The Embryo and EugenicsEmbryo Eugenics

Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly color. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.(Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 2)

In ‘Brave New World’ Aldous Huxley envisions a world where ‘normal’ child birth, parenthood and even mourning for the dead are considered hideous concepts of a weaker past best forgotten. Instead babies are produced in factory-like clinics in batches according to the strata in society that they are to become a part of. Conditioning throughout development and subsequent childhood ensures that these individuals like and are glad to be a member of their allotted cast and actually detest the idea of being anything other than what they are, even if they are the ‘lowest’ subset (an Epsilon)

Kazuo Ishiguro paints a picture of a future in which individuals are produced as living donors; never aspiring for anything in life other than the role they are told they were created to fulfil: to progressively donate all of their organs and other body components until this is no longer compatible with life.

Gattaca instead tells of a future in which ‘in-valids‘, the products of ‘God’ or ’love’ births (what we would consider normal conceptions/births) are deemed substandard human beings, unable to attend the schools they wish, pursue their desired careers or even gain health insurance. ‘Valids’ (individuals that are produced the ‘normal’ way of enhancement via reproductive technologies) on the other hand, flourish and do not even associate with the lesser ’in-valids’.

When Huxley published his novel in 1932 it was met with widespread controversy, with many claiming the work to be the science fiction ramblings of a mad man. Religious groups were particularly enraged in light of Huxley’s future being one in which all major religions are gone, replaced by the teachings of ’Our Ford’ who freed his subjects from the despair of the world as we know it. Nevertheless, opponents of ’Brave New World’ consoled themselves with the fact that such a ludicrous future could never be scientifically possible. Huxley’s sci-fi vision, whilst alarming, would remain just that: a work of fiction.

Gattaca (released in 1997) and ’Never Let Me Go’ (2005), whilst as extreme in their visions of the future, came out in the era where technologies that Huxley had only imagined possible, were now a reality. The age of ‘designer baby’ fears were no longer sci-fi fiction but visions of the kind of future that our use of reproductive technologies could lead us to.

But should we really be concerned that our present use of reproductive technologies could lead to such extreme futures, dismissed in Huxley’s age as pure fiction? Does IVF herald the start of our journey towards the creation of designer babies? More worryingly, is our use of PGD and similar embryo selection techniques, a means of inadvertent expression as to the characteristics society deems ‘desirable’? Ultimately, can we really connect the embryo to eugenics?!