Procreative Altruism: Lebensborn Re-Imagined

designer-babyYou remember Julian Savulescu, the Oxford “ethicist” who is telling parents that we are morally obligated to choose the child among many “possible children” that is determined by genetic testing to have the “best life.” He wants us all to use IVF, whether we are infertile or not apparently, to create a batch of embryos and choose the best of the bunch based simply on their genetics. I have discussed Savulescu’s wrong-headed, scientifically-suspect notion of “procreative beneficence” already.

Of course, in our “right is wrong,” “wrong is right,” “wait…there is no such thing as wrong anymore” culture, Savulescu won’t be outdone in his race to CrazyTown. Some other Oxford “ethicists” want to take it one step further. (I am telling you, something wicked this way comes…out of Oxford.) Thomas Douglas and Katrien Devolder argue that parents should consider not just choosing the child that has the possibility of the “best life,” but also the one that will be genetically better for the rest of society. They call their principle “Procreative Altruism.”

Douglas and Devolder give the example of Liza and Paul. As embryos, Liza and Paul have been been given the genetic work up that their parents are “morally obligated” to perform. (Gattaca anyone?) Paul has been found to be a “free-rider,” a person “more likely than average to violate socially beneficial norms of cooperation whenever doing so is to their own advantage.” Liza is not.

Being a “free-rider” is better for Paul since he will more easily engage in unethical behavior that benefits himself. Savulescu’s “procreative beneficence” would dictate that parents choose him. But Liza is a better choice for the rest of society and so “procreative altruism” dictates that the parents choose her. The authors explain:

Since Liza’s existence can be expected to contribute more to the well-being of others than Paul’s, Procreative Altruism will imply that parents have significant moral reason to select Liza rather than Paul.

Yes, of course. How could we not have seen this before? It is more moral to give Liza a chance to finish her life and toss Paul in the trash than vice versa. How could we knuckle-draggers have been so ignorant?

The authors conclude:

If couples (or single reproducers) have decided to have a child, and selection is possible, they have significant moral reason to select a child whose existence can be expected to contribute more to (or detract less from) the well-being of others than any alternative child they could have.

This qualifies as ethics these days: advocate creating batches of embryos, pretend these are only “potential” offspring not actual living human organisms, then tell parents it is “moral” to pick the genetic best and toss the rest. All to better society.

Wait…I think I have heard this before, just less high-tech. Yes, I remember. Lebensborn. Lebensborn was a program started by Nazi mastermind Heinrich Himmler to create and foster genetically pure German children for the betterment of German society. Lebensborn is purported to mean “fountain of life” or some such. Himmler may have liked “procreative altruism” better if he had thought of it.

I wonder if academics like Savulescu, Douglas and Devolder can actually hear what they sound like. Do they know they are channeling some of the most insidious voices in history?

I actually believe they do know. They just think this time eugenics can be different, better. They think they can control it from their Ivory Towers. It is up to the rest of us knuckle-draggers to know better.

Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for six years and is a regular on Catholic radio.