You were a blue light special at K-Mart

December 16, 2004 | 44 comments
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Well . . . not you. Not me either. I’m thinking of Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame. And he’s just a fictional character, or at least he used to be.

A small but growing number of fashion-forward American parents are using fertility clinics to ensure that they get a child of the right sex. I don’t like much the IVF techniques that fertility clinics use anyway. I suspect that the extra embryos they create to discard are human beings. But picking your child’s sex seems like a particularly light reason to go through with IVF.

In fact, I think I would reject this new fashion even if no embryos were destroyed. I do not object to the use of medical technology to change the natural state of the body per se. I look forward to the day when medical science can act to prevent the genetic difficulties that afflict my near and dear ones. I am even open to the use of technology to make sure that everyone is born super-smart and radically fit (though I am not without nagging doubts). But I just can’t see tampering with the natural state of affairs to satisfy a taste or a preference.

There is no moral reason to prefer babies of a particular sex. Being whole is better than being handicapped and being smart is better than being dumb, true, but one sex is not better than the other. There’s no reason a parent would wish for their child’s sake that it would be born male or female. The only reason left, then, is the pure, unadulterated, self-satisfying whim of the parents, customizing the child to their pleasure, in obedience to the Great God who cries in the Marketplace, saying, before Abraham was I Consumed.

That may be a little overwrought. I’ll admit that. It’s just that I don’t see how parents can indulge their taste in genders or, soon, in eye color or voice timber or hair thickness, without starting to see their children at least a little as commodities who exist for the parents’ benefit. Some tendencies in our society already push us that way. The growing acceptability of childlessness, for one, tends to make the mere having of children a “lifestyle choice” and a consumer option. That’s one buzzard circling overhead. This IVF sex-selection is another. On the horizon other buzzards, as yet just black specks, are approaching.

The corpse is our transcendent humanity.

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44 Responses to You were a blue light special at K-Mart

  1. J. Stapley on December 16, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    This is eugenics.

  2. danithew on December 16, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    There is no moral reason to prefer babies of a particular sex. Being whole is better than being handicapped and being smart is better than being dumb, true, but one sex is not better than the other.

    I agree! :)

    Unfortunately we have seen that in China and India people will have abortions to prevent giving birth to a daughter. In many cultures a son is more desirable than a daughter … but that feels to me like a false tradition and my guess is that as people abuse technology to assure a particular gender for their child, that societies will (down the road) suffer consequences. Those consequences might be useful however in teaching them the value of having daughters in the first place.

  3. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 5:03 pm

    Adam,

    If you don’t want to tamper with the natural state of affairs when it comes to determining sex, what is the justification for tampering with it in other situations?

  4. Ivan Wolfe on December 16, 2004 at 5:06 pm

    Larry –

    I thinke he already made that clear. It seems his reasoning was: There are good reasons to prefer a non-handicapped child over a handicapped one, but to prefer a boy over a girl (or vice versa) is just plain dumb.

    China is already suffering from an overabundance of males. I believe that Japan, just before WWII had a similar situation. But I’m not up on the historical data there.

  5. J. Stapley on December 16, 2004 at 5:09 pm

    With modern medicine we defy natural selection. The result is that people who would not have passed on their genetic traits a couple hundred years ago, now do. Without the bad mutations resulting in failure to propagate, the human genome weakens. I can therefore see an opportunity to strengthen humanity by technology.

    …but then again, the Third Reich was fueled by the best medical doctors in the world.

  6. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    Ivan,

    I appreciated that was his point. The further question becomes whose plan is it we follow then? If it’s the Lord’s, are all these handicaps freaks of nature or are they part of His plan. If we intercede, with all our good intentions, then what are we telling the Lord?

  7. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    Ivan Wolfe said what I meant in fewer and better words.

    I think that when we try and make our children healthier we’re trying to make them more like God will ultimately make them. It may be presumptuous (I’m still debating) but it emphasizes their divine destiny.

    When we try and make our children suit our whims, we just emphasize that they’re commodities.

  8. danithew on December 16, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    Tampering with genetics to have a healthy child instead of an unhealthy child is a valid and wise way to go. Why would one choose otherwise?

    It’s the other choice factors that I find a little disturbing — choosing blue eyes over dark eyes or outward superficial characteristics such as that could be problematic. As Adam said so well:

    I don’t see how parents can indulge their tastes in genders or, soon, in eye color or voice timber or hair thickness, without starting to see their children at least a little as commodities who exist for the parents’ benefit.

    Then again, people do ridiculous things to their own bodies for aesthetic reasons … it’s just one more step for them to cause similar changes in the bodies of their own children.

  9. J. Stapley on December 16, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

  10. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 5:15 pm

    Mr. Larry,
    In a fallen world, I think we’re only to accept the natural state of affairs insomuch as (1) it is good or (2) we can’t do anything about it.

    God didn’t give us trials just to grow by accepting them. He also gave us trials (and handicaps and medical problems) to grow by fighting to overcome them.

  11. Amira on December 16, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    So, does it all come down to parental rights? Parents choose pretty much every factor in their children’s upbringing. Is this really any different?

  12. cooper on December 16, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    Adam I caught the tale end of a Dr Phil show reecently discussin gthis topic. The woman (and her husband) had two boys. She longed for a girl. The mother was a ballet teacher and had hopes that taking this tract to have the girl of her dreams to be completed fulfilled in life (my snarkiness added). Dr. Phil (and I don’t watch all the time and take anything he sayd witha grain of salt) stated that messing around in that arena, inferring God’s right to choose the sex, opened up a myriad of problems for him. He said “if I start making those decisions I better watch out and be prepared for the consequences.”

    My retort was that if she was doing this so she could raise a prima ballerina she better be prepared to have a 6 foot tall WNBA player too. As much as we want to control a child’s future we all find out eventually that they will go the way they choose (with some input from parents).

    Be careful what you wish for….

  13. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    Adam,

    You can drop the mr. :) My point is along the lines of what J. Stapley and Amira said. What right do we have to interfere in a program that was agreed upon by the Lord and our children. If we think we are making their lives better, I know some parents of Downs Syndrome children that would argue that point.
    We have such a limited perspective on life. I can’t disagree with you that we ought to make life better for our children. But what does better mean?

  14. Glen Henshaw on December 16, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    THere are some practical problems with it, in that we don’t really understand all of the side effects of genetic manipulation. And, assuming that most (American) parents have similar ideas of what is desirable, we could see a reduction in genetic diversity. Which would be a Really Bad Thing.

  15. J. Stapley on December 16, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Sorry Larry for not explaining my post (#9). I was actually arguing for interceding. I take a position that we should be like Christ and assuage as much of the human dolor (to use the wording I used earlier this morning in the Stem Cell thread) as possible. Christ didn’t thwart the plan of God, and I don’t think we would either.

    And Adam has this thing with Mr. I’m not sure what, but I find it interesting.

  16. danithew on December 16, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    For the sake of humor I was going to make up a list of child-to-order specifications — but the exercise itself seemed rather repulsive, even as a joke.

  17. danithew on December 16, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    I suspect that when Adam says mister. it rhymes with kiester. :)

  18. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 5:37 pm

    That’s okay J.. But your scripture still makes the point that I want to make. What joys will be lost, what growth thrown away, if we can call up on a computer all the elements and traits we desire in a child?
    Having pre-ordered it we can go to K-Mart and have a blue-light special.

  19. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Mssr. Larry,

    By the same token, what right do we have to take medicine?

    The Stem Cells thread has turned into a discussion of this same point. It starts here:
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1712#comment-35268

    My view is that using science and technology and wealth to solve our problems is mostly OK. I think that God gave us problems in part to teach us to solve them. But, I also think that a point can be reached in which problems are so easy to solve and so many problems are solved that the plan is, in fact, frustrated. I don’t know where the point is and what, if anything, we mortals should do about it. It’s entirely possible that we don’t need to do anything because humanity, when freed from natural evils, will quickly create its own to fill the gap.

  20. J. Stapley on December 16, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    Glen: …we could see a reduction in genetic diversity. Which would be a Really Bad Thing.

    I’m not sure that the pursuit of similar phenotypes would result in a reduction of diversity. That is, unless we are reduced to cloning (which also plays into this debate). If you are looking at embryos and selecting the best possible phenotypic combination of the spouses, you should be okay.

    Its when you want to start actually manipulating or cloning that things get difficult e.g., you are an Japanese American and you want your progeny to have blue eyes, so you go to the doctor and select one of five possibilities, to insert into your (what is essentially a) clone.

  21. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    Adam,

    You can drop the Mssr. as well. :) Your point is well made and I think we are in general agreement. But if we start down this road, as you put it so well, when do we reach the slippery slope? That is why I like the natural selection process and then working within that process once they are here. If they are healed by a miracle, or by science, we have not predetermined their condition beforehand.

  22. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Sr. Larry,
    Is it your idea then that using medical science to treat an ailment is good only as long as the the science is imperfect, because then the outcome is not predetermined and there’s room for God to intervene (the God of the gaps, shall we say). But altering the gene code means there’s no room for error?

    This reminds me of the Merchant of Venice, where Shakespeare seems to be saying that the only respectable way to get rich is through gambling, because then the riches are from God.

  23. J. Stapley on December 16, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    That is why I like the natural selection process and then working within that process once they are here.

    Sorry for reiterating. Because of modern medicine, natural selection is dead.

  24. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Adam,

    You can drop the Sr. as well. :)
    Then you must be arguing in favour of the blue-light special because there is no avoiding it once it starts!
    And if you want to see what hell is like, just start down that road. Not everyone in this world thinks that blonde, blue-eyed people deserve to live here. And since we are in the minority guess what will happen! Those who have different ideas will raise warriors and clones of warriors. It is not all goodness that comes out of this science.
    That is why the natural process is the best. Now if you think God erred on this policy …

  25. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Herr Larry,
    We are not agreed. You are correct that too much problem-solving subverts the plan. However, since the plan is that we are too have problems and solve them, refusing to solve problems also subverts the plan.

  26. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    J.

    I blogged before I read your point. You are right. Science has progressed to the point where genetic changes can be made. The question is – is that a science that can be misused and abused?
    I think Hitler answered that question very well.

  27. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 6:11 pm

    Everything can be used and abused, Larry. Families and churches and food and sleep, for example. That’s the whole test of being in a fallen world.

  28. David King Landrith on December 16, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Adam Greenwood: I am even open to the use of technology to make sure that everyone is born super-smart and radically fit.

    I’m curious why, when discussing the possible uses of technology to improve humanity, people always use examples regarding to brain power and muscle power (and sometimes good looks). Why not biologically alter embryos so that they end up being happier or more compassionate or better leaders?

    Tangential to this is the question of how our genes, premortal dispositons, and our mortal dispositions interact. If I am a good leader here in mortality, did I bring that from pre-mortality or is it a freak accident caused by the conjoining of such and such an egg with such and such a sperm? To what extant (if at all) do the characteristics of the premortal spirit determine the genetic composition of the mortal?

    Adam Greenwood: There is no moral reason to prefer babies of a particular sex.

    If you haven’t been blessed with daughters, then I can excused you for saying so. Even so, I beg to differ. Girls make much better children than boys. I take this to be a moral primitive. And if you’re willing to meet my daughters, then I can prove it.

  29. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    Adam,

    You can drop the Herr. :)

    Yes , but are we to try to become God or are we to work with Him? The argument becomes (metaphorically) one of building a Tower of Babel or being obedient. Not all problems are meant to be solved in the way we determine. Perhaps, the gene altering route becomes the easy way out, rather than the correct way.

  30. Jack on December 16, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Lucifer must have been quite a specimen but it didn’t keep him from becoming a jerk.

  31. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 6:28 pm

    Adam,

    (I need to get this in quickly.)
    If everyone is born super smart and beautiful, how would you know?

  32. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    Women’s intuition.

  33. Larry on December 16, 2004 at 6:34 pm

    This wasn’t meant for you personally. ( I don’t mean to imply that you don’t have a woman’s intuition – I try not to comment on anyone’s proclivities) :) What I meant was how would anyone know. If everyone was smart and beautiful where then is excellence?

  34. Kristine on December 16, 2004 at 8:59 pm

    Adam, I have to nitpick, just a little. First, there’s no genetic manipulation going on at these fertility clinics–it’s a simple matter of using a centrifuge to sort sperm–the ones with X chromosomes have a different mass than the ones with Ys, so it’s pretty easy to do. Second, sometimes choosing the sex of the baby is also a way to choose a healthier baby, as when the parents are known carriers of a Y-chromosome linked birth defect. Rare, yes, but that was the original use of the technology.

    Technologies often have noble purposes that then get subverted to satisfy people’s selfishness. Look at the techniques for inducing labor–there are plenty of doctors out there who will induce labor merely for the convenience of the parents, despite the risks to the baby. I find that really distasteful (to say it as mildly as possible). Still, I’d be dead if it weren’t possible to induce labor prematurely, so I’m glad the technology exists. Similarly, I suspect that there are a few parents of daughters rather than hemophiliac sons who are really grateful that this technology exists.

    That’s all–I mostly agree with you, but had to quarrel because, well, you are you and I am I.

  35. Glen Henshaw on December 16, 2004 at 9:44 pm

    I think it’s important to remember what the limitations of genetic manipulation are. There are certain genes that result in specific discrete traits, like eye color. There are specific genes that, when mutated, cause spcific diseases. There is no>/b> gene for intelligence. That’s a very complicated combination of many genes, the various hormonal washes that the embryo is exposed to in utero, and experience. The same thing is true for attributes like beauty and leadership and (probably) happiness. Conclusion: if you want smart children, marry a smart person.

    Larry wrote:
    “Those who have different ideas will raise warriors and clones of warriors.”

    The ability to manipulate genes — or even produce clones — doesn’t mean you can easily raise an army. If you tried, you would get a group of embryos. Those embyos have to be implanted and borne by a mother. The babies have to be raised exactly like any other child would. They would then have to be trained into an army, just like any other group of young people. In other words, cloning an army is no easier than getting one the regular way, plus it’s a lot more expensive.

    This technology can certainly be abused, but not (IMHO) this way.

  36. Ethesis (Stephen M) on December 16, 2004 at 10:27 pm

    Well, just taking a moment to get some distance, children used to be an investment. In an agrarian society, children break even somewhere around eight years of age and turn a definite profit by twelve.

    I had a mission companion whose rancher father bred his way to wealth (put three wives into the grave too, btw) and who was quite philosophic about the need to murder a few wives in order to get wealthy. I’ve known dairy farmers in Texas who used the same approach…

    However, in a modern world, children go from investment capital to consumer goods. For city dwellers they never turn a profit, each child is a severe net economic loss.

    I’m not sure I see the issues with the “blue light special” comments, though the designer gene issues have been a staple of science fiction for over fifty years.

  37. Larry on December 17, 2004 at 12:04 am

    Glen,
    “The ability to manipulate genes – or even produce clones – doesn’t mean you can easily raise an army. If you tried, you would get a group of embryos. Those embyos have to be implanted and borne by a mother. The babies have to be raised exactly like any other child would. They would then have to be trained into an army, just like any other group of young people. In other words, cloning an army is no easier than getting one the regular way, plus it’s a lot more expensive.”

    My point in this regard was that they would do the same as the Chinese did. They would choose male sperm, bare them , train them and send them off to war. That would not be difficult.
    I suppose they could do that now and, in effect, they are in Pakistan where the young, poor, males are being trained to hate America. If they did that for one generation they could achieve their objective.

  38. Glen Henshaw on December 17, 2004 at 9:29 am

    Larry wrote:
    “My point in this regard was that they would do the same as the Chinese did. They would choose male sperm, bare them , train them and send them off to war. That would not be difficult.”

    Okay — I misunderstood. That makes more sense to me. That being said, though, I suspect there would be some serious (non-scientific) problems with doing that. For one, you have to have women in your society; the Chinese are finding out now that there are huge social problems when you don’t have enough marriagable women. Also you have to have a population back home to support your army economically.

    In addition, if someone were sufficiently motivated to do this, I think it would probably be easier to practice selective infanticide. Basically, the technology Adam is talking about doesn’t really change that much in the equation.

  39. Larry on December 17, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    True for China. But in the Islamic arena young women could be recruited to bare only sons by the method Adam is talking about, rather than being suicide bombers which some are becoming now. That was my point

  40. danithew on December 17, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    I don’t think Muslims would be motivated to gender-select using technology. I can’t be entirely sure of this but there’s a famous Islamic instruction that prohibits Muslims from burying daughters in the sand (I guess Arabic is supposed to be the only language with a verb that specifically means to bury a daughter in the sand).

    The practice of burying daughter infants alive is attributed to the pre-Islamic Arab tribes.

    I imagine that this story of Muhammad’s prohibition of this act would also be applied to the question of gender-selecting using technology.

  41. Larry on December 17, 2004 at 4:16 pm

    When you are dealing with radicals, the use of technology to achieve their purposes is not at all inconceivable. They won’t have to bury their daughters in the sand.
    Note that not all Muslim women will have boys, just those recruited to arm their forces. And while they are at it why not 2 or 3 or 4 at a time. Just a hundred thousand young women recruited to being pregnant with multiple male babies over a period of less than 10 years could easily produce this army.

  42. Adam Greenwood on December 17, 2004 at 6:40 pm

    Let me nitpick right back at you, Kristine.

    I never said that IVF techniques involved genetic manipulation. Nor did I decry technology as bad.

    I simply objected to trying to customize children (which is what I assume you mostly agreed with). This is easy for you and I to say, of course, since we are such splendid persons that we are sure to naturally endow our children with a rich genetic heritage.

  43. Kristine on December 17, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Yes, it is easy for you and *me* to say, as we are such splendid persons as to endow our children with a rich appreciation of English grammar and usage :)

    Sorry, couldn’t resist–you so rarely make mistakes I can correct.

    And no, you didn’t directly say those things–although I don’t think the commenters who did were stretching too far beyond what you said. I’m just trying to put the universe back into equilibrium, y’know?

  44. Adam Greenwood on December 19, 2004 at 3:35 am

    We are the makers of usage, Kristine. :)

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