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The search for perfection.doc

The search for perfection

John Harris: The only traits it would be morally
diversity. Politicians who appeared on TV in the problematic to induce are those that would be 1960s had bad teeth. Today you do not have any harmful to the individual or to others. It wouldn’t choice but to fix them, because we have no be morally problematic if a woman had a boy tolerance for politicians with dodgy teeth. This rather than a girl, or a child with a particular skin pressure to conform can be seen in a very toxic or eye colour or high intelligence. No one has a reason to bemoan the birth of such a child. Nor And because we can now screen pregnancies would the child have grounds for complaint. for certain genetic conditions there’s also a On the other hand, to choose to bring a child reduced tolerance of disability. In the past, when with diseases or disabilities into being is morally we saw a family with a Down’s syndrome baby, problematic. A child born permanently deaf, or we might have thought, that’s sad or that’s lame, or blind, or with short life expectancy would different. Now we ask, why didn’t you have a surely have grounds for complaint if these test? Insurance companies in the US will not characteristics were deliberately chosen. Why cover your medical costs if you have what they then do some people feel that designing children call “elective disability”. What sort of freedom is to be healthy, talented or to possess some beneficial feature might be wrong? If it’s not wrong for a prospective parent to wish to have a intervene in the genetic lottery. People like me are bonny, bouncing brown-haired baby boy, how born with a bad hand genetically. But society can does it become wrong if we have the technology change that. It can eliminate the genes, it can give cosmetic surgery to Down’s people so they don’t The phrase “designer children” has clear have slitty eyes. Well, no it can’t, because we negative connotations. The implication is that don’t have enough money to do what we already parents are more concerned with pleasing do, let alone enter this Utopian world of fixing, themselves than with valuing children for their own sake. However, normal sexual reproduction The “eliminate at all costs” mentality is a real has always had a large element of design in it. problem. Disability is the grit in the oyster that Cultures, religions and races that have encouraged promotes interesting, creative ways of looking at their members to marry other members of the the world. Moreover, a good society looks after its same group are all into designer children. If weakest members regardless of whether they creating a world with less disability and disease seems preferable, then, like me, you will believe Embodiment is about limitation, suffering, in minimising disease and disability and mortality. That’s the sad truth. Nobody wants to live in the Stone Age. But there is a limit. We The principle of procreative autonomy - your need to accept our glorious diversity rather than right to control your own role in procreation - is resort to ever more undignified, toxic and embedded in any genuinely democratic culture. expensive attempts to deny reality and achieve The presumption must be in favour of access to assisted reproductive technologies unless you can Kathy Phillips: Unlike Tom, you could say
show good and sufficient reasons not to do so. that coming from Vogue, I don’t live in the real Tom Shakespeare: It’s always entertaining to
world. Well, maybe not. But like it or not, listen to John. Perhaps less so this time because cosmetic enhancement procedures are part of the the world he has in mind wouldn’t have me in it. real world. And from where I stand it makes no difference what any of us think, we will be able to do little to stem the demand for these procedures. choices John talks about as though we are merely We can wave pictures of Liza Minnelli’s wedding individual free agents. We have to consider the guests at people. We can show them close-ups of complex patterns of other people we are involved Michael Jackson’s nose. But they’ll still be with. The world is messy and complicated, as are Britons spend £180 million a year on Botox Genetic screening, surgery, Prozac all have injections and laser skin resurfacing. Teeth side effects and problems. They seldom do exactly bleaching is a new growth area as are vein treatments, mole removal and what is known as One consequence of the many interventions practised at the moment is a reduced tolerance of women, and men; with tattooed eyebrows and lid lines. I’ve watched a facelift, a brow lift, thigh Now suppose you could enhance some other liposuction, lips, and chin, nose jobs, eyelid characteristic. You’re not going to have this enhancements, tummy tucks, breast enlargements. enhancement on the NHS, so what you’ve got is In Japan, the situation is even scarier. The the rich hard-wiring their economic and social Japanese are being operated on to round their slanted eyes, to sculpt their cheeks, deny their The dream of perfection is an illusion. It’s Moon-round faces. They want to deny their who we are inside that matters. Is genetic genetic heritage via Slavic cheek bones, engineering going to make peace between Israelis Scandinavian blonde hair, American height and Audience Question: Recently, a deaf
Some will say such vain attempts are encouraged American couple controversially attempted to by magazines such as Vogue setting impossible increase their chance of giving birth to a deaf aesthetic standards. Life endlessly proves to us child by using a deaf sperm donor. Should society that the pretty girl gets the job, the blonde at the Tom Shakespeare: I had two children
best-looking couple gets all the attention. If knowing there was a 50 per cent chance they people believe a nose job will transform their would be disabled, so the coverage of that case lives, it is not all down to the media. It’s because was saying that people like me shouldn’t have they are looking for self-respect and confidence in kids. If choice and parent autonomy are your watchwords, then what are you going to say when people come to you with curious choices? If I embryo to produce a blonde, blue-eyed, long- were to go with a partner for pre-implantation limbed baby, there will be a customer. But the genetic diagnosis to ensure we had a baby future population of Barbie dolls won’t be impaired with achondroplasia, most doctors would necessarily content. In my experience perfection say, “Oh, we’re not sure about that.” And they say often leads to more insecurity-and ultimately more John Harris: If it’s genuinely not a bad thing
Donald Bruce: Just over a year ago, we had
to be deaf, then there couldn’t be anything wrong the Nash family in the US using IVF to choose an with deafening a hearing child. But I don’t believe embryo of the same sex and as close a match as anyone thinks it is a matter of moral indifference possible to their child who was suffering from whether a child is deaf or not. We think it’s a bad serious bone marrow disease. The same week, a thing. Because I believe in reproductive freedom, family in Scotland was turned down when they I would uphold the parents’ right to choose, but I asked for IVI` to select a girl to replace their only wouldn’t protect them from criticism. I think daughter they had lost in a bonfire accident. They claimed it was their right to re-establish the Audience Question: Why are we not also
gender balance in their family and they were talking about the state potentially improving its I’m part of the European church working Donald Bruce: The problem with eugenics is
group on bioethics, and under Europe’s that it doesn’t work. (Chair: That’s the only convention on human rights and biomedicine, problem with eugenics?) The problem with the exactly that case is proscribed. They said that the rhetoric of eugenics is that you’ll only do it to only case for using sex selection is for serious some bits of the population, and the question is gender-related genetic disease. And I think that is Tom Shakespeare: I think the state does have a For all the anguish of that individual case, we responsibility to improve the quality of the are all part of a wider society. Once you have said population, which is why I support good maternity yes to sex selection in a non-medical situation, care, an excellent NHS, well-structured and there is no real reason to say no to other things well-funded free education for all. That is the that are down to personal preference. But there cost-effective, humane and egalitarian way to really is a difference between the non-medical and medical situation. It’s not just a continuum. You John Harris: The OED defines eugenics as
should not make your own preference a factor in the attempt to have a fine healthy child. the desirability of a child. We are too close to According to that description we should all be commodifying child-bearing, and we’re losing the eugenicists. But I’m against the state or medical profession imposing decisions on us. We need to distinguish this from individual eugenic choices that are free and unfettered. These are the best Audience Question: If we take perfection as
a template and try to alter our genetic make-up, aren’t we sending humanity down a disastrous biological cul-de-sac? John Harris: Evolution has almost stopped
(audience dissent). The only way it’s going to go on is if we take it in our own hands. That’s the reality. I’m not particularly in favour of continued evolution, but if you are then you’ve got to do it-for yourselves. Tom Shakespeare: The fact that evolution
has stopped is news to the TB bacterium for a start. But who would you trust to design these people? Politicians, doctors, fashion gurus? Parents? Almost everyone in this room probably has a complaint against their parents. If we’re going to give parents the chance of choosing characteristics, then you’ll not have seen anything like it – litigation for years! Chair: When I appeared before the Select
Committee last week, one of the MPs said that MPs would make the best judgements. Kathy Phillips: The idea that politicians
should decide on the aesthetics of the future population is really terrifying. Audience Question: Will our desire for
perfection drive us into becoming completely obsessed with physical perfection? Kathy Phillips: I hate to say this but I don’t
think we will stop worrying. There may be 20,000 plastic surgery operations in the UK but I think the statistics are going to rise hugely. (Chair: Leading to a sort of MeDonaldisation of physical looks . ) Yes – lots of Lara Crofts. Tom Shakespeare: The comic book 2000AD ran a story about a future world where there’s a guy who makes his living selling designer blemishes. One day there might be a backlash against conformity. New Scientist 11 May 2002

Source: http://resources.mhs.vic.edu.au/creating/future/downloads/search_for_perfection.pdf

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