Advancements in technology and genetics have allowed couples, who have trouble conceiving a child because of reproductive and other disabilities, to successfully procreate through artificial means.
This has, however, raised concerns over the probability of related institutions, such as sperm banks, to perform a misguided practice of eugenics.
While scientific and health researches work toward negative eugenics, cases of conception via sperm donation and sperm banks see a tendency toward producing "designer babies," and this alone is a cause of concern not only for the scientific community but also for humanity.
It is one thing to ensure that a child is free from suffering genetic disorders but it's another to "design" a child to acquire the "ideal" qualities even before the embryonic stage. In October of 2015, the United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) began to prepare the licensing of qualified sperm banks to perform mitochondrial replacement therapy to prevent women who have the genetic disease to pass it on to their offspring.
This is a practice that was banned by the United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 2002 due to the risks it carried but its approval in the UK is alarming despite the many discussions held prior to endorsement.
What Do Sperm Banks Have To Do With The Issue?
In 2014, the London Sperm Bank turned away prospective donor Fred Fisher, an Oxford graduate, because of his dyslexia. Fisher was informed that it was HFEA policy to turn away donors with genetic problems. However, HFEA denied that dyslexia is included in its list considering it's not even a genetic disorder.
Sperm banks present the probability for successful conception and give options to prospective parents and this may inevitably lead to the question of positive eugenics. When, in the past, donor recipients would only have to "tailor-make" infants to mirror their own heredity, now they are given more choices including choosing sperm from donors with higher I.Q. or better athletic abilities.
It sounds simple enough, but when you take a step back, sperm banks really do have the capacity to practice positive eugenics and, unless strictly regulated, it can be bad news for the human race.
Just What Is The Big Issue?
Everything stems from eugenics, which is the study of "editing" genetics aimed at improving the quality of humans as a species. There are two ways the study could go: the first is negative eugenics, which refer to the practice of influencing genetic material to remove or suppress genetic defects, thereby improving the quality of human life. Another way is positive eugenics, which is aimed at "designing" humans to have "better" qualities by combining only the desirable qualities.
The aim of Eugenics is noble, considering its aim to rid babies of genetic diseases that could keep them from reaching their full potential. However, even scientists agree that altering genetics can lead to unwanted and unforeseen side-effects.
Is Altering Genetics Bad?
The aim of eugenics, as stated earlier, is not bad. However, human genetics has a natural way of compromising for a person's lack. For instance, the sharper blind people can have sharper hearing and dyslexic people have improved lateral thinking and spatial reasoning. Should humans do the altering, there is a possibility that nature could take drastic action due to the change and it may just prove irreversible.
"In our view, genome editing in human embryos using current technologies could have unpredictable effects on future generations... It would be difficult to control exactly how many cells are modified. Increasing the dose of nuclease used would increase the likelihood that the mutated gene will be corrected, but also raise the risk of cuts being made elsewhere in the genome," a group of geneticists wrote.
Should Sperm Banks Be Allowed To Turn Away Donors?
Yes and no.
To be sure, the HFEA has clear regulations on what is acceptable and what should be avoided and those are the regulations that sperm banks should adhere to. It should, however, not play God in its own terms and add to the list just so it will be more attractive to prospective parents who want "better" babies.
Instead of the actual experience of parenthood and stable family life, the so-called "designer babies," will just be another commercial trade. Who would care about nurturing when parents can conceive the best baby that money can buy? Of course, this is not a big issue at present but with the way things are going, we may just be headed down that path.
Picture The Possibilities
Think of it as a futuristic science-fiction story taking place in reality. To be more specific, look to stories that thematically show issues with regard to genetically designing humans, such as the 1997 film "Gattaca," which is pretty self-explanatory once you watch it, or even "Star Wars" which featured altered clones of Jango Fett as the "perfect" soldiers.
The main takeaway for both films remain that, in "Gattaca," even the superior humans have limits and "Star Wars" showed that even Jango Fett wanted his unaltered Bobba Fett.