By Anna Hamilton
Julian Savulescu, the Oxford University professor of ethics who has kept busy for a decade or more promoting his vision of “breeding better babies,” has taken his campaign to the UK edition of Reader’s Digest. His short article in the September issue, titled “It’s Our Duty to Have Designer Babies,” casts the bad-boy argument he relishes in a conventional and reassuring tone.
In the past, Savulescu’s pronouncements have provoked headlines including “Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction” and “Only Breed Smart Babies: Ethicist.” The Reader’s Digest piece prompted this variation in The Telegraph: “Genetically engineering ‘ethical’ babies is a moral obligation, says Oxford professor.” The largely sympathetic article was picked up by dozens of other UK newspapers.
Savulescu’s vision is a genetic pick-and-mix in which parents choose to edit out certain “personality flaws” in order to obtain “ethically better children.”
Fancy a child who’s likely to be altruistic? Then look for a version of the COMT gene. Want them to be faithful and enjoy stable relationships? Avoid a variant of AVPR1A. Steer clear of a certain type of the MA0A gene, too—it’s linked to higher levels of violence in children who often suffer abuse or deprivation.
Indeed, when it comes to screening out personality flaws, such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and dispositions to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children. They are, after all, less likely to harm themselves and others.