TR: What are the benefits of the British system?
VR: It has one centralized authority that decides on policy, and often these decisions are based on a process of public consultation, so it is actually the outcome of a democratic process. But I’m not sure the U.S. is socially and politically in a place that is capable of making decisions based on public consensus.
TR: One of the biggest fears with PGD is that parents will want to select embryos that are genetically predisposed to being superb athletes or good at math. Would it be wrong to do those kinds of tests?
VR: When you get to enhancement selection, such as choosing physical traits or personality traits, there’s this tension between the fear of eugenics on one hand and reproductive freedom on the other.
Some people argue that a new ethical principle is emerging: procreative beneficence, the responsibility to benefit future children as much as we can. If you can bring a child into this world with better genetic equipment, it is our ethical obligation to do so, just like providing medical care.
On the other end of the spectrum, people argue that this kind of testing will modify our relationship with our children. Until now we saw them as gifts. What we got was what we got. Once we try to control their identities, we’ll see them as commodities, a product that should meet a certain standard. If you bought genetic equipment to have an athlete, will you be upset if you get a musician?
This argument is supported by a lot of social change we see anyway. We’re hyper-parenting, pushing our children very hard. We send them to the best schools and a lot of extracurricular activities, and we expect perfection. Once we can use genetic tools, it will just go out of control.
I suspect if we ever regulate anything in this country, it might be these uses. For example, lately we’ve seen a lot of literature about the God gene, the notion [that] there is genetic basis to faith or spirituality. If we ever get to the point where we can influence such complex traits, public outcry will be such that we might be able to regulate against certain uses.
TR: Is biologically altering an embryo different than socially altering a child?
VR: That depends on what you think about genes and the environment–the nature-nurture debate. I personally think that although there are significant differences between educationally and genetically shaping the identities of children, in many ways they are similar. I’m a strong believer in genetics, but you can never reduce human talent to genetics.