Australian Ethicist Calls for Breeding of Smart Babies

A leading Australian ethicist believes society has a moral obligation to genetically screen embryos to create a smarter society of superior “designer babies.”  Julian Salvulescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford, has proposed this manner of breeding using In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), which closely resembles the 1997 science-fiction movie, Gattaca.  In the movie, Gattaca presents a society where children are selected through pre-implantation genetic testing to ensure that humans with the most desirable traits are created.  According to Salvulescu, human embryos should be screened and those with acceptable IQ levels would be allowed to be implanted in the womb.  He calls for a need for a superior, smarter society even if doing so increases social inequality. 

His reasoning is in line with the work of fellow Oxford ethicists Andres Sandberg and Nick Bostrom.  “There are other ethical principles which should govern reproduction, such as the public interest,” Salvulescu said.  “My own view is that the economic and social benefits of higher cognition are reasons in favour of selection, but secondary to the benefits to the individual.”  Sandberg and Bostrom’s work claims that if IQs were raised by 3 percent, poverty rates and the number in prison would see a 25 percent decline and welfare dependency lowered by 18 percent. 

Sandberg and Bostrom’s report admits that while there is insignificant evidence indicating high intelligence causes happiness, “ample evidence” indicates that low intelligence increases the risk of misfortune, poverty, and “negative life events.”  The ethicists articulated that “the overall societal impact of even a small increase in general cognitive function would likely to be sizeable and desirable.”

This debate about using IVF to create this super society originated with a Melbourne, Australia couple who are fighting to be able to choose the sex of their next child.  They are on a quest to have a girl, and have already aborted twin boys in the process.  Their pursuit then sparked the question of whether embryos should be screened for other capabilities, i.e. genetic disorders, strength, and physical appearance.  Though a number of geneticists have said that a gene for IQ is unlikely to be discovered, research to isolate some of these other qualities has been somewhat successful and gives geneticists a look into what makes human beings function. 

Wesley J.  Smith, a bioengineering expert, weighed in on the issue stating that it is eerily reminiscent of the 1920s and the 1927 United States Supreme Court ruling of Buck v.  Bell that instituted sterilization of the “unfit,” including the mentally retarded, for the “protection and health of the state”.  Smith points out an interesting fact in the teachings of Salvulescu, Sandberg, Bostrom, and other eugenicists:


Notice, these eugenicists rarely mention trying to bring out the best traits of humanity, such as love, humility, selflessness, or gentleness–traits that promote peace and harmony, and which people with Down syndrome possess in abundance.  Intelligence is good.  But if we’re going to pick and choose the traits of our progeny–which we shouldn’t–let’s aim instead for people with genes that might give them a propensity to express the virtues. 


The work of Salvulescu, Sandberg, and Bostrom also brings to mind the social policy of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s that sought to wipe out those seen as Lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”).  Many in this category included, but were not limited to criminals, degenerates, feeble-minded, idle, insane, and weak.  The Nazis sterilized 400,000 “unfit” persons against their will, while 70,000 were killed under the Nazi Euthanasia Program (this is not including the genocide of over six million Jews during this time).  All instances were seen as a way to improve the human race by eliminating those deemed defective and erasing these traits from society’s gene pool. 

How the Nazis viewed the world is seen as vile and disgusting and the implementation of their policies is seen as revolting and inhumane.  Thus far, the work of Julian Salvulescu and his colleagues does not call for the elimination of those already living seen as “unfit,” but there is no way to determine if their ideologies will cross that line.  Only time will tell if Salvulescu truly sees this assault on the human race as a legitimate way of “improving” society.