In defence of Dominic Cummings…

I never expected to write the above words as I don’t particularly hold Tory sympathies, but The Guardian did such a stupid disappointing mud-slinging job with this article that I feel I have no choice but to speak up.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/feb/19/sabisky-row-dominic-cummings-criticised-over-designer-babies-post

 

First of all, Cummings was thinking out loud. More people should do that as it’s very useful and it’s impossible to have good ideas if you don’t allow yourself to have bad ideas as well. He’d been to an event, in 2014, and he rambled on about what he had heard and what he thought. There is nothing wrong with that per se.

People object to (talking about) “designer babies” but nobody defines it.

I define a designer baby as any baby that is chosen over any other baby or embryo or zygote that would have been viable and would have been able to live into adulthood.

We’ve been making designer babies for decades!

In some countries, people with Down syndrome no longer occur because they’ve been eradicated from the population while they become city councillors and get degrees in other countries.

We used to lock people up and deprive them of normal life experiences because they were different (and we still do, in fact, also in the UK). That kind of treatment would hold anyone back.

“Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming,” Goethe is supposed to have said or, more likely, written a long time ago. Hold someone back and you condemn the person to a life of limitations.

We’ve also seen this happen for women. One of the two founders of the British-born philosophy of utilitarianism considered women “disabled” by society.

Not that long ago, women were not allowed to go to university and not allowed to do many other things, such as have a bank account, own property or run a business.

In March 2017, expert Wendy Savage (a gynaecologist and professor at Cambridge University) allegedly stated in an interview with the Daily Mail that a pregnant woman should always be told the sex of the fetus and should be allowed to abort the fetus if she does not like the baby’s sex.

That too is about designer babies, about picking the pink handbag, not the blue one.

The British celeb who flew to Cyprus because she could pick her baby’s sex (gender) there and was not allowed to do that in the UK, she wanted a designer baby on the basis of her mistaken belief that sex is an either/or switch.

There are several countries in the world in which male children are currently preferably allowed to come into the world at the expense of female children and it’s already changing these countries’ populations too. (That is how we know it is happening.)

Back to Cummings.

At one point in that blog post, he wrote very clearly that he did not have the required knowledge to be able to assess some of what he was writing about:

“There is a great deal of Hsu’s paper – and the subject of IQ and heritability generally – that I do not have the mathematical skills to understand.”

He wrote the word “egg” when he clearly meant “zygote” or “embryo”, and he did not mention that IQ is a relative measure.

But he did mention “junk DNA” which was once mistakenly believed to be just that. Useless junk.

And he also wrote:

“If the poor cannot do the same, then the rich could quickly embed advantages and society could become not only more unequal but also based on biological classes. One response is that if this sort of thing does become possible, then a national health system should fund everybody to do this. (I.e. It would not mandate such a process but it would give everybody a choice of whether to make use of it.)”

He did write:

“The latter will rightly make people deeply worried, given our history, and clearly require extremely serious public debate. One of the reasons I wrote my essay was to try to stimulate such debate on the biggest – and potentially most dangerous – scientific issues. By largely ignoring such issues, Westminster, Whitehall, and the political media are wasting the time we have to discuss them so technological breakthroughs will be unnecessarily  shocking when they come.”

I am sure that there is a lot about Cummings’ thinking that I don’t agree with, but neither am I pleased with this childish article in The Guardian.

All over the world, bioethicists are talking about these kinds of topics and you can’t do that effectively if you don’t consider all the angles.

The old eugenics is still continuing. The new eugenics has been with us for a while but is really accelerating now with CRISPR.

I participated in an EDX course by Harvard Law School professor Glenn Cohen who also heads the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, in which we all (about 200 of us) thought hard about these difficult matters.

I have a course on Udemy in which I also challenge people to come up with positive effects of doing something as well as negative effects, in terms of the new eugenics.

If you want an example of this kind of thinking exercise, then consider that eradicating all women from society would eradicate menstrual pain and the majority of breast cancers whereas others might say that women are defective humans anyway, hence that society doesn’t need women and if you couple the latter with continued technological progress, which would make even the biological requirement for having women drop away, you can see a world without women in the future.

If you find this upsetting, then maybe you should remind yourself that we have had no problem applying the same kind of logic with regard to for example people with Down syndrome.

We need to talk about this because we are all biased by definition and unless we are all willing to ponder and discuss these very difficult topics and from all possible angles and reach a consensus, a handful of highly biased people will make up our minds for us.

That could be people like Julian Savulescu at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, whose ideas may even be more extreme than those of Cummings (which sadly sometimes obscures the fact that Savulescu also occasionally has brilliant ideas that are much more in line with Michael Sandel’s take on these issues).

It’s why I wrote a book about this stuff. Not because I have all the answers but because I don’t.

Instead of criticizing Cummings over this post, people should follow the example of Cummings and start thinking about this stuff and weighing in.

NOTE: When I say that we need to reach a global consensus regarding the new eugenics, I don’t mean “this month” or even “this year, or decade” but am thinking longer term.

Experiences are personal

It is easy to think that many males may have a habit of invalidating women’s experiences.

But what also sometimes happens is that some takes another person’s experience and wants to own it, define it, take it away and completely bulldozers over the other person’s experience.

A few days ago, I saw a post online about some confusion about children who are merely young being “diagnosed” as having ADHD.

Another one of these “FFS!” moments.

Those naughty naughty kids! How dare they and oh, how incredibly SMART of the researchers in question to see that young children were  being put in boxes and being accused of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.</sarcasm>

In the same discussion, I saw an educational psychologist moan about the difficulty of properly diagnosing children in a way that really annoyed me, but mostly in hindsight (as went for the topic of the discussion).

I have meanwhile identified why the comment annoyed me so much.

There was zero attention for the children, or even for only one child, in the comment. It was all about this psychologist’s need to be able to put children in the appropriate boxes.

If you do that, you steal a child’s experience and make it your own, to serve you. It focuses on what you need, not on what the child needs.

In doing so, you deny the child its own experiences, don’t you? You tell the child that his or her experiences don’t matter, as long as people get to put the child into a box, that that is all that matters.

To some degree, you are robbing the child of its own childhood.

The fact that children are being misdiagnosed as having “ADHD” because they are young almost seems to indicate that there is no such thing as ADHD and that people (psychologists?) are looking for problems that aren’t there.

Maybe they do that so that they can ignore more difficult problems that do exist. Why else would adults, and notably psychologists, do something as bonkers as this?

Or maybe it means that psychology is an utterly useless profession.

Maybe it means that standardized designer babies really are around the corner, with the option of creating children who never fidget and never run around and never dance or jump or scream.

(Just tossin’ a few options around.)

Another opinion

The key to our humanity isn’t genetic, it’s microbial

File 20181211 76977 1euccsw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The microbes that live in our gut are essential to good health.
Alpha Tauri 3D Graphics/SHutterstock.com

Ian Myles, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

What if the key to perfecting the human species were actually … yogurt?

Continue reading

Surrogacy

For a while, I’d been wanting to watch the documentary “Big Fertility“, by the Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC), which was released on 17 September 2018. I was mainly curious.

I finally got around to it today. I watched the puzzling trailer this morning – It’s all about the money – and it intrigued me so much that I rented the video from Vimeo.

This documentary features Kelly Martinez, her husband and the director of the CBC as well as Kelly’s doctor during her last surrogacy.

Kelly has earlier addressed the United Nations, as is mentioned in the documentary. This took place on 15 March 2017.

She also went to Spain. I found an article in Spanish newspaper El Pais of 24 February 2017 that mentions her and discusses the problem of gestational surrogacy. It’s not allowed in Spain, but that does not stop people who have lots of money.

My conclusions:
  • The issue of surrogacy needs to be resolved globally, and as soon as possible, as many others have been saying for a long time. Some surrogacies go fine, but many don’t – and the victims are often the babies, for example when they can’t travel from the countries in which they were born or when people who bought a pregnancy change their mind.
  • As Dr Diehl (Kelly’s doctor) explains in the documentary, physicians are currently left in limbo. They are faced with making decisions for which there is (often) no legal framework yet (depending on state/country), which can expose them to lawsuits. An example he gives is the situation that a surrogate does not want vaccinations, while the person who bought the pregnancy does.
  • If it were up to me, surrogacy would be banned altogether. Babies are not products. (Nobody knows what happened to the two boys Kelly produced during her third and final surrogacy.)
  • Thankfully, with the soon expected advent of artificial uteruses – incubation pods for embryos (yes, we will have something like this; there is no doubt in my mind about this and they’ve already been used successfully for sheep – the problem will disappear, at least as far as the surrogates are concerned and to some degree also as far as the babies are concerned.
  • I am reminded of Michael Sandel’s words about the effects of various practices on inclusive solidarity. What’s technologically possible is not by definition mandatory. It is not at all a matter of choosing between nature or science and technology, as some suggest.

I believe that truly altruistic cases or surrogacy will not be stopped by bans but it would curb the predominantly negative instances and effects of gestational surrogacy. In my own family, there is a case of one family giving one or their babies to another couple that could not conceive. It concerned two siblings and their spouses and happened many decades ago.

Flying to Cyprus for a designer baby

A designer baby is any baby who is preferred over another baby, the way one might pick a handbag or a rug.

The only exception should be when the resulting baby ends up having a life not worth living. In my book “We need to talk about this“, I give a definition of “a life not worth living” that has held up so far. This definition does not represent what I feel, but what could be doable to work with in practice.

This also means, however, that parents should get all the assistance they need. This means that the baby (and child) should get all the assistance he or she needs to enable him or her to FLOURISH.

Society creates so many hindrances for anyone who isn’t mainstream. We should embrace diversity as it enriches society and we should address the artificial impairments so that they disappear.

I also believe that techniques like CRISPR should be used first to help remedy these “lives not worth living”. Why? Because it is a logical approach, based on the application of (generally globally accepted) principles instead of personal preferences.

Model and former Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd is flying to Cyprus for a designer baby:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-42611687/danielle-lloyd-on-why-she-s-choosing-the-sex-of-her-next-child