Silver spoons and golden genes: Genetic engineering and the egalitarian ethos

Abstract
This Article considers the moral and legal status of practices that aim to modify traits in human offspring. As advancements in reproductive biotechnology give parents greater power to shape the genetic constitution of their children, an emerging school of legal scholars has ushered in a privatized paradigm of genetic control. Commentators defend a constitutionally protected right to prenatal engineering by appeal to the significance of procreative liberty and the promise of producing future generations who are more likely to have their lives go well. This 'new eugenics,' however, confronts us with ethical challenges that neither liberal arguments about autonomy, fairness, and consent, nor utilitarian arguments about preferences, happiness, and equality, are able to capture. I begin by analyzing the Supreme Court's modern substantive due process jurisprudence, as it bears on recent advancements and controversies in genetic science. After developing a doctrinal framework that could support an asserted right to genetic engineering, I draw on empirical research in behavioral psychology to examine the influence of eugenic norms on egalitarian attitudes and institutions. I predict that if parents become accustomed to choosing the genes of their children, it would be radically more difficult to give an influential account for why the successful should adopt a charitable posture toward those who are less fortunate. I argue that by shifting control over offspring DNA from chance to choice, enhancement will inflate a sense of individual entitlement for social and economic outcomes. I conclude that increasing willingness to prevent the birth of abnormal children distracts attention from institutions that fail to accommodate the limitations of imperfect people. Some may reply that producing people who better fit the roles society chooses to reward need not deter us from providing for people whose abilities fail to meet the demands of modern society. However, this reply misses the way that changes in reproductive practices can bring about changes in the way that we understand our identities and relationships. Eugenic solutions to social problems such as poverty, crime, and unemployment reshape the challenge of genetic disadvantage so that it is no longer one we address through collective measures such as public education, social services, and income redistribution, and instead becomes one for individual parents to prevent through donor screening, embryo discard, or selective abortion.
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Dov Fox (2007). Luck, Genes, and Equality. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 35 (4):712-726.
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