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Designer Grandchild: Wealthy British Couple Paid to Create a Grandson

Two grandparents in the United Kingdom have confirmed the adage that if something can be done, no matter how bizarre, somebody will eventually do it. According to the U.K.’s Mirror Online [1], these grandparents, described as “extremely rich,” created a designer grandchild for themselves from sperm harvested from the corpse of their son, who had died in a motorcycle accident.

Reportedly “desperate for an heir,” the couple bypassed U.K. fertility law by having the sperm frozen and then shipped to a San Diego fertility clinic. Although their son never consented to having his post-mortem sperm used to create a child, his mother said she believed “it’s what her son would have wanted.” Apparently the couple paid the San Diego clinic $130,000 to use a gender selection technique, illegal in Britain, to help ensure that only a grandson would be born.

The doctor who facilitated the request, David B.Smotrich [2], MD, advertises his services to anyone “regardless of nationality, sexual orientation or marital status … any individual or couple” so long as the desire is “to start or to complete their family.”

The grandparents searched for a U.S. egg donor/surrogate “who matched the kind of woman they believed their son would have married and had children with.” They created four embryos from her eggs, and selected one for gestation. No mention was made of the fate of their other three embryonic grandchildren.

There are several ethical problems with the grandparents’ actions.

Eugenics

They created four grandchildren, but only one was granted the fighting chance to be born.

Moral: IVF tempts us to become eugenicists, picking winners and losers in the game of life.

Rationalization

Since the young man was dead and could not be asked, the grandparents simply set aside the norm requiring objective informed consent in favor of what they believed “he would have wanted.”

Moral: When rationalization is used to justify ethically dubious behavior, we can convince ourselves of almost anything.

Arbitrary Self-Preference

The Mail Online account is replete with the wishes of the grandparents and devoid of concern for the child. But the little boy is the one who will suffer the most painful consequences of his grandparents’ choice.

Even presuming he will escape long-term physical disabilities from his reproductive manhandling, he will still awake into self-consciousness to find he was sired by a dead man and an anonymous woman; that the whereabouts of his three siblings is unknown, but they are probably dead; that he’s being raised by aging grandparents who broke the law to fulfill their “desperate” desires, and who, though willing to speculate about what their dead son would have wanted, gave no weight to what he would have wanted.

Moral: By foregoing the life-giving, love-giving norm for sex and procreation that traditionally governed Christian morality, this generation of no boundaries assisted reproducers has elevated arbitrary reproductive self-preference to a degree none of us would have thought conceivable 40 years ago.

Complicit Doctors

The first principle of doctor morality is “do no harm to one’s patients.” Dr. Smotrich’s patients included the four embryos he created. By bringing them into existence through a laboratory technique, he harmed them badly. He treated them exclusively as a means to an end, as laboratory products, things to be made, rather than as persons to be lovingly welcomed. One of them he kept because its gender and vitality suited him and the grandparents; three of them, he discarded as worthless.

Moral: By refusing to acknowledge that children should come into the world as a result of spousal intercourse, the field of reproductive medicine has blinded itself to the grave injustices it commits every day, all in the name of granting adults their reproductive desires. After saying how “desperately” the grandparents “wanted an heir,” Dr. Smotrich went on to say: “It was a privilege to be able to help them.” I wonder what the boy will have to say about that privilege in 15 years.

Future of Reproductive Medicine

Incidents such as this are sadly symptomatic of the designer-baby future that we are creating for ourselves. As the gene editing [3] technique known as CRISPR [4] becomes better understood and its applications refined, the field of reproductive medicine promises to explode with possibilities for creating the perfect child.

This future will arrive more slowly if legislation can be passed limiting CRISPR’s use for human germline editing (i.e., gene edits that heritable). Scientists and ethicists alike are keenly aware that advancements in CRISPR research have outpaced regulatory policy and that something needs to be done. But there is a terrible inertia in the scientific community, which communicates itself effectively to legislators, against policy restrictions that would limit U.S. scientists’ freedom to act as they think best. (Think of the monumental furor raised over the modest—and rightful—Bush restrictions on embryo research.)

Concerned laymen—intelligent non-scientists—need to continue to step up and make their voices heard. In a world of free choice, no future is inevitable. In the absence of a concerted effort to combat the present course that reproductive medicine is charting, that brave new future, where genetically designed children (and grandchildren!) are as common as IVF children are today, has the odds in its favor.

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