Technology and the Human Person   /   Fall 2002   /    Articles

People as Products: The Conflict Between Technology and Social Values

Lori B. Andrews

Twenty years ago, on a ranch in Escondido, California, Robert Klark Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice, offering the sperm of Nobel Laureates and other “genius” donors to couples who wanted to create more intelligent children. Over 200 children were born via artificial insemination using sperm from the bank. In 1999, the doors to the repository closed.11xConstance Holden, “Tracking Genius Sperm,” Science 291 (2001): 1893. I’d like to be able to report that the sperm bank suspended operations because people realized the foolishness of trying to upgrade their children, but, in truth, the sperm bank had become quaintly obsolete. Even mainstream infertility clinics had begun to offer sperm and egg donors with favored traits. Dozens of websites and advertisements had appeared that marketed gamete donors with stellar SAT scores, athletic abilities, or fabulous looks.22xSee Lori B. Andrews, The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology (New York: Holt, 1999). All three in the same donor now commands top dollar.

We generally consider it a good thing when parents want to give their children advantages—such as a good education—that they themselves never had. We are comfortable with individual choices in this area. In fact, when the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that a program providing school vouchers to parents did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, the court underscored the importance of parental choice in education.33xZelman, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Ohio v. Simmons-Harris, 2002 U.S. LEXIS 4885, 70 U.S.L.W. 4683 (2002). The Court’s opinion stated that the program “provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice.” Yet at the same time, we have concerns about social justice. We don’t just auction off places in the best universities based on sheer ability to pay. We establish scholarships so that meritorious but poor students can attend elite, expensive colleges. Yet this entire paradigm—individual choice coupled with a concern for social justice—may go out the window when it comes to the biological revolution that promises to let parents choose the very characteristics of their children. Moreover, the business of designing our children may turn reproduction into a form of production, profoundly changing the nature of families and of society.

It is now possible for a child to have up to five parents—a sperm donor, an egg donor, the surrogate mother who carries the child, and the couple who raises him. Or—if the claims of Dr. Severino Antinori are to be believed and five women are pregnant with clones—a child might have just one parent.44xIn 2002, the Italian infertility specialist Dr. Severino Antinori told the press that several of his female patients were pregnant with clones. See John Crewdson, “Gynecologist Claims Impending Births of 5 Cloned Human Babies,” Chicago Tribune (23 June 2002): 1. It is also possible to generate a genetic profile of a child before birth—or even of an embryo prior to implantation.

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