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Designer Babies: A Dangerous Middle-Class Dream? Or the Way to Perfectly Equal Opportunity for Every Person?

So the BIG THINKers have reminded us that one of the most personal and technologically promising ideas of our time is DESIGNING BABIES–or making the result of our reproduction better than natural.

I’ve had a lot to say on this prospect over the years.  For now, I’ll raise some considerations based on my previous post on being middle class.  There, I claimed that the middle-class standard of autonomy has at least a strong propensity to give way to the middle-class standard of productivity.  So the middle-class view of liberty is unsustainable over the long-term.

The first BIG THINK thought, after all, is that we have to design babies just to be able to keep up with our increasingly productive Chinese (well, not only Chinese) competition.  Investing in enhanced babies might well be more basic than all those “Sputnik moment” initiatives the president put forward in his recent State of the Union.

We might easily be led to think that our kids aren’t worth enough unenhanced to be dignified.  And who could be against increasing a person’s productivity–which surely allows that person to more effectively fend off the various risk factors that imperil his or her very existence? 

So surely there’s a moral imperative to improve upon nature with productivity–rooted, first of all, in enhanced personal cleverness–in mind.  And wouldn’t enhancement even up the inequalities nature now sticks us with?  Wouldn’t they “level the playing field,” guaranteeing that the competition that is life be based on personal merit and not the arbitariness of natural endowment?  Wouldn’t they, from one view, make the meritocratic competition that is middle-class life both more fair and more ruthless than ever? 

All this assumes, of course, that every single enhancement would be available to everyone.  But that assumption might be pretty safe.  Libertarians now say that they, in freedom, own the advantages nature has given them.  But what if they could buy themselves into even greater inequality?  That would deny and credibility at all to our great Declaration’s proposition that all men are created equal.

So if you think about it:  Not only must we insure that all babies can be artificially or biotechnologically enhanced, they all must be enhanced.  We can’t be pro-choice about enhancement.  Productivity is going to trump genuine autonomy, as we make all our kids into what David Brooks called Achievatrons.

What about those people who object to reproduction through the implantation of tricked-up embryos? What about those people who want to reproduce the old-fashioned way?  That is, by having unprotected sex and then hoping and praying for the best and even being lovingly open to the gift of, say, a Down syndrome son or daughter.

Surely it would be a quite unncessary risk factor–and offense against the new standard of equality by design–to have all those stupid and disease-ridden Mormon and Catholic kids running around?

Lot’s more to say…But I hoped I ticked you off enough already.


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