enough about the functional significance of most mutations we'll know many thousands of genetic variations that are purely harmful. Well, a more perfected copy of myself seems like a better thing to create than another copy of my current flawed self.

When gene therapies and cell therapies become safe, cheap, and readily available we'll gain the ability to do some those genetic software fixes to ourselves. The fixes we do to our fully developed bodies will not be as thorough as fixes done to a clone since the clone will have fixes in every single cell in their body. Whereas fixes to our adult bodies won't be anywhere near as thorough.

With organ replacements grown from genetically improved versions of our DNA we will some day be able to insert replacement organs that will be free of our harmful genetic variations. So at least parts of us will be perfectible.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 23 12:27 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
2009 August 26 Wednesday
Sudan Getting Low Cost IVF

Truth is stranger than fiction.

POOR and war-torn, Sudan might be the last place you would expect to find an experiment in cutting-edge fertility treatments.

Well, I'd put a few countries further down my list of so poor that they'd be unlikely to get IVF clinics.About 45 countries are poorer than Sudan. Zimbabwe sits at the bottom. So a clinic in Khartoum isn't the least likely. Since a clinic is opening in Tanzania (which is 11 positions lower than Sudan in poverty but still with $1300 per capita GDP) my reaction is along the lines of "what, sub-$1000 per capita countries not good enough for IVF?". I'm sure you share my outrage.

But by the end of October, a clinic at the University of Khartoum plans to offer in vitro fertilisation to couples for less than $300, a fraction of its cost in the west.

A foundation in Switzerland couldn't find something more valuable to do with their money.

The clinic is one of three funded by the Low Cost IVF Foundation (LCIF) of Massagno, Switzerland, the brainchild of IVF pioneer Alan Trounson, who is now president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The other clinics are in Arusha, Tanzania, and Cape Town, South Africa.

This in a country where over 40% of the population is under the age of 15 and the population is growing at the rate of over 2.1% per year. The population is approximately 8 times what it was 100 years ago and it is on course to more than double.

Suppose you wanted to help the Sudanese people. Any big problems in Sudan (cough, Darfour, cough) come to mind? How about the 4.9 million displaced people?

Sudan’s internally displaced population has topped 4.9 million, giving the east African country the unenviable distinction as having the largest displaced population in the world, according to a new report out this week.

Over 10% of those under the age of 5 die in Sudan.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 26 10:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 July 15 Wednesday
Oldest Mother Dies At 69 Leaving Twin 2 Year Olds

The hormone treatment she underwent to reverse menopause seems a likely cause of the cancer that killed her. Maria del Carmen Bousada died of a tumor that showed up a few months after she gave birth.

A Spanish woman who became the world's oldest mother at the age of 66 has died of cancer just two-and-a-half years after giving birth to twins, raising fresh questions about the ethics of fertility treatment for women past natural childbearing age.

Maria del Carmen Bousada, a single mother and retired sales assistant from Cádiz, southern Spain, leaves behind her orphan sons, Pau and Christian.

Should it be legal for women to have children that they can't possibly be expected to raise to adulthood? I do not think so. What do you think?

Her brother is in his 70s. The kids will probably end up getting adopted at some point.

Medical ethicist Kerry Bowman of the University of Toronto in responding to Bousada's death mentions that women who have had a few rounds of cancer are trying to make babies. Instinct overrules reason.

“It's an extremely hard call,” Dr. Bowman says. “The argument can be, you're too old, you don't have the energy, vitality, it's not fair to the children and you may die. Having said that, we see patients [who are younger] that have had one, two and even three rounds of cancer who are choosing to go forward and have children. Would we refuse those patients?”

Reproductive technology is defeating some of the restraints that aging places on reproductive capabilities of humans. Those restraints served the useful purpose of preventing physically less fit mothers from making babies they wouldn't be around to raise. Defeating nature isn't always wise. But the technological capability to defeat nature isn't always accompanied with the wisdom of knowing when to accept natural restraints.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 15 09:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2009 June 20 Saturday
Downs Pregnancy Abortion Rates Show New Eugenics

Imperial College researcher Armand Marie Leroi looks at the future of neo-eugenics.

Every year, 4.1 million babies are born in the USA. On the basis of the well-known risk of Down syndrome, about 6,150 of these babies would be expected to suffer from this genetic condition, which is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. In reality, only about 4,370 babies are born with Down syndrome; the others have been aborted during pregnancy. These estimates are based on a prevalence rate of 0.15% and an abortion rate of about 29% of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome in Atlanta, GA (Siffel et al, 2004), and Hawaii (Forrester & Merz, 2002)—the only two US locations for which reliable data are available. Data from other regions are similar or even higher: 32% of Down syndrome fetuses were aborted in Western Australia (Bourke et al, 2005); 75% in South Australia (Cheffins et al, 2000); 80% in Taiwan (Jou et al, 2005); and 85% in Paris, France (Khoshnood et al, 2004). Despite this trend, the total number of babies born with Down syndrome is not declining in most industrialized nations because both the number of older mothers and the conception rate is increasing.

You might object to all this on ethical grounds. But at least in some industrialized countries you would be in a distinct minority.

The 85% abortion rate for Downs fetuses in Paris is amazing for 2 reasons. First off, it implies that at very least 85% of all pregnancies in Paris get genetically tested for abnormalities. This is happening even though the number of genetic defects currently detectable by embryo testing is still pretty low. Second, the overwhelming number of women informed of a Downs fetus elect to abort.

This willingness to test at such a high rate and to act on the information suggests that once a much larger number of genetic defects and variations are detectable in embryos selective abortion will be used to greatly speed up human evolution. That speed-up is going to take place in the 2010s as the meaning of many more genetic variations becomes known every year.

As advances in genetic research leads to the identification and easy testing for a much larger number of defects and features this will change popular views on selective abortion. As more people can see a personal benefit (getting children closer to your ideal) from selective abortion more will decide it is not such a bad thing after all. Mind you, I'm not arguing that sort of reasoning is correct or incorrect. It is just that when people see a personal benefit from a choice they tend to look at that choice in a different light.

The vast bulk of the Downs babies avoided above are done via abortion of pregnancies which were initiated by conventional sexual intercourse. But once it becomes possible to test embryos for a large number of genetic defects and features then the focus of selection will shift to choosing between embryos created via in vitro fertilization (IVF). Why? IVF will provide many more embryos to select among. Rather than doing thumbs up or thumbs down on just a single embryo in a woman IVF can produce one or two dozen embryos. This will greatly increase the odds that prospective parents can find an embryo that combines the most desired genetic features of both parents.

So first comes the discovery of the functional significance of large numbers (tens or hundreds of thousands) of genetic variations. Then comes the shift to IVF to allow selection between a much bigger set of choices.

The third step after IVF embryo selection will involve development of ways to go thru much larger numbers of combinations of each parent's chromosomes before fertilization to get just the combination of parental genetic contributions that is most desired. Highly automated methods of predicting or measuring the genetic sequences in a sperm or egg will allow sorting thru large numbers of sperm or eggs (which could be generated from adult cells in a lab) to identify the most deal sperm to fertilize into the most ideal egg.

After that comes gene therapy to provide offspring with some genetic sequences that neither parent has.

As more biotechnology comes along to provide more powerful ways to choose genetic endowment for offspring I expect most will embrace this biotechnology and the human race's evolution will speed up by orders of magnitude more than the huge evolution acceleration of the last 10,000 years.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 20 10:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (43)
2009 May 21 Thursday
Pregnancy In 66 Year Old British Woman Starts Debate

66 year old British woman Elizabeth Adeney is pregnant with the help of assisted reproduction technologies (ART). This news come a few months after Octomom Nadya Suleman was roundly criticized for having 8 babies in a single pregnancy after already having 6 other babies (and I fully agree with that criticism). Now Elizabeth Adeney is coming under a similar round of criticism with commentator after commentator criticizing Adeney for her selfish disregard for the consequences of her choice to make a baby at age 66.

A woman who has everything but a baby and who decides, out of kilter with natural timing, that a baby is the one thing she must have, is certainly not thinking of the baby. Still less is she thinking of the school child, of the teenager, of the young person starting out in life in their twenties who has a parent in their late eighties to care for. I wonder if she sees herself at her child's wedding. I wonder if she has realised that her bargain does not include being a grandparent or supporting her child in having his or her own children.

Due to the age of the mother that baby is at far greater risk of birth defects and developmental problems that are life long in their effects.

I think we are seeing the beginning of a greater willingness of people to criticize the reproductive choices of others. Given the huge external costs (i.e. costs born by others) that come from poor reproductive choices I see this criticism as constructive and necessary. Some babies bring huge external costs to the rest of society. To the extent that we can reasonably know in advance when reproductive choices will create costs for the rest of us the criticism seems fully justified.

Technological advance increase the ease to start and keep high risk pregnancies going. We are going to also get far better means to test embryos and women to assess pregnancy risks. More powerful tools increase risks. We need a counterbalancing cultural pressure against abuse of these capabilities.

My question to you dear readers: Do you think there's a right to reproduce? Is there a right to reproduce even if one can know before the pregnancy begins that the choice of embryo or state of the prospective mother's womb will result in stunted and abnormal fetal development?

Suppose we reach a point where we know that certain genetic variations cause people to act more crimnally. Would it be an immoral violation of rights to prevent people from passing on such genetic variants?

Update: In the comments a few commenters question my assertion that older women using donated eggs are putting fetuses at greater risk of birth defects and developmental problems. Here's what happens over the age of 40 with pregnancies.

"First-time mothers who deliver at age 40 and beyond are twice as likely to have a Caesarean section than first-time mothers aged 20-29," says Gilbert. "The increase in C-sections is largely due to the increase in complications of labor and pregnancy."

For example, older first-time mothers had a tenfold increase in placenta previa, fourfold increase in gestational diabetes, 80 percent increase in pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), 70 percent increase in malpresentation of the fetus (i.e., breech birth), 50 percent increase in fetal disproportion, 48 percent increase in abnormal forces of labor (i.e., inadequate contractions), and a 30 percent increase in prolonged labor. In addition, these older women were five times more likely to have chronic high blood pressure and three times as likely to have diabetes as an underlying health condition before pregnancy than their younger counterparts.

Older multiparous women showed similarly higher rates of complications as compared to younger multiparous women, including fetal disproportion (a 60 percent increase), prolonged labor (a 50 percent increase) and malpresentation of the fetus (a 40 percent increase). These older women also had a threefold increase in pre-eclampsia and in placenta previa. This population of women was also nine times more likely to have chronic high blood pressure and 6.4 times more likely to be diabetic than their younger counterparts.

There aren't enough data points for women over 60. But very likely the risks are far higher.

The incidence of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) soars for women over the age of 40 reaching 31.9%. One can only guess how high it goes for women over the age of 50 and over the age of 60.

There was a significant difference and positive correlation in the prevalence of GDM, increasing from 1.3, 2.5, 6.2, 10.3, 21.7, and 31.9%, respectively, from the youngest to the oldest cohort (P < 0.001).

Diabetes causes many defects in fetal development including neural tube defects

By Randall Parker    2009 May 21 11:30 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (32)
2009 January 04 Sunday
70 Year Old Indian Woman Has IVF Baby, Wants Another

The world's fertility rate will bounce back due to advances in biotechnology (and natural selection).

Rajo Devi, 70, had a baby girl, Naveen Lohan, weighing 3lb 4oz, by caesarean section on Nov 28. "Now," she said, "I want a boy."

Rajo and her husband Bala Ram, 72, who live on a farm in the tiny village of Badhu Patti in Haryana, India, are hoping controversial IVF doctor Anurag Bishnoi will help them have a son.

Within 30 years (and probably sooner) I predict stem cell therapies will rejuvenate reproductive organs well enough to allow most women to have babies in their 40s, 50s, and even beyond. Cell manipulation techniques with gene therapies will enable the creation of a woman's own egg rather than use donor eggs.

If a poor farmer in India can afford IVF treatment the prospects for world population control grow dimmer.

Her husband mortgaged all his crop of rice and bamboo for next year and took out high interest loans to pay for the £2,000 IVF treatment.

IVF pregnancy initiation rates continue to grow (note some of these pregnancies abort).

And the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society says the pregnancy rate for in vitro fertilization was 35 per cent in 2007, up nine percentage points since 1999, when the group first started collecting these statistics.

On the bright side, in the next 10 years we are going to find out which genetic alleles contribute to differences in intelligence. So at least some of the IVF babies of the future will be a lot smarter. We are going to need lots of smarts to solve some of the problems caused by overpopulation.

Not all the problems caused by overpopulation will get solved though. You might want to burn up some of the dwindling supplies of fossil fuels to go visit and see animals in the wild that'll go extinct in a few decades. Ecotourism ahead of extinctions and habitat loss is now the rage.

From the tropics to the ice fields, doom is big business. Quark Expeditions, a leader in arctic travel, doubled capacity for its 2008 season of trips to the northern and southernmost reaches of the planet. Travel agents report clients are increasingly requesting trips to see the melting glaciers of Patagonia, the threatened coral of the Great Barrier Reef, and the eroding atolls of the Maldives, Mr. Shapiro said.

The most notable long term pattern in human evolution has been humanity's growing capability to dominate all ecosystems. The rest of nature is not capable of restraining us and I do not expect we will restrain ourselves as our powers continue to grow.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 04 10:08 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 December 01 Monday
DNA Chip Detects More Fetal Genetic Defects

Baylor researchers used DNA chips to test 270 genetic conditions in developing fetuses.

Many pregnant women have their unborn children screened for genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. But standard tests cannot identify all problems, and many extremely serious conditions go undetected until birth. In a new study, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston used DNA chips to test unborn babies for more than 270 genetic syndromes. They found that this procedure provided a more detailed and accurate view of the fetus's genetic profile than the approach commonly used today.

The study was done on 300 women, mostly at older ages. The cost at this time is $1600 but the researchers expect the price to drop. I also expect we will see more powerful DNA chips that can test tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of genetic differences.

What will people do with this information? More selective abortion. See my post Eugenics Cuts Down's Syndrome In Half In Denmark.

But selective abortion allows a woman only a binary decision: abort or not. It is also a tough decision. Some see it as killing a human life. Some others are uncertain and at least uneasy about it. Though still others do not see it as an act with moral significance or see a net moral benefit from it.

Granted, some women will use genetic testing information to decide on a medical intervention to fix a fetal problem. But the ability to do that sort of intervention will come many years after the ability to do very detailed genetic testing. So cheap powerful fetal genetic testing is going to be used mostly to decide whether to abort.

That binary decision of whether to abort will eventually be supplanted by the decision of which embryo to choose from among embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF). The increasing power of gene chips and what they can tell us will reach a threshold where IVF babies become superior in average looks, healthiness, intelligence and other characteristics as compared to babies born from naturally started pregnancies. IVF with in vitro maturation plus genetic testing will become the preferred way to start pregnancies, especially among the most educated and affluent.

The Brave New World is starting to come into view around the bend.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 01 10:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 November 30 Sunday
Eugenics Cuts Down's Syndrome In Half In Denmark

Eugenic abortion cuts the incidence of Down's Syndrome in Denmark.

A new national screening strategy in Denmark has halved the number of infants born with Down's syndrome and increased the number of infants diagnosed before birth by 30%, according to a study published on bmj.com today.

Many countries, including England, Australia and New Zealand, are trying to introduce national screening strategies for Down's syndrome, but are facing a variety of problems because of a lack of consensus about the screening policy and logistical challenges.

Owing to opposition to abortion by a substantial part of the American population do not expect to see such extensive systematic screening for Down's in the United States. This reduction in Down's births is coming as a result of abortions. Abortion opponents do not want women to know in advance they might be carrying a baby with a birth defect.

Since Denmark is a small country the number of Down's births is pretty small anyway. False positives and false negatives are both dropping.

They report that the number of infants born with Down's syndrome decreased from 55 per year during 2000, to 31 in 2005 and 32 in 2006. The total number of invasive tests fell sharply from 7524 in 2000 to 3510 in 2006.

The detection rate in the screened population was 86% in 2005 and 93% in 2006. With 3.9% (17) of women receiving a false positive result in 2005 and 3.3% (7) in 2006.

Down's will eventually become much rarer in the United States as a result of a much larger development. I predict a big shift toward in vitro fertilization (IVF) as we learn more about what all the genetic variations mean. Once genetic testing of embryos can provide enormous details about the future of potential offspring many prospective parents will opt to fertilize multiple eggs in vitro and then select the one that comes closest to matching their desires for offspring genetic inheritance.

Since the embryos will get screened for desired genes as a side effect major genetic problems will be avoided. The ability to select for smarter, better looking, more coordinated, stronger, more charming, and healthier children will lead to the widespread embrace of eugenics.

By Randall Parker    2008 November 30 10:40 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2008 September 18 Thursday
Single British Women Use Sperm Donors To Conceive

There is a trend for younger British women in their early 30s to use sperm donors to start pregnancies.

So-called "single motherhood by choice" has always existed: around 250 of the 1,100-strong membership of the UK's Donor Conception Network (DCN) are single mothers. Usually this is a decision women come to in their late 30s or early 40s. Not any more. Olivia Montuschi, a spokeswoman for the DCN, reports that the organisation has been approached recently by a several women in their early 30s already considering donor insemination: "It's increasingly an option. They're more likely to conceive [at this age], of course. But the idea that women are giving up on finding a man at 33 or 34 does seem a bit sad."

I see a certain element of brutal honesty involved. For a woman to admit at age 30 that her odds of finding Mr. Right are small is a tough thing to do. Yet some heterosexual women manage to admit this to themselves.

Seeking artificial insemination in your 20s or 30s is not unusual among lesbians (who have no reason to delay), but heterosexual women typically wait to see if they can find a partner first. Using a sperm donor has always been a last resort. Now the process is becoming a first resort.

I expect this option to become much more popular as a result of falling costs of DNA sequencing. Once we know the locations of many of the genetic alleles that contribute to hair color, eye color, facial shape, body shape, intelligence, personality, and other attributes the average woman who chooses to use a sperm donor will be able to get more desired genetic attributes for their child than they would from settling with the best guy they can find for a relationship. Women who use sperm donors will speed up the evolution of the human race.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 18 12:12 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2008 September 02 Tuesday
Ruthless Gene Test For Marital Happiness.

The gene AVPR1a codes for the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A which influences altruism, monogamy, and other behaviors. Genesis Biolabs wants you to test your prospective spouse for versions of AVPR1a to discover if he or she will be altruistic toward you. But what if a woman wants a man who will be ruthless in his pursuit of higher positions in a corporation?

Screening for the "ruthlessness" gene is likely an indicator of marital happiness. Marriages born out of mutual respect and mutual interest rather than self-interest are much more likely to succeed and probably less likely to end in divorce. Is your fiancé just after your money? Those with the "ruthlessness" gene may very well be. Those with the altruistic version of AVPR1a probably aren't. Ruthless people will lie, cheat and steal to get what they want. Genetics may not be a guaranteed indicator of human behavior and motivation [genetics is only one half of the nature vs. nurture debate] but genes don't lie. Before you make a lifetime commitment, have your fiancé tested.

What if an ambitious high status man wants a woman who will give his offspring genes that will make his kids hard chargers and ruthlessly ambitious? People could easily use this test for reasons opposite of the marketing pitch for it.

The research that led to this test came out only 9 months ago. In a few years we'll know of dozens of genes that influence fidelity, ruthlessness, and assorted other characteristics relevant to

Jerusalem, December 6, 2007 – Are those inclined towards generosity genetically programmed to behave that way? A team of researchers, including Dr. Ariel Knafo of the Psychology Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, believes that this could very well be the case.

Through an online task involving making a choice whether or not to give away money, the researchers found that those who chose to give away some or all of their money differed genetically from those involved in the exercise who chose not to give their money away.

The scientists conducted the experiment with 203 online "players". Each player could choose to keep the equivalent of $12 he was allocated, or to give all or part of it to an anonymous other player.

Those involved also provided DNA samples which were analyzed and compared to their reactions. It was found that those who had certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a gave on average nearly 50 percent more money than those not displaying that variant. The results of the study were published online recently in the research journal Genes, Brain and Behavior.

Do you want your wife giving all your hard-earned money away to charity? Do you want your husband to be an easy mark when his loser brother comes begging for money? I expect scientists will find genetic variations that contribute toward selective altruism for offspring and other genetically very close relatives. Maybe a woman will prefer a husband who is genetically more inclined to sacrifice for the kids and not for strangers.

New research from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden suggests AVPR1a influences stability of human relationships.

Hasse Walum and his colleagues made use of data from The Twin and Offspring Study in Sweden, which includes over 550 twins and their partners or spouses. The gene under study codes for one of the receptors for vasopressin, a hormone found in the brains of most mammals. The team found that men who carry one or two copies of a variant of this gene -- allele 334 -- often behave differently in relationships than men who lack this gene variant.

The incidence of allele 334 was statistically linked to how strong a bond a man felt he had with his partner. Men who had two copies of allele 334 were also twice as likely to have had a marital or relational crisis in the past year than those who lacked the gene variant. There was also a correlation between the mens gene variant and what their respective partners thought about their relationship.

Among the tested Swedish males 40% had at least one copy of the genetic variant that seems to decrease relationship stability.

Might such a simple switch be found in humans? A team led by Hasse Walum of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, sequenced the AVPR1a gene in about 500 pairs of adult same-sex Swedish twins, all of them married or cohabiting for at least 5 years, and their partners. One variation of the gene was particularly common; about 40% of males had either one or two copies of a version--or allele--of the gene known as "334."

These results are not surprising. A previous twins study found a genetic influence on the rate of female infidelity. Also, another twins study found evidence of a genetic contribution to psychopathy. We are going to see a big stream of discoveries which will make romantically motivated genetically testing become desirable. Genetic tests will yield such valuable insights into future behavor that I expect genetic privacy to become indefensible. People will surreptitiously take genetic samples and get tests done on the genes of their dates and lovers.

All this genetic testing will change who manages to get a mate and reproduce. Even among those who reproduce the testing will change who will reproduce with who. I expect we will see more mating of like with like. The most monogamously inclined will seek out others of their kind for marriage and babies. So societies will divide more deeply between those with stable marriages and those who engage in serial monogamy and promiscuity.

Update: More details on the study about avpr1a gene connection with marital happiness.

"A study by Erica Spotts, National Institute on Aging, using this sample was one of the first to show genetic influences on marital relationships, but did not reveal which genes were involved," says Neiderhiser. "The work on pair bonding in voles was very exciting because it suggested to us a specific gene to examine."

Neiderhiser, Paul Lichtenstein, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and colleagues interviewed 2,186 adults taking part in the Twin and Offspring Study in Sweden (TOSS). The TOSS study collected detailed information from pairs of twins and their partners or spouses about their marital relationships, personality and mental health, as well as genetic data.

They report in this week's on-line issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that, in men, having allele 334 was inversely linked to measures of the strength of a person's bond to their mate. They also report that men who carried two copies of allele 334 were more than twice as likely to report serious marital or relationship problems, such as facing threat of divorce, as men who had did not carry it. These men also were almost twice as likely to be unmarried as men with no copies, despite having a long-term relationship with their mate.

Women married to men with one or two copies of allele 334 reported lower scores on measures of marital quality than women married to men not carrying this allele.

Allele 334 is also associated with increased activity in the amygdala, a brain region involved in regulating emotions.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 02 09:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2008 May 11 Sunday
One Hundred Thousand Dollars For Ideal Egg Donor?

Writing in the Yale Daily News Divya Subrahmanyam points to high dollar offers for ideal egg donors.

“Ivy League Egg Donor Wanted.”

Sound familiar? From the News to the New Haven Register, this and similar ads for egg donors have appeared in the pages of local newspapers, attempting to lure intelligent Yale women with sums ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

One Web site, offering $35,000 is looking for a “Genius Asian donor,” and describes the ideal match: “You should have or be working on a university degree from a world-class university, you should have high standardized test scores, and preferably have some outstanding achievements and awards.”

Another, EliteDonors.com seeks a donor who is Caucasian, “very attractive,” “height 5’9” or taller” and “athletic.” The ad claims to offer $100,000 as minimum compensation.

That $100,000 seems like a large sum of money for human eggs today. But suppose that choosing the right egg results in a smarter child with a responsible, calm, and motivated disposition. The boost in life time income could be many times that initial $100,000 investment.

The value from choosing "premium" eggs will soar as plummeting costs of DNA sequencing technologies bring about an explosion of discoveries about genetic variations for controlling intelligence and personality. The ability to choose between eggs based on detailed genetic profile of donors will greatly increase the probability of getting some desired genetic outcome.

The initial genetic screening of potential donors still doesn't control for the randomness of which portion of a person's DNA went into each egg. But that will become a solvable problem. Fertilization of multiple eggs and genetic testing of each embryo is already possible today. Once we know what thousands of genetic variations do to determine IQ, personality, physical attractiveness, and many other attributes screening of multiple embryos will become very desirable. At that point expect to see skyrocketing prices for donor eggs with the most desired attributes.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 11 11:32 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
IVF Starts Pregnancy In 16 Year Old Jerusalem Arab Girl

An Israeli Jewish doctor successfully started a pregnancy in an Arab girl at the age of 16.

The total fertility rate in Israel is currently estimated at 2.77 children born per woman, one of the highest rates in the world. Ronit Haimov-Kochman, a gynaecologist at Hadassah Mount Scopus Medical Center in Jerusalem, recently led a team of doctors that successfully performed in vitro fertilization (IVF) on a 16-year-old girl. The patient, AH, had had extensive medical and surgical fertility treatment since the age of 14. Haimov-Kochman tells Ewen Callaway why she helped a teenager get pregnant – and why other Arab teens are likely to follow.

The Israelis are losing a demographic battle of the womb to the much more fertile Arabs.

This fertility doctor sees respecting the mentality and cultural norms of another group as important drivers in her decision. Personally, I'm not suicidal. Quite the opposite in fact. But I respect the cultural norms that cause this doctor to behave suicidally for her culture (though I'd lose all that respect if my own culture was threatened). On second thought, introspecting I see that I do not feel that respect. Indifference is more like it. Not my country. Not my culture.

So what contributed to your team's eventual decision to treat AH?

Treatment of AH was based on the couple's decision to start therapy. Respecting the patient's mentality and cultural norms, the patient's right for therapy, and its wide availability in Israel all contributed to our decision to treat the patient.

It is understandable that in a society with an exceedingly high fertility rate, where the major role of the female spouse is to bear and rear children, strong peer and family pressure is imposed on infertile patients – especially the young and less educated ones.

What do you all think? Do 14 year old Muslim girls in Jerusalem have a right to begin fertility treatment?

More basically, is there a basic right to reproduction? If so, why? Does it not matter what the consequences are?

By Randall Parker    2008 May 11 08:54 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (35)
2008 March 15 Saturday
Baby Surrogacy In India Legal And Growing

Outsourcing takes so many forms. Foreigners rent wombs in India in order to save money.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby).

I'm sure you all can see the next logical step: parenting surrogacy. Hire the surrogate mother to keep taking care of the kid even after birth. Get to claim the kid is yours without having to interrupt your drive to success by actually taking the time to raise it. You could fly into India (or have the baby flown to your home country) once a year to get a series of pictures taken with the kid. That way the pictures at your office desk or in your wallet stay up to date with your age and your co-workers do not have to suspect you rarely see the kid. You can even fake authentic child raising problems. Occasionally (but not as often as in real life child raising) when the kid gets the flu in India you could even stay home from work for a couple of days and pretend to take care of Johnnie or Jill.

A deluxe parenting surrogacy service would include a web cam accessible only by you and some camera monitoring personnel in India. When an important moment happens (e.g. your baby's first step) a camera monitoring worker could notify you and email you the video clip showing those first steps. The baby would be kept in a US-looking living room which could be made to look like your own. With the Indian surrogates care in staying away from the camera you could even show your baby's first steps to people in the office.

The problem with parenting surrogacy of course are the invitations where you are supposed to bring Junior. This is where surrogacy in Mexico might be able to compete with surrogacy in India. If the little tyke is only a short airplane hop away from where you live then the baby can be brought in just for baby birthday parties and the like.

Medical tourism surrogacy is rapidly growing.

Rudy Rupak, co-founder and president of PlanetHospital, a medical tourism agency with headquarters in California, said he expected to send at least 100 couples to India this year for surrogacy, up from 25 in 2007, the first year he offered the service.

Lower prices in India make surrogacy affordable by middle class Americans.

Under guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research, surrogate mothers sign away their rights to any children. A surrogate’s name is not even on the birth certificate.

This eases the process of taking the baby out of the country. But for many, like Lisa Switzer, 40, a medical technician from San Antonio whose twins are being carried by a surrogate mother from the Rotunda clinic, the overwhelming attraction is the price. “Doctors, lawyers, accountants, they can afford it, but the rest of us — the teachers, the nurses, the secretaries — we can’t,” she said. “Unless we go to India.”

Outsourcing isn't just for corporations. Outsourcing is for mothers too.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 15 10:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2007 December 30 Sunday
Pregnancy Surrogacy Outsourced To India

Picture groups of women in India living - and, by doing so, working - in a sort of baby factory.

ANAND, India - Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills.

A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here.

While lots of the surrogacy is for local women some of it is for foreign women who can't carry a baby to term.

More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and beyond.

They use eggs and sperm from the prospective parents, do in vitro fertilization (IVF), and then implant the resulting embryo in an Indian woman who accepts payment for carrying the baby to term. The article states an Indian woman can earn the equivalent of 15 years of salary by carrying just one pregnancy.

This is all legal in India.

Decades ago Honeywell used to run TV ads about computers for controlling commercial building heating and cooling and they'd end each ad with a guy saying "The future is today at Honeywell". Well, I increasingly feel that way about the whole world. There's increasingly science fiction quality to aspects of every day life. We are getting far enough away from the limitations of our primitive past that the future of our imaginings doesn't seem as distant and unreachable as the future seemed in the past.

50 years ago science fiction writers could write all sorts of plot elements into a story secure in the knowledge that whatever they'd describe would seem distantly futuristic. Well, it seems harder to come up with ideas about the future that sit way in the distant future. What is theoretically physically possible to do that is unlikely to happen in this century?

By Randall Parker    2007 December 30 10:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2007 December 29 Saturday
Most IVF Embryos Destroyed

Most embryos created during in vitro fertilization (IVF) are eventually discarded.

MORE than 1m embryos created for fertility treatment in British clinics have been destroyed over the past 14 years, government figures have shown.

The Department of Health data show that 2,137,924 embryos were created using IVF between 1991 and 2005, but about 1.2m were never used.

While political opposition to the creation of embryos to extract embryonic stem cells remains strong the rate of destruction of embryos is already high without the use of embryos for this purpose. More embryos get created than used for a few reasons. First off, women trying to start a pregnancy using IVF get extra embryos created because they don't know how many attempts will be needed or even how many fertilizations will succeed in creating viable embryos.

Also, the development of tests (genetic and otherwise) for checking on the health of embryos leads to the identification of unhealthy embryos before implantation. These tests are becoming more powerful and as a result many embryos can be judged to either be unlikely to start a pregnancy or to result in birth defects.

The development of increasingly more powerful genetic tests for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PIGD or PGD) of embryos will lead prospective parents to become much more selective in choosing embryos. As the significance of more genetic variations becomes known people will have far more reasons to choose between different embryos. The trend is going to be toward the creation of far larger numbers of embryos so as to increase the odds of finding an embryo will be found that contains the best combination of genes from the two parents. Basically, people will throw the genetic dice more times in order to better their odds.

The era of large scale excess embryo creation will last a few decades at most. That era will end with the development of nanotechnological tools that will provide the means to select each chromosome to put in an egg, sperm, or embryo. Rather than throw the dice many times we'll gain the ability to basically put down the genetic dice with the combination we desire.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 29 10:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 December 19 Wednesday
Lawsuits Coming Over Genetic Inheritance?

Some members of the British House of Lords argue that the use of donor eggs and sperm to create offspring should not be kept secret from those offspring.

Children born from donor eggs or sperm could have the information recorded on their birth certificates.

An influential group of peers yesterday called for a law change to force parents to reveal donor conceptions.

Under the proposals, a special mark next to a child's name would reveal whether he or she was conceived naturally or with the help of a donor.

Parents who tried to hide the truth from their children could be fined or imprisoned.

What do we have a right to know? Should parents get to know that their kids are not genetically from them while the kids get kept in the dark? Deceived kids can pay a price as a result of the deception: when they look at their parents to judge their potential capabilities they will tend to more incorrectly guess their capabilities. The tendency to underestimate their capabilities kids who have genes that make them more capable.

But if the goal of knowing about your genetic parents is to provide useful insights about yourself then the rapid decline in the cost of genetic sequencing and testing will provide a much better way to do that by the time babies born today reach adulthood.

But knowing your genetic inheritance is less important than what is in your genetic inheritance. I expect some people to object to what they've been given as their genetic inheritance. After all, what you get in your genes has huge consequences. Why won't some unhappy and angry children sue?

I see lawsuits over genetic inheritance probably in about 35 years. Once people gain the ability to choose genetic variations for their children those children will grow up, see what decisions were made for them, and sue their legal parents over the genetic choices of their parents.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 19 09:42 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2007 October 14 Sunday
Same Sex Couples Travel To US For Designer Babies

The United States has fewer regulatory obstacles to the paying of egg and sperm donors and also of women who basically rent out their wombs for 9 months to bring a baby to term. This is prompting the growth of an interesting form of labor out-sourcing into the United States. Same sex couples from Australia are traveling to the United States to use US egg donors and women who can act as surrogate carriers of pregnanices to term.

SAME-sex couples from Queensland are heading to the US to buy designer babies for up to $133,000 - even specifying the gender they want.

IVF pioneer Dr Jeffrey Steinberg said an increasing number of gay and lesbian Australians were visiting his Californian fertility centre to begin a family and side-step Australian law that prohibits surrogacy.

Converted into US dollars that's about $120k. A sizable amount. Reproduction is big business.

One thought strikes me about reproductive technologies and their costs: We are going to witness DNA testing technologies become more powerful and more useful. We are also going to witness the initial introduction and growth in the power of biotechnologies for manipulating chromosomes and genes in embryos. As these things happen we will see a huge increase in the advantages to be gained from using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to create embryos outside of the womb (aka test tube babies). Yet those technologies will initially become available at high prices. Okay, so who will use them first? Wealthier people.

Since wealthier people will be the first to use reproductive technologies that boost offspring intelligence, make offspring healthier, and make offspring better looking the initial use of such technologies will boost the existing trend toward greater economic inequality. As the first wave of bioengineered children of the upper classes come of age those children will enjoy an even greater advantage over . The upper classes will become much more successful at maintaining multi-generation success stories as they become able to avoid at least some of the regression to the mean toward lower achieving offspring. Many of those who genetically engineering their children will actually produce children who are smarter, more motivated, and more socially adept than the parents of these children.

By Randall Parker    2007 October 14 08:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2007 October 06 Saturday
72 Year Old Sperm Donor To Father His Grandchild

His son can't get the son's wife pregnant and so dad is going to do the job.

A 72-year-old man is due to become the father of his own "grandchild" by acting as a sperm donor for his daughter-in-law. The case is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK. The government's fertility watchdog said there was a "handful" of men over 65 on the sperm register, but some fertility experts are worried that the couple are being subjected to undue risks because the sperm is likely to have many genetic mutations accumulated during the donor's life.

Yes, there are greater risks of genetically caused disease as sperm get older. But there's another more interesting angle here: This isn't genetically incestuous since he's knocking up his daughter-in-law. But a man was going to donate sperm to his daughter. There's a big taboo against that for a couple of reasons, most obviously because recessive harmful genes are more likely to pair up and cause genetic diseases when closely related people mate.

But imagine that a brother and sister or father and daughter used genetic testing combined with in vitro fertilization to select fertilized eggs (i.e. embryos) that do not have have harmful recessive gene pairings. The resulting child won't suffer from the genetic effects of very genetically close mating. Would you think that laws against incestuous mating should still be enforced against such pairings?

Genetically safe mating of closely related people is still a hypothetical case today. But that won't always be the case. Given the rate of advance in genetic testing technologies and the accumulating evidence on the significance of human genetic differences I expect within 20 years time if not sooner we'll know enough to avoid harmful recessive pairings. At that point should incestuous mating between consenting adults remain illegal?

There's a sociobiological argument against genetically very close mating: the mating creates tribal and family divisions in society and reduces what some political scientists call "social capital". I think genetic engineering is going to create divisions between groups of humans more severe than even the existing tribal divisions that are at least partially genetic in origin.

By Randall Parker    2007 October 06 10:08 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 September 10 Monday
Will Polygamists Use Sex Selection Technology?

Why aren't polygamists already using sex selection reproduction technology to avoid large scale expulsion of teenage boys from their sects?

Over the last six years, hundreds of teenage boys have been expelled or felt compelled to leave the polygamous settlement that straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

Disobedience is usually the reason given for expulsion, but former sect members and state legal officials say the exodus of males — the expulsion of girls is rarer — also remedies a huge imbalance in the marriage market. Members of the sect believe that to reach eternal salvation, men are supposed to have at least three wives.

Does God stand in the way of efforts to stop death from disease or from problems during birth? Of course not. God doesn't stand in the way of progress. Surely God would approve of efforts to enlist technology to surpass the Beach Boys "Two Girls For Every Boy" (and yes it was Jan and Dean but Brian Wilson co-wrote it). This would work especially well if the boys were genetically engineered to think in six part harmony.

Nowadays if men want three girls for every boy they need to find out how to get rid of two boys out of three.

Mr. Gilbert estimates that 100 boys from his school class, or 70 percent of them, have been expelled or left on their own accord; there is no way to verify the numbers.

Sex selection would avoid the need to expel boys and therefore eliminate one cause of hostility toward the polygamists. They could create communities that have less internal strife as well. Parents who expel their sons can't be happy about it. Some of them must feel terrible about it.

I predict some polygamists will eventually embrace sex selection reproductive technologies. Also, once the neurological mechanisms behind jealousy are elucidated expect polygamists to genetically engineer girl offspring to not feel jealousy in polygamist marriages.

The question we need to ask: Will polygamy still pose a problem for the larger society if a society contains three times as many women as men and if women don't feel jealous in polygamous marriages? For example, will polygamous marriages make married people more inward oriented toward family and will this reduce the social capital of societies by reducing volunteerism and civic spirit?

Update: Some people are under the misimpression that the only way to do sex selection is either to selectively abort or to use in vitro fertilization and embryo selection before implantation. Not so. Microsort can partially separate X and Y carrying sperm and shift the odds of births heavily toward boys (73% accuracy) or girls (88% accuracy). Therefore only artificial insemination is needed for sex selection. Over 8 girls for every boy if only the X selected sperm are used.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 10 09:47 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2007 May 20 Sunday
Average Egg Donor Price Over Four Thousand Dollars

An article in the New York Times reports on the prices in the egg donor market in the United States.

A survey published this month in the journal Fertility and Sterility, “What Is Happening to the Price of Eggs?” found that the national average compensation for donors was $4,217. At least one center told the authors of the paper that it paid $15,000. Many centers did not respond.

Though laws prohibit the sale of transplant organs, sperm donors have always received small payments, and prospective parents in the United States are allowed to compensate women for their far greater expenditure of time and energy. (Many countries, including Canada and Britain, do prohibit payments to egg donors.)

I am disappointed that the average payment is so low. Why? Because if the buyers were chiefly going for the highest IQ egg donors (e.g. Ivy League, CalTech, MIT, and Stanford undergrads) then the average payment would be in the tens of thousands. Prospective parents will get smarter kids with much greater earning potential and lower risks of crime and other problems if they pay the extra money it takes to use smarter donors. The money spent up front will pay itself back many times over in the long run.

Interesting facts about regional variations come out in the abstract of this article "What is happening to the price of eggs?".

Over half SART clinics (53%, 207 out of 394) responded to the survey, with 191 (92%, 191 out of 207) having a donor oocyte program. The national average for standard donor compensation was $4,217, with a maximum payment average of $4,576. Geographic location affected compensation rates, with highest reported standard mean compensation in the East/Northeast ($5,018) and West regions ($4,890), and lowest in the Northwest ($2,900).

Why is the Northwest of the United States such a bargain would the buyers? Are more women in the Northwest willing to donate for free? Or are the Northeast and West buyers more discriminating and going for relatively smarter (and therefore more expensive) donors at higher frequencies?

Countries that prohibit payments to donors aren't taking a moral high road. The women who donate are taking health risks and might even be aging their ovaries more rapidly due to the effects of the hormones used to stimulate egg release. Plus, the lack of a market means the higher IQ women are going to be less available for donation and hence the average IQ quality and other quality of egg donors will be lower. Why contribute to lower intellectual quality of future generations by prohibiting a market in donor eggs?

Now for a repeat of predictions I've made in the past: The development of cheap DNA testing techniques will increase the desirability of using egg donors. The ability to identify women whose genes possess the best genetic alleles for one's preferences will make the use of donor eggs into a way to produce babies with more desired qualities. Testing will lower risks and at the same time improve quality of outcome.

Cheap full genome genetic testing will also cause a much greater spread in donor egg prices. Women who are now contenting themselves with $2000 or $3000 eggs will, in the future, know how much they are giving up by going with cheaper eggs. I expect a drop in demand for lower quality eggs and an even larger boost in demand for highest quality eggs.

Some of you may wish to quibble with my use of terms like "lower quality" and "highest quality" in reference to donor eggs. Granted, there is no single accepted standard on what constitutes genetic quality. But that does not matter. Each buyer will bring their own personal values and preferences to their decision-making processes and they will choose among genetic features based on their own judgments on what constitutes high quality. In other words, the market will define quality and will do so in each potential transaction.

Since people have no shortage of preferences in what they like and dislike in other people and in what they'd like their offspring to become (or not become - e.g. afflicted with diseases and disorders, criminal, crazy) I expect that given the ability to choose among donors based on detailed genetic information people will find many reasons to discriminate between the genetic profiles of lists of potential egg donors.

Cheap genetic testing is not the only forthcoming technological advance that will cause an increase the use of high priced donor eggs. In the comments of a previous post David Friedman noted that science fiction novelist Robert Heinlein described in his novel Beyond This Horizon a way to avoid the uncertainty of not knowing which of each chromosome pair will get passed down to offspring. Start with a cell that has the full genome of a donor. Under controlled conditions induce it to turn into two eggs. Then genetically test one of the eggs. From the test results and from a genetic sequencing of the entire genome one can deduce which of each chromosome pair is in the undestroyed egg of the two egg pair.

With automation of microfluidic devices this process could get repeated hundreds or thousands of times until an egg with the desired chromosomes was found. That egg could then be fertilized. The same process could be performed to create the sperm used to do the fertilization. This will enable prospective parents to get the better genetic variations from donors and hence increase the odds that use of donors will produce much higher quality results in offspring. That will increase the attractiveness of using donor cells.

By Randall Parker    2007 May 20 01:47 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2007 May 09 Wednesday
Embryo Eugenics Finds New Uses

When using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to start a pregnancy in a lab dish it is possible to genetically test each embryo to avoid undesirable genetic variations or to choose desired genetic variations. William Saletan reports the list of reasons people use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for embryo selection is growing.

In its early days, PGD targeted fatal childhood diseases such as Tay-Sachs. But a new survey of U.S. fertility clinics, scheduled for release this week by the Genetics and Public Policy Center, suggests the line is moving. Among clinics that offer PGD, 28 percent have used it to target genes whose associated diseases don't strike until adulthood. The list includes Alzheimer's, which afflicts some people in their 30s but usually arrives much later. According to next month's Journal of Clinical Oncology, PGD has also been used to wipe out colon cancers that don't develop until age 45 to 55 and are treatable, if detected early, with survival rates of 90 percent.

For some of these adult-onset genes, the risk of illness is less than 50 percent. But it feels mean, even arbitrary, to quibble about probabilities. American clinics target these genes anyway, to prevent "cancer predisposition syndromes," if not cancer itself. Even if your child never gets sick, just knowing he has the gene can cause anxiety, as British regulators noted four months ago when they approved PGD for colon cancer.

The use of PGD has now spread beyond just avoidance of severe diseases. Some prospective parents choose to avoid genetic variations that give fairly low probabilities of diseases such as colon cancer. I see this as a waste of time for some diseases. A baby born today will not face serious risk of colon cancer until the 2050s. Well, by the 2050s I expect cancer will be easily curable or avoidable.

The other reason to refrain from selecting against genetic variations that create low risk of some diseases is that these variations might provide benefits as well. Functionally significant genetic variations found in substantial portions of the human population probably got selected for. Many genetic variations that cause specific disease risks also probably deliver some as yet undiscovered benefit.

Scientists are going to discover the costs and benefits of hundreds of thousand and possibly millions of genetic variations. As the significance of hundreds of thousands of genetic variations becomes known the advantages of using IVF with PGD will grow enormously. I expect at some point in industrialized countries natural conception will become less used than IVF. This transition point probably will happen in the next 30 years because we'll know what most of the genetic variations mean within 30 years.

Once we know a lot about hundreds of thousands of genetic variations then genetic testing of a dozen or so embryos is going to be viewed as too confining and constricting. IVF and PGD only let you choose among those combinations of parental DNA that actually happen in the half dozen or dozen embryos which will result from basically random arrangement of DNA from two parents. People will start pining for the ability to select which of each pair of chromosomes to give to junior.

The development of biotechnologies that enable selection between chromosomes will enable even greater control over which genetic variations parents will give to their offspring. Beyond that capability the next step will be gene therapy to create offspring that have genetic variations in combinations that could not occur as a result of normal sexual reproduction. Once that becomes possible the rate of human genetic change will skyrocket.

In the United States I am not expecting many restrictions on the use of IVF and PGD to select for desired genetic features beyond disease avoidance. As each new capability hits the market potential parents will demand the freedom to choose genetic features for many reasons. Looks and intelligence will be two big motivators for use of PGD and, further into the future, use of chromosome selection and gene therapy.

The ability to select genetic variations for offspring will make reproduction more appealing. This capability will allow lowering of many risks (e.g. of retardation, autism, attention deficit, and tendencies toward anger and criminality) The ability to reduce risks will greatly increase the likelihood that offspring will meet parental hopes. So kids will be born who are better looking, smarter, and better behaved. I expect an increase in fertility due to the increased likelihood that prospective parents will get children who will have desired features.

Thanks to Ivan Kirigin for the heads-up.

By Randall Parker    2007 May 09 10:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2007 May 06 Sunday
Woman Gives Birth To Her Grandsons

You know how much parents want their kids to make them into grandparents? A woman on the Greek island of Crete used biotechnology to turn herself into a grandmother. A Greek woman unable to carry a pregnancy turned to her mother to do the job with embryos created with in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A 52-year-old woman gave birth to her daughters’ twins on Crete thanks to the technique of in vitro fertilization (IVF), doctors at a private clinic in Hania said yesterday.

Other parts of the article quote the age as 54. The baby boys were born 2.5 lbs each. The premature delivery was not surprising given the grandmother's age. The aging of ovaries is not the only reason older women lose the ability to start viable pregnancies. The reproductive tract and the entire body decline with age as well.

Fast forward 20 or 30 years and picture a future when new ovaries and other female reproductive organs can be grown from scratch and implanted as replacements. More women will make babies in their 40s and 50s. Add in full body rejuvenation (sure to follow) and women will reproduce in their 60s and beyond.

Full body rejuvenation using Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) will inevitably cause a big uptick in fertility. The instinctive desire to reproduce and baby fever will combine with rejuvenation therapies to drive human populations up into the tens of billions unless governments restrict reproduction.

Some people argue we should die to make room for the babies that people instinctively want to create. Some people argue (really, I'm not making this up) that we humans do not have any instinctive desire to reproduce and that we can all get taught to prefer dogs and cats to human babies. That naive Blank Slate thinking belongs in the 20th century along with lots of other foolish 20th century ideas. If we are going to reason about the future in a realistic fashion we need to come to grips with human nature as it exists, not as social engineers would like it to be.

By Randall Parker    2007 May 06 05:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2007 April 21 Saturday
Woman Freezes Her Eggs To Give To Daughter

7 year old Canadian Flavie Boivin might some day give birth to her brother or sister.

MONTREAL - In what is considered a world first, Melanie Boivin has donated her eggs to her daughter who is sterile because of a genetic condition called Turner's syndrome.

The Montreal lawyer's eggs are to be frozen until her seven-year-old daughter, Flavie, becomes of age to bear a child through in-vitro fertilization.

If Flavie has a daughter from one of these eggs the baby will have a grandmother who is also her mother. This opens up all sorts of possibilities. Suppose a woman gave birth to a daughter from eggs donated from her great grandmother. The daughter would also be her mom's great aunt.

Recent advances in egg freezing technology improve the odds of starting viable pregnancies from frozen eggs.

Kutluk Oktay, a renowned expert in preserving fertility at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University in New York, said egg-freezing technology has "changed drastically in the last couple of years and is now being seen as the next breakthrough in reproductive medicine."

"The procedure will be seen as an established part of fertility care . . . within the next five years," he predicted.

Although questions remain around which method of freezing eggs is best, Dr. Oktay said McGill's fast-freezing technique -- known as vitrification -- "looks extremely promising."

Egg-freezing will become even more popular for women who want to assure that they still have viable eggs when they are able to afford the time to raise children. A woman pursuing a career and unable to find Mr. Right could put off children until her 40s by using frozen eggs she put away while still in her 20s.

I consider this all pretty small stuff compared to embryo genetic engineering. Imagine a woman deciding to build an embryo using chromosomes taken from 5 different men. Each man might carry some chromosome that has a genetic trait she wants. Or she might solicit all her girlfriends to chip in a chromosome or two. Get blue eyes and pretty face from Kathy, resistance to depression and stress from the indomitable Sally, and a sharp mind from Sue.

The ability to select individual chromosomes and assemble them together into an egg, sperm, or embryo will break the link between parenthood and parental genetic endowment. Add in the ability to modify genetic sequences and the rate of human evolution will skyrocket. Your guess is as good as mind on the question of where this will all lead.

By Randall Parker    2007 April 21 02:08 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 December 17 Sunday
Razib And Armand Leroi On Future Of Eugenics

Gene Expression blogger Razib has written some thoughts on evolutionary biologist Armand Leroi's expectations for the future of eugenics (labelled neo-eugenics to try to distance it from eugenics advocacy of previous eras)

  • "40% of infants with any one of 11 main congenital disorders were aborted in Europe."
  • "... in 2002, 20% of fetuses with apparent birth defects were aborted in G8 countries--that is, between 30,000 and 40,000 fetuses."
  • "In Western Australia, neonatal mortality rates due to congenital deformities declined from 4.36 to 2.75 per 1,000 births in the period from 1980 to 1998. Half of that decline is thought to be due to the increase in abortions of abnormal fetuses...."
  • In Taiwan, screens for thalassaemia mutations have caused the live-birth prevalence of this disease to drop from 5.6 to 1.21 per 100,000 births over eight years

To greatly reduce the rate of mutations in births requires widespread screening and a willingness to abort based on the results. Or genetically screen IVF embryos before implantation. In the longer run we will gain the ability to do gene therapy to repair genetic defects in embryos. But due to the risks involved and likely regulatory resistance I expect that's decades away from routine procedure.

If all embryos were screened and if women halted all pregnancies which have genetic defects the percentage of births with genetic diseases avoided would be pretty low.

  • Based on the number of known mutations Armand calculates that it should be possible to predict disease to a reasonable confidence in 1 in 252 embryos.

Notice the emphasis on known. Of course many more unknown purely harmful mutations will be found in the coming years. So the incentive to screen to avoid harmful mutations will rise.

Also, we will come across many more mutations that provide benefits under some conditions (e.g the sickle cell anemia mutation which confers malaria resistance) but at painful costs. Expect quite divisive controversies on which genetic variations are harms and which are benefits.

Some argue against all attempts to prevent the birth of babies with genetic diseases. Others argue against specific methods (e.g. abortion) to avoid such births. Still others argue that abortion or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD - used before implantation of embryos created with in vitro fertilization) are acceptable only to avoid true genetic defects.

The argument for restricting the use of, say, PGD only to avoid genetic defects immediately runs up against the question of what is a genetic defect and what is a genetic disease. The genetic variation for sickle cell anemia was selected for because it conferred resistance to malaria. It was not a defect for those who it helped to survive malaria infection.

I predict we will find many genetic variations that confer some benefit at some cost. Sometimes the benefit will be irrelevant under modern conditions (e.g. sickle cell anemia for someone living in temperate climes or with benefit of drugs). But that won't always be the case. Real thorny ones will involve trade-offs that come from genetic variations that provide both high costs and high benefits.

For example, imagine a genetic variation that boosts IQ at the cost of greater chances of feeling depressed if one encounters tough times. Or imagine a genetic variation that allows one to live longer but at the cost of making one more lethargic. People will argue to select for or against all manner of genetic variations.

Cost and benefit calculations will depend in part on one's values. But one's expectations of future technological advances will also figure into the question of what is a cost and what is a benefit. Suppose some genetic variation increases a woman's chance of breast cancer in her thirties but also will raise her intelligence. That might well be the case for the BRCA gene variations that contribute to cancer risk. A person might plausibly argue against selecting out such variations on the theory that 30 or 40 years from now cancer will become easily curable.

To screen most effectively requires use of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A major caution about massive genetic preimplantation screens is that they would be preimplantation. That is, some sort of IVF would be needed. It seems implausible that this would be widespread, but Leroi points out that IVF procedures already make up several percent of the pregnancies in Western nations. The cost of a typical IVF procedure is that of a medium sized car, and crucially, the cost of many diseases over one's lifetime is far greater (IVF would be like "insurance").

As the number of genetic variations one wishes to avoid rises so does the need for IVF and genetic screening on multiple embryos. But the greater the number of genetic variations to avoid or to selective for the greater the potential benefit.

As we learn the significance of large numbers of genetic variations the primary motivation for gene selection will be to get desired features rather than to avoid genetic diseases. The desire for higher intelligence will make IVF become the preferred way to create babies for one reason: People will embrace IVF to make smarter babies. They'll also embrace it to make better looking children. The prospect of better smarts and looks will cause prospective parents to embrace IVF and genetic screening with a passion.

Armand's piece points out several important issues. First, the new eugenics is already here. Second, the new eugenics will become more powerful as information gathering via genomics becomes more omniscient, and medical interventions in fertility become more omnipotent. Third, there is variance in the extent that different individuals and groups are willing to avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the new eugenics.

Smarter and higher economic class people will embrace eugenic technologies more rapidly and more enthusiastically. The smarties will select for smarter children with attributes that will make them more successful. Therefore I predict a widening of the gaps between the most and least successful segments of societies and of the gaps between societies.

Elites will promote subsidies and propaganda campaigns to encourage the cognitively less able and poorer people to also use eugenic reproductive technologies. But even when the dumber folks opt to use genetic screening they'll make less optimal choices for their offspring.

I would add a fourth point to the three points Razib enumerates: Those who will avail themselves of methods to select offspring genetic endowments will make different average decisions as members of different societies, races, religions, and other groupings. This will tend to cause a divergence of the human race into groups that will become more genetically dissimilar. Genetic variations that cause differences in methods of cognitive processing will have the greatest political impact as groups clash due to genetically caused differences in values and in understandings of the world.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 17 08:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2006 December 06 Wednesday
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?

By Randall Parker    2006 December 06 10:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (28)
2006 December 03 Sunday
Europeans Get Around Sperm And Egg Donor Regulations

The booming egg donor market in the United States is pulling in British donors who want to make extra money.

The sale of eggs is illegal in this country, but in America, the industry is worth an estimated $4.5bn (£2.4bn). Donors with the right physical, personal and intellectual attributes can attract fees of up to $35,000 for their eggs, with some in the industry claiming that as much as $50,000 has changed hands. Prices are rising, too: in New York, average eggs are fetching $8,000. About 15 years ago, the comparable figure was closer to $1,000.

The people who are paying only $8000 for eggs are making bad investment decisions. Top quality is worth paying for when it comes to the genetic inheritance of your children.

British women, banned from selling their eggs in Britain, are increasingly offering their eggs for sale in laissez faire America.

Now British women - including 25-year-old Alexandra Saunders of High Wycombe, who this week advertised her eggs on the internet to pay off a £15,000 credit card debt - are following suit.

Though a woman who would run up a nearly $30,000 credit card debt strikes me perhaps lacking in genes that contribute to prudence and the ability to engage in careful financial planning.

The article quotes an an American egg brokerage web site which claims it has experienced a 25% increase in applications by British women who want to sell their eggs. It seems likely British buyers are also travelling to the United States to get eggs and to get them fertilized and implanted while here. That's a lot more expensive than it need be. If the British government would get over their socialist view that eggs shouldn't be sold they'd save British buyers and sellers a lot of time, money, and aggravation.

There's an underground egg trade in Britain where the market participants try to find ways around the regulatory limitations.

Controversially, one of the UK's leading fertility experts, Dr Mohammed Taranissi, has argued that payment for eggs was already a reality in the UK. Dr Taranissi, director of Britain's most successful fertility clinic, the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London, said that, via sizeable "expenses" for donors and free IVF treatment for those involved in egg-sharing programmes, payment was being made in different ways by clinics.

Given the risks and impositions of egg donations it seems entirely unfair for a government to tell women they do not have a right to charge what the market will bear for egg donation. The risks involved in use of fertility drugs to cause extra egg production might even include chromosomal damage to eggs in the ovaries. Governments should not limit how much women can charge for running these risks.

Those Danes are doing their manly duty to bring new babies into this world. Limits on sperm donation in many European countries have driven Denmark to the top of the European donor sperm trade.

In the same way that some nations have oil fields or bread mountains, Denmark boasts an ever-growing sperm lake. The vault at Cryos HQ holds around 75,000 straws. It is far too much sperm for a nation where only 65,000 children are born each year, so Denmark is a net exporter. The efforts of the men of Arhus, Odense and Copenhagen have helped to engender an estimated 12,000 children around the world, and each year “the Danish stuff” brings forth some 1,400 more.

An embarrassment of riches in Denmark has corresponded to a scarcity of donor sperm almost everywhere else. In Britain, as in Norway and Sweden, new regulations ending anonymity for sperm donors has decimated the ranks of men once willing to donate, while in April the arrival of the EU Tissue Directive is likely to make sperm banking a harder business to manage on a small scale. Cryos could yet emerge with something of a monopoly on the European market.

The London Bridge centre once supplied donor sperm to most UK fertility clinics. “We now just about meet our own needs,” says Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director. Previously, up to 15 UK clinics relied on semen from Cryos, but such imports are now restricted. “We send our most urgent cases to clinics in Denmark,” says Grudzinskas.

6% of Danish babies are born with the help of assisted reproduction technology (ART). The United States is lagging Denmark in terms of the percentage of women using ART. I suspect that is because Denmark has an older population and so a larger percentage of Danish women who are trying to conceive are in their 30s and 40s. Here's how fast Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) usage has increased in the United States: (the CDC lags in reporting national results by a few years)

  • 1996: 64,681 ART cycles, 14,507 live-birth deliveries, 20,840 live babies born.
  • 1997: 72,397 ART cycles, 17,186 live-birth deliveries, 24,785 live babies born.
  • 1998: 81,438 ART cycles, 20,126 live-birth deliveries, 28,851 live babies born.
  • 1999: 87,636 ART cycles, 21,746 live-birth deliveries, 30,629 live babies born.
  • 2000: 99,629 ART cycles, 25,228 live-birth deliveries, 35,025 live babies born.
  • 2001: 107,587 ART cycles, 29,344 live-birth deliveries, 40,687 live babies born
  • 2002: 115,392 ART cycles, 33,141 live-birth deliveries, 45,751 live babies born.
  • 2003: 122,872 ART cycles, 35,785 live-birth deliveries, 48,756 live babies born.

Those 48,756 live births represent over 1% of total babies born in the United States in 2003.

Getting back to the second article, since sperm is much easier and less risky to produce the size of the sperm market in monetary terms is very small. Given the decline in the dollar you can almost multiply by 2 to convert these figures to dollars.

The global market for sperm exports has been estimated at between £25 million and £50 million a year. The US market is worth £5 million and £10 million and the European market is of similar size.

These are small amounts in dollars too. The article also reports on British women travelling to Spain to buy eggs. The sale of eggs isn't legal in Spain but the cost of the effort can be paid. This sounds like in America where technically eggs can't be sold but women can charge what the market will bear for the time they spend donating the eggs.

If you are in the market for sperm you definitely should go for top quality donors in terms of intellect, health, physical appearance, accomplisments, and desired personality characteristics. Even the best do not cost much. Scrimping on sperm donor costs is very foolish. Go for 140+ IQ donors.

European women are travelling to Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and Finland to buy sperm (often from the supplier Cryos of Denmark) because sperm donation is more difficult in other European countries. In many European countries sperm donation is difficult because donors are not allowed to be anonymous. Guys don't want junior knocking on the door 15 years later when they are raising their own families.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 03 05:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2006 November 19 Sunday
Asian Egg Donor Shortage In United States

An article in the Washington Post reports claims by fertility clinics and couples looking for donor eggs that Asian egg donors in the United States are hard to find.

But as egg donation has surged over the past two decades, clinics and donor recruiting agencies say the supply of ethnic minority donors, especially Asians, has not kept pace with demand. For reasons probably involving complex cultural attitudes about fertility and basic marketing principles, Asian eggs are hard to find.

This strikes me as a temporary problem. Higher prices will bring forward more donors. Asian ethnics would be smart to advertise in college newspapers at elite colleges to get eggs from smarter students. The costs are higher. But the benefit of having smarter kids on average will pay itself back many times over.

Clinics that are offering only $6000 could always raise their offering prices. Surely some of their customers could afford to pay more. The money is a very small portion of the total costs for raising a kid.

Donors are usually in their fertile 20s. After passing medical and psychological tests, they inject themselves with hormone stimulants for about one month. They are then anesthetized while a physician removes the eggs with a needle. Most clinics in the Washington region pay donors about $6,000.

The Web site of the Washington Fertility Center asks for "urgently needed" Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, Filipino and Vietnamese donors. Recently, its online donor database featured 152 donor profiles. Among the donors were two of Middle Eastern descent and 10 Asians, of whom one was part Indian -- one of the rarest donor ethnicities, doctors say.

Some are afraid to tell their relatives and friends they can't start a pregnancy.

Because infertility is seen as failure in some cultures, and because adoption is uncommon among Asians and Muslims, some observers speculate that despairing infertile couples opt for egg donation without telling anyone -- which also prevents them from asking relatives or friends to be donors. That secrecy makes a donor of the same ethnicity even more crucial, doctors say.

To women of those wanted ethnicities who want to make money selling their eggs: Ask yourself how much money it would take to make it worth going through the time and effort and risks from ovary stimulation drugs such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. My advice: Demand what you think will make it worth the risks and trouble.. If you are provably very smart (e.g. very high IQ, high SAT scores, advanced scientific or medical degrees) then demand tens of thousands of dollars. If you offer to sell your eggs try to get top dollar.

The article reports on the practice of Indian Americans buying eggs in India. This allows selection of donors from the same caste and region.

When genetic testing becomes cheap and detailed in what it reveals I expect to see a large increase in the use of donor eggs. The advantages of donor eggs will become greater once eggs can be chosen to produce healthier, smarter, better looking, and better behaved kids.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 19 12:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 October 29 Sunday
Markets For Donor Eggs And Babies Face Opposition

Audacious Epigone provides a link to an article about the prices for adoption babies and the anger that some feel about prices put on humans.

When a couple seeking to adopt a white baby is charged $35,000 and a couple seeking a black baby is charged $4,000, the image that comes to the Rev. Ken Hutcherson's mind is of a practice that was outlawed in America nearly 150 years ago — the buying and selling of human beings.

My reaction to the moral objection about prices: Would you prefer that babies be seen as worth nothing? Or do you want to force people to pay much higher prices?

My more practical reaction: A measly $35k? The white baby price is still far less than the $50,000 price which some Stanford student donor eggs fetch. The donor eggs of elite school students have much higher chances of resulting in higher IQ babies.

But the prices for the babies and for the high IQ donor eggs looked at together suggest another interesting possibility for the future: Genetically engineered babies created by women who plan to sell them once the babies are born.

Think about why the Stanford and Harvard undergrad women can command such high prices for their eggs as compared to the prices for babies. First off, a lot of women who can't produce viable eggs from their own ovaries still want the experience of pregnancy and birth. Also, a couple where the woman can't produce viable eggs still typically wants to use the husband's sperm. So those factors put limits on the demand for fully developed babies.

But another limit on the demand for babies (and it is a reason you'll rarely see publically expressed) is the widely but privately held opinion (gotta watch out for the commissars) that women who are getting pregnant out of wedlock and who want to give up their babies for adoption are lower class, lower IQ, and lower quality in other ways that are at least partially genetic in origin. However, shift ahead 15 or 20 years to when DNA testing is cheap and very comprehensive in what it can reveal. Shift ahead perhaps even further to when egg, sperm, and embryo genetic engineering is practical. The ability to modify the genes of the embryo will enable even lower class women to give birth to babies that have high intelligence, great looks, great health, and assorted desired personality traits.

Biotechnology will enable the production of more customized products. The ability to basically sell a more customized product will raise demand and market prices. This will allow some women to make money producing and selling babies.

Even before embryo genetic engineering becomes possible the market for adoptive babies will go through a big shift as a result of biotechnological advances. In particular, cheap genetic testing will cause a big differentiation of the market. Babies which today are indistinguishable will come to be seen as very different from each other in mental abilities, personalities, future career prospects, and the likelihood of behavioral problems and diseases.

The ability to genetically test babies on the adoption market will change incentives for single women on whether to get knocked up and by who. Single women who get their DNA tested and find they have highly desired features will be able to select donor sperm of men who also have highly desired features and make babies which will fetch much higher prices on the adoption market. So genetic testing combined with (a preferably legal) adoption market should raise the quality of babies born out of wedlock.

But other advances in reproductive biotechnology will limit the development of the donor egg and adopted baby markets. Most notably, advances in the treatment of fertility problems will reduce the need for couples to turn to donor eggs and adoption. Stem cell manipulations will produce viable eggs and sperm made of a couple's own DNA. Most people will prefer their own DNA for producing their babies over that of strangers.

The donor egg market may, in any case, face an increasingly hostile regulatory environment. While a debate rages in Britain as to whether to loosen restrictions on payment to egg donors the wind in California is blowing in the opposite direction. Governor Schwarzenegger faces a decision on whether to sign legislation that would ban the sale of eggs by private parties.

Hoping to preempt a controversy, the authors of California's Proposition 71, approved in 2004, declared that scientists who received grants from the $3-billion state stem cell agency could not pay egg donors but merely reimburse their expenses.

A bill now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk, sponsored by state Sens. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and George Runner (R-Lancaster), would extend those payment restrictions to privately funded laboratories.

Feminists are behind this attempt to reduce reproductive choices.

The Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland and the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research in Los Angeles are two of the most vocal supporters of the measure. Both describe themselves as staunchly feminist.

They imagine that they are protecting lower class Hispanic and black women from exploitation.

Emily Galpern, reproductive health and human rights director for the Center for Genetics and Society, said she feared that without the legislation, poor and minority women would be exploited for their eggs.

News flash to Emily Galpern: The poor black and Hispanic women aren't getting much "exploitation" from egg buyers as market prices for eggs attest. Upper class male patriarchal white capitalist exploiters with the money to spend on expensive eggs aren't beating a path to the doors of poor women wanting to buy their eggs. The big demand is for Ivy League egg and sperm donors who the upper class (correctly) see as possessing the right genetic alleles for giving birth to smarter babies with higher potential for success in the marketplace. Plus, I'm guessing the upper class parents simply want kids who have the capacity to become their intellectual peers.

That legislation mentioned above was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger

Update: Currently the US has the biggest market for genetic material.

The United States is one of many countries in which legislation and social norms proscribe the selling of body parts. It is also the world capital of the genetic material market: No other nation trades in DNA so widely and freely. Hopeful mothers and cash-strapped college students have been trading cash for eggs for 20 years, calling the ova a “donation” and the money compensation for time and discomfort, thus avoiding the ban on sales. Outside Food and Drug Administration mandates regarding the importance of testing donors for specific diseases and monitoring their progress, there are no federal laws restricting egg donors in the U.S.; elsewhere, the laws reflect a surprising lack of consensus on the issue. In Germany, Denmark, and Italy, egg donation is completely illegal. In Israel, payment for eggs can cover only the direct expenses related to the procedure. In the U.K., eggs are classified as organs, and payment is banned.

The rate of advance of reproductive biotechnology will slow if that market becomes subject to bans on the sale of eggs and sperm.

Update II: The newly enacted California legislation restricts payments for women who donate eggs for stem cell research while leaving payments for egg donors for reproduction still unregulated.

Though the group expresses some concern about exploitation of women who sell their eggs for in vitro fertilization, it notes that these donors tend to be white, well educated and well paid — often $5,000 to $50,000 because of the demand for their genetic material.

Stem cell researchers, in contrast, seek eggs only as a vehicle for someone else's DNA — so all viable eggs can be used, regardless of class or race.

Eventually stem cell researchers will need eggs with specific qualities. For example, they might want eggs from women who carry traits that cause genetic diseases. The ability to offer to pay those women could help to find and bring forward women to donate eggs with the needed genetic variations.

The stem cell researchers are not trying to use eggs that come from smart and good looking women. Some people (academics - probably left-wing) are upset that the smart and good looking women can still sell their eggs for top dollar.

Other critics say it's illogical to regulate payments to some egg donors but not others.

"Shouldn't we be worried about the women" donating eggs to fertility clinics? asked Radhika Rao, of UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and a member of a state commission that crafted guidelines for stem cell research. "If you pay women a lot and they're white, it isn't exploitation?"

To Radhika Rao: Why not decide that it is not exploitation in either case? I realize that isn't sufficiently Marxist for some tastes. But might it be true? If not, why not?

As a friend of mine likes to say: There's only one thing worse than being exploited: Not being exploited. What, no capitalist wants to pay you? Bummer when that happens.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 29 11:11 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2006 October 15 Sunday
Japanese Woman Gives Birth To Her Grandchild

A Japanese woman serving as a surrogate for her daughter's fertilized egg gave birth to her own grandchild.

A Japanese woman in her 50s gave birth to her own grandchild last year, using an egg from her daughter and sperm from her son-in-law, a doctor has revealed.

It was the first time a woman has acted as a surrogate mother for her daughter in Japan, local media reported.

The case is set to stir debate in Japan where surrogate births are opposed by the government and a key medical group.

The genetic mother and father had to adopt the child (whose sex was not revealed). The Japanese government recognizes the birth mother as the legal mother.

Both Britain and the US have already had cases of grandmother surrogacy.

Kazumasa Hoshino, professor emeritus of life ethics at Kyoto University, said four cases of surrogate births in which grandmothers acted as surrogate mothers had been reported overseas--two each in Britain and the United States--since the 1990s.

Surrogacy could also be swapped around in the opposite order between generations: A daughter could serve as surrogate for her mother and then the daughter could give birth to her own brother or sister. Has anyone done that yet?

But wait, there's more: How about the possibilities that come with egg and embryo freezing? A woman in her 20s who already has a 7 year old daughter could freeze, say, some eggs, then 30 years later her granddaughter could give birth to the granddaughter's aunt or uncle.

Japan's lack of recognition for genetic parents of babies born to surrogates has generated a high profile court case. A Japanese celebrity couple is fighting a legal battle to have themselves declared the parents of their twins who were born to an American woman.

Shinagawa Ward in Tokyo has appealed a court ruling that it must officially register twins who were born to a Japanese couple through an American surrogate mother.

The ward, under instructions from the Justice Ministry, appealed the Tokyo High Court's Sept. 29 ruling that the children of TV celebrity Aki Mukai, 41, and former professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, 44, should be registered in consideration of their welfare.

"I hope the Supreme Court will make a decision with my children's happiness in mind," Mukai said following Shinagawa's move. "If it's a decision that we can explain to my children well when they grow up, we can accept it even if it is not in our favor."

One of the fun things about biotechnology is that it creates situations that challenge traditional notions of family.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 15 04:20 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 September 06 Wednesday
Better Educated More Willing To Design Babies

Reproductive biotech will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots as smarter people arrange to make their kids have even higher IQs.

The well-educated are significantly more open to the idea of "designing" babies than the poorly educated, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of East Anglia.

Here's a summary of some of the findings of this research group:

  • The better educated prospective parents are, the further they are prepared to go to improve their children's IQ.
  • Women interpret certain interventions in child rearing as "design acts" more readily than men.
  • People over 50 interpret certain interventions as "design acts" more readily than people under 25.
  • Because of "parental uncertainty" - the idea than women know for certain if a child is their's whereas men do not – men show a significantly greater preference than female parents for their children to inherit their own characteristics.
  • Parents see different physical, social and intellectual characteristics as desirable depending on the sex of the child.
  • Older women and childless women are significantly more willing to "improve" the physical, social and intellectual characteristics of prospective children? (This can be explained by women seeking to increase their genetic heredity, particularly when their time to reproduce begins to decrease.)
  • Both men and women see genetic engineering as acceptable primarily for medical applications.

Once genetic engineering of embryos allows prospective parents to make their kids smarter, better looking, higher athletic performers, and with more desired personality traits all the reticence about genetic engineering for non-medical reasons will go out the window. I'm expecting a stampede toward offspring genetic engineering once it becomes possible.

Higher education is a proxy for higher intelligence. The correlation is not exactly 1 but it is very high. The more highly educated and smarter people will more rapidly and deeply develop a grasp of what offspring genetic engineering can deliver. Also, since the smarter have higher incomes on average they will be better able to pay for genetic tinkering than will poor people.

With the cognitive elite stampeding to make their kids have 150 IQs the less bright and downright dim will be left in the dust. Society will become even more divided by intellectual ability than it already is.

Offspring genetic engineering will also create inter-generational rifts as younger smarter people find less in common with older less bright people.

I am expecting a portion of the cognitive elite to demand that governments pay for free genetic engineering for anyone who plans to have a baby. But if the less bright are left to choose which genetic enhancements to give to their developing fetuses will they place a high value on raising intelligence?

By Randall Parker    2006 September 06 10:28 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2006 September 03 Sunday
Unwise Selection Against Cancer Risk In IVF Embryos

The New York Times reports couple using in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD or PIGD) are screening for genes that affect cancer risk in order to select against embryos that have a higher risk of cancer.

Prospective parents have been using the procedure, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., for more than a decade to screen for genes certain to cause childhood diseases that are severe and largely untreatable.

Now a growing number of couples like the Kingsburys are crossing a new threshold for parental intervention in the genetic makeup of their offspring: They are using P.G.D. to detect a predisposition to cancers that may or may not develop later in life, and are often treatable if they do.

For most parents who have used preimplantation diagnosis, the burden of playing God has been trumped by the near certainty that diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia will afflict the children who carry the genetic mutation that causes them. The procedure has also been used to avoid passing on Huntington’s disease, a severe neurological disease that typically does not surface until middle age but spares no one who carries the mutation that causes it.

I suspect as meaning of more genetic variations get identified that selection to lower cancer risk will eventually lose out to selection for other qualities. This will happen in part as a result of the development of better treatments for cancer. Also, as the significance of more genetic variations become known people will weigh cancer risk against advantages and disadvantages of other genetic variations found in each embryo.

Australian fertility clinics that do IVF (in vitro fertilization) also are now offering tests for genetic variations that increase cancer risks.

The tests pick up mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, Dr Leeanda Wilton, head of the Genetic and Molecular Research Lab at Melbourne IVF, told a recent international conference in Brisbane.

...

This technique can also detect mutations in the BRCA genes, which confer an estimated 65-85% risk of the carrier developing breast cancer by the age of 70.

Suppose a gene therapy to breasts to correct the BRCA gene only in breast tissue is developed 10 or 20 years after an IVF baby is born. Well, selecting against BRCA variants for breast cancer risk reduction will turn out to be unnecessary.

I suspect the people who are selecting against BRCA1 and BRCA2 in their offspring are making a poor trade-off without even being aware they are making a trade-off. If Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending are correct the genetic variations that occur at higher rates in Ashkenazi Jews which cause health problems (including BRCA1 and BRCA2) are there due to selection for higher intelligence during the Middle Ages. Then selecting out BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations using PGID and IVF will result in dumber offspring. Henry Harpending explains that BRCA1 probably accelerates early central nervous system (CNS) development at the expense of higher breast cancer risk later on:

Re mechanism: The argument (well known to breeders where there is no argument) goes like this: In a drastic new environment there is big fitness payoff to IQ. In this new environment there is a payoff to "turning down" BRCA1 to free up early CNS development but at the cost of higher cancer rates later in life. Eventually, especially in a big population, a BRCA1 variant with the optimum activity will show up. Meanwhile carriers of one normal and one broken BRCA1 gene have a big fitness advantage because they have, say, 90% of normal suppression of early CNS development. So the broken BRCA1 allele is favored by selection even though homozygotes for it die. After a long time it would be replaced by the optimum allele but it takes a long time for that optimum allele to show up.

But if biomedical advances will produce cures for cancer within 20 years (and I'd be very very surprised if they didn't) then for the BRCA variations the trade-off for getting lower cancer risk at the expense of lower intelligence is a bad choice to make today. Better to boost the risk of a disease that will become easy curable before the disease is likely to develop and give your daughter higher IQ. The higher IQ will be a tremendous asset throughout life. The cancer problem will be fixable. If you believe as I do that the rate of biotechnological advance is accelerating so rapidly that cancer will become curable before babies born today reach their 30s then the risk of increased breast cancer is a price worth paying in order to give your daughter a smarter brain.

I predict most of us will live to see the day that donor egg banks offer eggs with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations as selling points.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 03 12:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2006 June 01 Thursday
Does Rhythm Method Of Birth Control Kill Embryos?

A London School of Economics philosophy professor Luc Bovens speculated that perhaps the rhythm method of birth control leads to many more conceptions that happen as eggs are becoming less viable and therefore the embryos do not survive?

It is believed that the method works because it prevents conception from occurring. But says Professor Bovens, it may owe much of its success to the fact that embryos conceived on the fringes of the fertile period are less viable than those conceived towards the middle.

We don’t know how much lower embryo viability is outside this fertile period, contends Professor Bovens, but we can calculate that two to three embryos will have died every time the rhythm method results in a pregnancy.

Is it not just as callous to organise your sex life to make it harder for a fertilised egg to survive, using this method, as it is to use the coil or the morning after pill, he asks?

Professor Bovens cites Randy Alcorn, a US pro-life campaigner, who has equated global oral contraceptive use to chemical abortion that is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths of embryos, or unborn children, every year.

But says Professor Bovens: if all oral contraceptive users converted to the rhythm method, then they would be effectively causing the deaths of millions of embryos.

Similarly, regular condom users, whose choice of contraception is deemed to be 95% effective in preventing pregnancy, would “cause less embryonic deaths than the rhythm method,” he says.

“…the rhythm method may well be responsible for massive embryonic death, and the same logic that turned pro-lifers away from morning after pills, IUDs, and pill usage, should also make them nervous about the rhythm method,” he contends.

If embryo death is morally the equivalent of the death of a full human then practices that lead to more embryo deaths should be seen as morally undesirable.

I do not see a clear dividing line between what is human and what is not human. This problem is going to become more obvious to the general population when biotechnology allows the creation of beings that are sentient and yet very unlike the average human.

Also (and I'm digressing here) as another sign that I'm a thorough heretic from secular liberal dogma: I do not see how all humans can be classified as having equal human rights. Humans do not have equal capacities to respect the rights of others (don't believe me? want your kids to live next to a pedophile?). So how can they have equal rights? Seems to me that rights flow from the capacity to respect rights. Seems to me one has to embrace a supernatural belief (God loves us all and we all have spirits) or become thoroughly unempirical about the nature of this world in order to believe we all should have equal rights.

I've only glanced through it but here's the paper (PDF format) which is getting published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

By Randall Parker    2006 June 01 09:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (34)
2006 May 23 Tuesday
Biotechnology Will Some Day Enable Polygamy

An excellent article by David Kelly and Gary Cohn of the Los Angeles Times provides an overview of Mormon splinter sects which practice polygamy.

COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — For half a century, while polygamous members of this remote enclave engaged in widespread sexual abuse and child exploitation, government authorities on all levels did little to intervene or protect generations of victims.

Here in the sparsely populated canyon lands straddling Arizona and Utah, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS — an offshoot of Mormonism — live by their own rules.

The expulsion of boys of at the early ages of 13 and 14 for rules infractions is one of the more amazing things the polygamists do. In order to have enough women to go around they have to have fewer men.

Boys are thrown out of town, abandoned like unwanted pets by the side of the road and forcibly ostracized from their families to reduce competition among the men for multiple wives.

Children routinely leave school at age 11 or 12 to work at hazardous construction jobs. Boys can be seen piloting dump trucks, backhoes, forklifts and other heavy equipment.

Girls work at home, trying to keep order in enormous families with multiple mothers and dozens of children who often eat in shifts around picnic tables.

Wives are threatened with mental institutions if they fail to "keep sweet," or obedient, for their husbands.

I think polygamy may become more prevalent in the future and I think advances in biotechnology will make this possible. First of consider that the polygamists face two problems (legal problems aside) as far as human nature is concerned: A) They need several women per man and yet their babies are born like others with nearly equal ratio between males and females; and B) Women want husbands of their own, not shared. Biotechnically speaking, these are both solvable problems.

First off, a company called Microsort can already solve the sex ratio problem (though I suspect they would avoid knowingly doing business with polygamists). They have a method of sorting sperm that selects out male and female sperm (i.e. sperm with Y versus X chromosomes). This method isn't 100% efficient. But the technology could be used to produce offspring that are overwhelmingly female. Also, selective abortion guided by ultrasound sex detection is widely used in India and China to abort a substantial fraction of all female fetuses. The same technology could instead guide selective abortion of male fetuses of women in polygynous marriages.

In the longer run easier and cheaper methods to select offspring sex will become available. Methods that do not require cooperation of a company or even of a doctor and which are much cheaper will eventually lower the barriers for doing offspring sex selection. When such technologies become available I would be surprised if polygamous religious sects do not use them.

Then there's the problem of human nature. Consider that these polygamists are already managing to condition many women into lives of polygynous wives (polygyny is one husband and many wives) and that they succeed in this in spite of human nature as it exists today. Imagine the world 10 years hence when we will know many genetic variations that influence the tendencies toward jealousy, possessiveness, promiscuity, and other personality characteristics that affect mating behavior. Just by selecting among existing genetic variations it will be possible to have female offspring that will find polygyny more tolerable than the average woman does today.

Knowledge of genetic variations which generate the existing range of cognitive characteristics will inevitably lead to the development new genetic variations that widen the range of human desires, urges, instinctive responses, and other behavioral tendencies. I expect scientists will accidentally if not intentionally discover how to produce females who will find polygyny much easier to accept and even to enjoy.

When I look at the hold that charismatic leaders have over their followers, the extreme demands those leaders can successfully make on their followers (e.g. expel your 13 year old son from the community by leaving him somewhere along side a road), and also the assortment of sects (whether religious or secular) that exist today one conclusion I draw from this is that people in various sects (not just polygamist offshoots of the Mormons) will use biotechnologies to achieve their group goals. Some sects will genetically engineer offspring to have characteristics that make them more ideal members of their sect.

Sect leaders will tell their followers that God has entrusted them with the responsibility to make the perfect followers of their doctrines and to create offspring that will better serve God's will. I fully expect we will see members of both small religious sects and major religions genetically engineering their offspring to make better believers and better livers of their doctrines. I do not expect legal barriers to prevent this. There are nearly 200 countries in the world. Some are highly corrupt. Some will allow this to take place in their borders either legally or in exchange for bribes.

Of all the religious sects that will do genetic engineering to make better followers I do not see polygamists who genetically engineer girls to have low jealousy as posing anywhere near the biggest problem for the rest of societies. Sects that make people more intolerant of non-believers and more devout in whatever they believe strike me as far more problematic.

By Randall Parker    2006 May 23 11:20 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
2006 March 05 Sunday
British Health Trust Might Offer Fertility Treatments To Single Women

Single women in Britain want the National Health Service (NHS) to provide them with fertility treatments.

Single women in their 30s and 40s are to be allowed free fertility treatment on the NHS as record numbers opt for motherhood without a man. Hospital trusts are rewriting their policies in response to demand from singletons who have lost out in the relationship stakes, either because they have been unable to find the right man or because their partners are against parenthood.

The demographic profile of single moms giving birth in their 30s is a lot more upscale and educated than is the case for teen single moms. These older single moms have more intellectual and financial resources than the stereotypical high school drop-out teen mom.

An insider at unit of the NHS expects the Camden primary care trust to start offering fertility treatments to single women.

In a pioneering move, Camden primary care trust in London is considering the introduction of free treatment for single women because of the huge demand from childless but financially secure would-be mothers.

One insider said the plan, which is expected to get the go-ahead at a funding meeting later this month, was a "sea change" from 10 years ago and would prompt other trusts to follow suit.

I've argued in the past that once cheap DNA sequencing allows detailed comparison of sperm donors more women will opt to use sperm donors. Single women in their 30s and 40s are going to become more inclined to start pregnancies on their own when the technologies available will let them select sperm that will give them much smarter, healthier, better looking, and better behaved children.

Sperm donor screening with cheap DNA sequencing, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PIGD or PGD), and other reproductive technologies will lower the risks of reproduction. The lowered risks and rosier projected outcomes (yes, Jill or Johnnie will have the intellectual resources to easily excel in challenging high status professions) will lead more women to choose to have children on their own. What is more startling is that those children born to single moms who select a genetically screened sperm donor for higher cognitive ability will be more successful as adults on average compared to children created naturally and born to married couples. The conservative family argument that children born to married parents turn out better will need a big qualifier: Naturally conceived children born to married parents will still do better than naturally conceived children born to single women. But relatively less natural conception using genetically conceived sperm will produce much better results on average.

Granted, Mr. and Mrs. medical doctor couples and Mr. and Mrs. Harvard Law graduate couples will have smarter kids than the average woman who conceives with a sperm donor. But those couples are way above average in genetic endowments for cognitive abilities. Women who have babies using sperm selected for high cognitive ability are going to have smarter (and healthier and better looking) children.

The uptake of reproductive technologies has become so big that it has noticably increased the rate of twin births. The rate of twins births in the United States has doubled since 1971 due to older moms and fertility treatments.

The twin birth rate, which stood at about 1 in 60 in 1971, has risen rapidly because of fertility treatments and an increase in the number of older moms, with almost 1 in 30 American babies now being born as part of a pair.

That's a figure that is unprecedented anywhere in the world, according to Dr. Louis Keith, an emeritus professor at Northwestern University's medical school.

"The real epidemic of twins didn't begin until the mid-1990s, so we are now in the epidemic," says Keith, president of the Center for the Study of Multiple Birth in Chicago.

...

Overall, experts say, one-third of the increase in twins is because of a natural tendency toward twin births in older moms and the other two-thirds to fertility treatments.

New York City is experiencing a big increase in twins births.

In 1995, there were 3,707 twin births in all the boroughs; in 2003, there were 4,153; and in 2004, there were 4,655. Triplet births have also risen, from 60 in 1995, to 299 in 2004.

Some day the norm will be to look down on natural procreation with no genetic enhancement, no IVF and PIGD, and no genetic screening of sperm. Natural procreation will be seen by the majority of Western countries as irresponsible toward offspring. How far off is that day? 30 years?

By Randall Parker    2006 March 05 12:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (29)
2005 October 23 Sunday
IVF Embryo Genetic Defect Rate For Young Women Has Ethical Implications

Studies using Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD or PGID) on embryos created using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) found that most embryos formed from eggs donated from young healthy women have errors in chromosome count.

Paulette Browne, at the Shady Grove Center for Preimplantation Genetics in Rockville, Maryland, US, and her colleagues, examined 275 embryos created from the donated eggs of women aged between 21 and 31. All the donors were ostensibly healthy. The researchers removed cells three days after conception and examined them for aneuploidies. They found that 137 – half – of the embryos had at least one error.

Aneuploidy is the state of having too many or too few chromosomes. So either the embryo cells had extra chromosomes or missing chromosomes from each chromosome pair. Note that aneuploidy is just one type of genetic abnormality and testing for aneuploidy by itself leads to an underestimate of the incidence of genetic abnormalities.

Another study found a high rate of chromosome damage.

In research presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Montreal yesterday, Jeffrey Nelson of the Huntingdon Reproductive Centre in California used a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to screen 289 embryos created from healthy egg donors, all of whom were under 30. He found that 42% had damaged chromosomes, the strands of DNA that together hold the entire complement of human genes. The extent of damage ranged from 28% to as high as 83% in some women. "We had always assumed that embryos created from eggs donated by younger women would not have these defects," Dr Nelson said. "But just the fact that we are seeing this high rate of abnormality suggests that we should be using [PGD] more."

The spelling for that center is really "Huntington Reproductive Center".

A third study by Peter Nagy of Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta found similar results.

At Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta, GA, researchers investigated the differing incidence of aneuploidy in young infertility patients as compared with older patients and found that the frequency of chromosomally abnormal embryos is unexpectedly high in those of young reproductive age. In a prospective on-going study, 36 infertile patients (average age 32.5, all under 35), with no prior treatment and representing all diagnoses of infertility proportionally, had IVF with PGD. Their PGD results were compared with a control population of women over 38 (average age 40.7) who were undergoing IVF at the same time. Young patients in the study population had an average of 17.6 eggs retrieved, of which 70% fertilized; the older control patients had 13.5 eggs on average, of which 69% fertilized. The younger women in total had 103 embryos identified as normal and 198 abnormal embryos. The older women had, as expected, a higher proportion of abnormal embryos: 323 abnormal to 116 normal. Of the younger patients, 56% became pregnant, while 33% of the older patients became pregnant.

Eric Surrey, MD, President of SART, remarked, “PGD may become a very useful technique for maximizing the chances of success of a particular cycle of IVF. And these results do shed light on some of the reasons why a particular young donor or patient might produce many eggs, which fertilize and develop as embryos of normal appearance, but do not result in pregnancy. However, PGD, especially using a single cell, is not fail-safe. Mosaicism, the presence of normal and abnormal cells in the same embryo can confound the results of single-cell PGD.”

Nagy says that the extent of genetic abnormalities was even greater than his test showed.

These findings overturn long-held assumptions that reproductive problems are primarily age-related, Nagy said.

"This is new information," he said, adding that the genetic-defect rate could turn out to be even higher once pre-implantation genetic diagnosis extends to the entire genome.

"We tested 11 chromosomes, not the whole genome," he said.

Even if he'd tested all the chromosomes that would only have detected larger scale abnormalities. Smaller scale genetic damage would not show up with current testing techniques.

Most pregnancies fail before women even know they are pregnant.

Researchers also suggested the rate of genetic problems seen in IVF embryos mirrors the real world.

There's a "baseline of abnormal" in the general population that increases with age, Nelson said.

An estimated 60 to 70 per cent of pregnancies are lost before a woman recognizes she'd been pregnant, he added.

The human reproductive system produces a lot of genetically damaged embryos. Think about that. Two thirds of pregnancies end before women even know they are pregnant. Some additional percentage miscarry after a woman knows she's pregnant. Consider these facts in light of religious beliefs held by some that at the moment of conception a spirit is somehow attached to the fertilized egg. Does God attach spirits to all these fertilized eggs that are doomed to never attach to the uterus or that initially attach but fail due to genetic damage?

Consider this result in light of the recent work by Rudolf Jaenisch and Alexander Meissner at MIT's Whitehead Institute to create mouse embryos that can can not grow a placenta. This results in embryos that can not develop very far. Their goal is to find ways to develop embryonic stem cells that will not elicit as many objections from some religious folks. Nature (or God if you prefer) already generates lots of embryos that can not develop into humans. Likely most embryos created naturally lack that capacity. Doesn't that fact make the Jaenisch and Meissner approach more ethically acceptable?

Genetic deactivation and/or genetic deletion using genetic engineering techniques essentially mirrors what happens naturally. What happens naturally, if done by human will, would be considered highly morally objectionable by some. Natural selection produced an outcome where the most efficient way to make viable humans is to allow large numbers of fertilizations to fail to develop all the way to birth.

If an embryo lacks genes needed to develop a complete human but has most of the genes needed to produce a human it is not even a potential human. It lacks the potential to become a human. Should we consider a thing that lacks even the potential to become a human as possessing the rights of a human?

By Randall Parker    2005 October 23 11:47 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2005 September 25 Sunday
Couples Too Busy For Sex Opt For IVF

An article in the Daily Telegraph reports on women who are too busy for sex who opt for in vitro fertilization (IVF) to start pregnancies.

Wealthy career women in their 30s and early 40s, some of whom have given up regular sex altogether, are turning to "medicalised conception" - despite being fertile and long before they have exhausted the possibility of a natural conception.

People want everything now.

Emma Cannon, who runs the fertility programme at Westover House, said: "I have patients who diary sex in. When the they don't fall pregnant they panic and think they need IVF.

"People want everything now. If they can't have a baby now, they want IVF. They think it's no different from putting your name down for a handbag. Some people are horrified by the idea that they have to have sex two to three times a week. About 10 per cent of people I see don't have time to have sex. It's usually when you have two professionals who are based in the city and are very busy.

In some cases one member of the couple works away from home and they only see each other on weekends.

I'd like to know what percentage of the women doing this are using sperm bank sperm. I've made the argument that once DNA sequencing becomes cheap women will have much greater incentive to use sperm bank sperm to start pregnancies. Why? Greater satisfaction with the resulting child. By choosing among a much larger set of men for sperm that they could not get as husbands women will be able to get DNA for their pregnancies that satisfies many more of the preferences they have for their offspring in terms of hair color, eye color, facial shape, physical build, personality, behavioral tendencies, risk for diseases, and intelligence.

Women who are willing to separate sex from reproduction and who also are willing to separate having a marriage from reproduction are prime candidates in the future for the use of sperm donors to start pregnancies. Those women who opt for the advantages of DNA tested donor sperm will make the first big step toward human genetic optimization. After that step comes genetic engineering techniques done to sperm, eggs, and embryos which will usher in a still more rapid rate of change to the human gene pool.

So when will a substantial number of women start opting for genetically tested sperm? Probably within 5 years of very cheap DNA testing. Once each person can have their entire genome tested for, say, $100 then the significance of most genetic variations will be identified within a few years and then the sperm banks will be able to offer much more detailed genetic profiles of donors. This information will greatly enhance the perceived advantages of some donors and will also lead to more aggressive measures to seek out donors with the most wanted genetic characteristics. Sperm banks will compete on the basis of their ability to supply the most number of genetic preferences that each woman customer specifies.

Update: Someone asks in the comments how can people who do not have time for sex find time to raise a child? My guess is that for the higher income types who can't find the time for sex nannies are pretty much de rigueur.

We also see here an obvious market for artificial wombs. Many women who can't be bothered to have sex to get pregnant will probably want avoid slowing down for a pregnancy. Avoid the need to shop for maternity clothes. Avoid bladder problems and stretch marks. Avoid the need to go on a strict diet. The advantages are too numerous to pass up. Plus, the actual birth process even interrupts attempts to keep up business negotiations on cell phones. Can't have that.

By Randall Parker    2005 September 25 11:56 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2003 January 05 Sunday
Legal Right To Use Reproductive Technologies?

Findlaw columnist Julie Hilden suggests there may be a constitutional right to use a wide array of reproductive technologies.

Indeed, so far, the Supreme Court has supported broad reproductive rights. In Skinner v. Oklahoma, it declared a right to procreate when it barred a state from sterilizing a prisoner. In Griswold v. Connecticut, it struck down a ban on contraception. In Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it held unconstitutional laws that unduly restrict abortion.

Roe and Casey are often discussed as decisions involving bodily privacy and a woman's right to choose. Yet Griswold involves not privacy, but a drugstore purchase. Moreover, its holding not only the right of a woman, but the right of a couple to choose when -- and when not to -- reproduce. And the right to choose implicated in Skinner was a man's right to choose, not a woman's.

Thus, taken together, these decisions arguably suggest a broad right of parental choice -- one that applies to men and couples, as well as individual women, and to issues of reproductive choice, in the lab, the doctor's office, or the drugstore. Based on these precedents, if a state were, for example, to ban safe, perfected methods of in vitro fertilization (IVF), the Court would probably strike down the ban.

Suppose cloning becomes perfected and that a cloned baby has no greater risk of being defective than a baby made by regular (dare I say classical?) sexual reproduction. Would the United States Supreme Court find that there is a legal right to clone under those circumstances? What would be the argument against it? One argument against its legality is that the clone children would suffer from psychological trauma. While I think such a claim is questionable even if we grant it some credence is that a reason to outlaw reproductive cloning. We already allow people to reproduce under circumstances (eg extreme poverty, with a history of recurrent drug abuse, with a history of repeated criminal activity) which certainly do not bode well for the offspring. It seems like a weak reason to outlaw the practice of cloning in order to avoid some unproven psychological trauma when rather messed people are regularly having children whose experiences with their parents are likely to be far more traumatic to the children.

Cloning, in any case, is likely to appeal to only a very small portion of the population. One factor that will limit its popularity is that most people want a partner to help them raise their children. That partner is likely to be far more dedicated to raising the children if the children also have some of the partner's DNA. The biggest factor limiting the spread of cloning then is the need to get a partner to feel a personal bond to the children.

Cloning is a solution to some infertility problems. The biggest appeal of cloning is likely to be its ability to create an offspring under circumstances where some biological problem is preventing fertilization of an egg. Advances in other reproductive techniques will in time provide other solutions to infertility problems.

Another big appeal of cloning is that it will allow people of exceptional mental abilities to have children who are just as smart as the parents. Very bright couples frequently have children who are not as smart as the parents. One reason for this may be that both parents have only one copy of a dominant IQ-boosting variant of some gene and one copy (on the other chromosome of each chromosome pair) of a lower IQ version of the same gene. When each parent passes on genes to offspring there is one chance in 4 that neither parent will donate the smart version of the gene to their offspring. By contrast, cloning will assure that if a parent has a dominant IQ-boosting version of a gene then the offspring will too.

As reproductive biotechnology advances methods will be developed to control which of each chromosome pair one will pass on to one's offspring. Therefore it will be possible to avoid passing on the "dumber" version of a gene if you also happen to have the "smarter" version of the same gene. For most people the ability to control which half of one's genetic complement one passes on to one's children will provide a greater benefit in terms of optimizing one's childrens' abilities than cloning will. The reason is simple: one will be able to pick and choose the best of the genetic complement of two people and hence in many cases produce offspring who are better (by whatever criteria the parents care to use when selecting genes to pass along) than the parents. Therefore the ability to control whch subset of one's genetic complement one will pass on to offpsring will also reduce the demand for reproductive cloning.

More generally, the ability to genetically engineer one's children will provide an additional reason not to have offspring that are genetic clones. We will be able to use gene therapy to modify the genes we give to our offspring. This will provide the ability to make offspring that are better looking, smarter, with a better personality, with greater disease resistance, and with other appealing qualities. By contrast, simple cloning,. while limiting the downside risk, also limits the upside potential. Given the choice between having a clone who roughly equals the parent in abilities and having a child who is genetically enhanced many will opt for the non-clone superkid.

This ability to make changes in the DNA of our offspring will lead to potential uses of genetic engineering that will result in humans who have innate qualities (eg a total lack of empathy or the lack of a conscience) that make them dangerous to society. Once it becomes possible to control the personality characteristics of offspring it is unlikely that the US Supreme Court will decide that there is an unlimited right to reproductive choice. Once biotechnology advances far enough that it provides a way to make extemely dangerous children the legislatures and highest courts of Western nations will decide that the public interest overrides reproductive freedom.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 05 08:22 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 January 02 Thursday
Christine Stolba Fears Reproductive Choice With Biotech

Christine Stolba (see short bio) fears that feminist rhetoric in favor of reproductive choice will lead to a consumer-driven eugenic society.

We are not all mothers yet, but if we continue along the path our feminist ethical guides have laid down, we run the risk of ending up in a consumer-driven eugenic society. With ever more sophisticated ivf techniques, genetic screening, and artificial wombs, the physiological process of pregnancy and childbirth could become just another commodified “life experience.” Like climbing Mt. Everest or meditating on an ashram, seekers of the exotic could experience the “adventure” of childbirth the old-fashioned way, while some women would make use of artificial wombs to avoid the hassles of pregnancy.

Its not clear from her essay whether she blames this likely outcome solely or mainly on feminism. Nor it is clear what about that outcome causes her to object to it. In her mind is it bad to use biotech to give embryos genetic variations that, for instance, boost intelligence or make personality be different? Is her problem with the possibility that feminists will use biotechnology to create genetically engineered feminist-minded children (yes, I expect that will become possible to make every male have the moral sensibilities of Alan Alda). Or is her deeper objection to the idea that feminists, by encouraging reproductive choice, will help lead the way into a sort of free-for-all reproductive chaos where individuals, whether feminist or not, will make all sorts of unwise decisions about what genetic characteristics their children will have?

Conservatives are fearful of changes. They tend (often quite wisely) to defend established institutions, traditions and practices. They are right to sense that biotechnology will allow people to separate previously related acts and to produce reproductive practices and outcomes that are radically different than what has been the case for humanity's existence up until now. For instance, already artificial insemination makes it is possible for a woman to have a child without having to have sex with a man or even to meet the man who will become the biological father. This already allows most male involvement in procreation to be dispensed with and yet most women are still having babies with men they know. It is important to recognize the benefits that most women feel they gain by having a child with a man (emotional, financial, and other practical considerations). These benefits have prevented what might have predicted would happen as a consequence of the creation of sperm banks.

As Stolba points out, eventually it will even become possible to bring a fetus to term in an artificial womb and to choose which genetic characteristics the baby will have. It is not foolish to feel some degree of apprehension when pondering these monumental changes in human society. But in Stolba's essay she spends more time attacking feminists, feminist ideology, and feminist ideas about reproduction than she does articulating exactly what harm she expects to result from allowing individuals complete freedom to make decisions to use forthcoming reproductive technologies. Just because some radical academic feminists make an argument that doesn't mean that people will do what they suggest. Also, even if people do what they suggest that still doesn't mean that the people did it because the feminists suggested that they should do it.

To be fair to Stolba, some feminists have certainly advocated a number of changes in society which have had some deleterious consequences and no doubt some of the feminists she quotes are peddling some ideas which would be harmful if put into widespread practice. Given the limits to our understanding of human nature if we start changing some aspects of human institutions (or with genetic engineering even changing human nature) we can too easily make some change to society which will cause some unexpected horrible social pathologies which won't become obvious for many years after the change is made. There's a defendable humility at the foundation of a conservative argument that defends the traditional ways to make and raise children.

However, the technological advances that will make artificial wombs and genetic engineering possible are coming. These advances do create real specific potential dangers to our society. It would be helpful if conservatives tried to focus more on the specific dangers and the specific motivations that will cause people make choices that the conservatives find potentially harmful. One fear is that men will be cut out of the reproductive picture. But artificial insemination has been available for decades and in spite of radical feminist arguments against the male patriarchy there is not big rush of women choosing artificial insemination in order to allow them to avoid male involvement in a child's upbringing. Plus, it is also already possible for a woman to raise a child on her own pretty easily in a more conventional fashion without recourse to any biotech. There are women (I know one who did this) determined to have a child on their own who meet a guy in a big city, have a one-night stand when they are fertile, get pregnant, and then never tell the guy and lose contact with him. Women choosing that route to reproduction are also still the exception. So fears about the use of biotech have to be placed in perspective. Absent a motive to use a technology people will not use it.

Is there an unsatisfied demand among women to cut males out of the reproductive picture? I don't see it. Nor do I expect the radical feminist theorists to make much headway trying to convince women to do so. However, I do see a capability that biotechnology may provide that could provide women with a far more powerful incentive for having children by use of an anonymous male donor's sperm: once personal DNA sequencing becomes possible it will be more obvious what genetic flaws or advantages each potential mate has. The perceived and real difference in genetic quality between a sperm bank sperm donor and a mate's DNA will create a greater incentive to use sperm bank sperm. This illustrates how if one looks at the details of biotechnology one can spot where the real forces for change in society will come from as a result of what biotech makes possible. An examination of those details could result in a more effective conservative critique of the dangers that biotech poses for human institutions and human nature.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 02 11:31 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2002 December 23 Monday
UK Court Rejects IVF Embryo Selection For Donor Baby

In the UK one can't choose genetic qualities of IVF babies before implantation.

Britain's High Court has barred a couple from creating a 'designer baby' to try to save the life of their sick child.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the court said the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has no legal power to authorise such a treatment, the Guardian reported.

The judge found that UK law prohibits selection for particular genetic qualities in babies.

The case focused on a decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow Raj and Shahana Hashmi, from Leeds, to select an embryo to provide a life-saving transplant for their son, Zain, who has a rare genetic blood disorder. The Hashmis have been trying for a new baby using the technique since July, but will now have to stop.

In his surprise ruling, Mr Justice Maurice Kay said the HFEA had acted beyond its legal powers. Under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, it could grant licences to clinics "for the purpose of assisting women to carry children" and to ensure embryos were in a suitable condition for that purpose.

Had the Hashmi's succeeded in creating a suitable baby then at birth the stem cells from the baby could have been injected into their existing child Zain.

Neither the couple nor their four other children are bone marrow matches for Zain, who suffers from the rare blood disorder thalassaemia and is expected to die without a transplant. Stem cells taken from the baby's umbilical cord at birth could replace Zain's bone marrow.

By contrast, in the United States this technique is practiced. Recall the story back in 2000 when Jack and Lisa Nash had a daughter Molly who suffered from a genetic disorder called Fanconi anemia. The Nashes elected to have IVF done and an embryo selected that would be free of the disease. Lisa Nash then had an embryo implanted that was free of the Fanconi mutation.

Her parents, Jack and Lisa Nash of Englewood, Colo., wanted more children but were afraid to conceive because both carry a faulty version of the Fanconi gene, meaning each child would have a 25 percent chance of developing the disease.

The Nashes used a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD: Embryos were created from Lisa Nash's eggs and her husband's sperm. Then the fertilized eggs were analyzed, and when one was found to be disease-free and a tissue match, it was implanted. The couple had to try the procedure several times before she became pregnant.

Lisa then gave birth on August 29,2000 to a healthy baby Adam and used his umbilical stem cells to treat his older sister Molly.

The test tube baby, named Adam, was born in Denver on Aug. 29. Doctors collected cells from his umbilical cord, a painless procedure, and on Sept. 26 infused them into his sister Molly's circulatory system. The girl is recuperating in a Minneapolis hospital, and within about a week doctors should know whether the procedure was successful.

Whether or not the transplant works, doctors and ethicists said, the procedure is both a promising and worrisome harbinger of where scientific advances are taking human reproduction in the near future--at least for those who can afford to take that path.

This treatment worked for Molly Nash.

Six weeks after her brother Adam was born--he was genetically selected and tissue-typed from 15 embryos to match her--his umbilical cord blood was infused into her and she is now reported to be a thriving, healthy little girl.

In the United States there is still relatively little reproductive technology legislation enacted on either the state or federal level (though many bills have been introduced and interest continues to run high).

Although it did enact the Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act to require reporting of success rates from IVF clinics2, the federal government generally remains reluctant to regulate reproductive technologies. Only a handful of states have enacted reproductive technology legislation and, with the exception of legislation aimed at reproductive cloning (see Table 1)3, most focus solely on record keeping and physician involvement in artificial insemination4. Louisiana, for example, is the only state that explicitly prohibits the sale of human oocytes, whereas Virginia is the only state that explicitly sanctions the sale of human oocytes5.

In the USA the debate over embryonic stem cells is far from resolved. By contrast, in the UK the government is very supportive of embryonic stem cell research. But as the recent UK ruling on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis demonstrates, on the manipulation and selection of fertilized eggs for the purpose of reproduction it is the USA that allows the greater freedom for making individual choices.

The UK's regulatory regime will likely give the UK an edge in developing therapies that utilize embryonic stem cells. But the regulatory regime (or lack thereof) in America currently provides a greater opportunity for the development of techniques for the genetic engineering of offspring.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 23 01:34 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
Site Traffic Info