"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, March 20, 2015

Genetically Engineered Babies–The Search For Perfection

Marigold Potter couldn’t make up her mind.  Some choices were simple enough – blonde was certainly a better choice than brunette.  Blondes had always had at twenty percent advantage over girls with dark hair.  Here it was the middle of the 21st Century and men were still drooling over Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe

It was the bewildering choice among so many other possibilities for her child – skin color, height, musculature, temperament, eyes, disposition, and a thousand other physical, mental, and psychological attributes – that tired her out. Even intelligence was not so easy.  If everybody were an Einstein, then there would be no competitive advantage for Robbie (she and her husband had already decided on that name, good for either boy or girl since they hadn’t decided on the sex yet). And the world would be a very artistically crowded place if there were a Picasso, Mozart, or Baryshnikov on every street corner. Of course digging up old artists’ bones for bits of DNA to scrape was a difficult and legally complicated process, but doable.

Mozart

Marigold sighed, and went back to her computer screen, and scrolled down the list of choices under Intelligence. She would return to Athletic Ability, Artistic Talent, Personality, and the other twenty major categories listed in the online catalogue.  It was hard enough sorting through the promotional material just to find an agency which was reputable, safe, and exhaustive; but now deciding on the nature of her unborn child was daunting.

For a moment – but only for a brief one – did Marigold wonder what life must have been like before HRD (Human Recombinant DNA) and couples simply took what they got.  Probably very unpleasant when they discovered that their child had grown up to have the hook-nose of Great Uncle Harry, the temper of Artemis Lincoln, a distant ancestor on the maternal side, and worst of all, the drinking problem of Grandfather Pippen.  It must have taken a great deal of understanding in those days to love a child that did not inherit its father’s elegant features, its mother’s intelligence or any of the fine qualities of family forbears. 

On the other hand religion was still an important part of life back then, and people put a lot of stock in patience, acceptance, and the promise of heavenly rewards.  Few of Marigold’s friends could even remember the stories of their grandparents about ‘the good old days’; and all were all happily trundling along in the impersonal cyberspace of the age.

Still, Marigold, thought, in many ways it must have been a far simpler and less anxious time.

“Phooey”, said her husband. “The past is always remembered as the best of times.  It wasn’t and isn’t.” James was the most unromantic man a woman could imagine. Not a sentimental bone in his body, always logical and disciplined.  He never allowed himself a moment’ reverie. She on the other hand did think of the way things were; and although she was quite happy living in her own times, perhaps the world did move on a bit too fast.

“Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods?”, Marigold asked her husband after she had flipped from Intelligence to Athletic Ability.

Image result for images tiger woods

Don’t be silly”, he said. “Too expensive. Try a minor college athlete. That will be good enough.”

The trusts of athletes like Michael Jordan were asking thousands for his DNA.  The demand was through the roof, so they had every right to price his genetic material accordingly.  Tiger Woods’ genes were expensive, but not as much as Jordan’s since most people knew little about golf and thought that his DNA might not ‘transfer’ to other sports. James knew better.  Tiger’s athletic genes dictated the same torque, muscle energy, coordination, and physical intelligence that are needed in other sports.  So his DNA might be a good bargain.

Marigold thought that it might be time to hire a Genetic Engineering Consultant to help her and her husband sort through the process of creating their child.  She would be pregnant very soon – they were having sex twice a day and three times during her most fertile period of the month – so it was high time to get on the stick and make the most important decisions of their lives.  Of course they could opt for genetic rehabilitation; but the splicing and manipulation of genetic material after birth was still a very iffy affair.  Neither she nor her husband could forget the case of Casey Roberts, the boy whose Yitzhak Perelman genes were supposed to guarantee his musical prodigy; but some jerk in the labs had mislabeled the test tubes and Casey got the genes of some other Perelman who not only couldn’t scrape a note on a one-string violin but had a nervous disorder that was linked to Gay-Sachs syndrome.  The boy was uniquely untalented and twitchy. 

“We don’t want him or her to be too unlike us”, Marigold said to her husband.  She had been born on the cusp of human genetic engineering, had had a few genes replaced in utero but nothing like the wholesale reconfiguration that went on today. As much as they wanted a genius for a child, they were rightfully concerned that he or she would so easily outthink them, that they would quickly become supernumerary. “Let’s be sure the face and skin color match at least.”

The scientists at the HRD labs smirked when they heard these concerns. Only boobs would spend time on skin tones and nose aquilinity when intellectual brilliance, literary genius, and artistic godhood were possible.

“Remember those online paint-and-match programs”, Marigold said to her husband. “The ones where you could experiment with wall color for one room to see if it matched the colors of your rugs and furniture?  I hear there’s a similar program for skin color.  I mean I’m not thinking of black or anything; but the skin color of some of those Bollywood film stars is so beautiful.”

Image result for images beautiful bollywood film stars

And so it went for the Potters and for millions of other Americans who were planning to have a child.  The process was simple.  One only had to provide the HRD lab with a completed, notarized form which indicated the exact genetic makeup of the child; a counseling session had to be held by law; and the couple would then review a computer simulation of their soon-to-be child at age 2, 5, 14, 18, and 25.  All couples of course had done simulations at home, but this was the last run-through, the final, legal and binding agreement before any genetic work was done.

Once Marigold became pregnant the sophisticated genetic work began.  It is a delicate and complex process, but suffice it to say that scientists simply removed ‘offensive’ genetic material (e.g. Uncle Harry’s beak nose) and replaced it with all the preferred choices indicated by the Potters.  In nine months, their little girl (after much discussion they had decided to go female for no particular reason other than, as James said to Marigold, “I love women”) would be born according to specifications.

All in all they had spent quite a bit of money on HRD; but they were convinced it was worth it.  Many of their friends who eschewed the whole idea of children (“Waste of time and effort”) and a few still hung on to traditional religious ways.  Pope after Pope had railed against what they called this unconscionable and mortally sinful tampering with God’s prerogative; but few had paid attention to his out-of-touch chants.  The Church was being threatened by secularism more than it ever had. HRD was watershed moment.  If they lost this battle, the war was over.

Image result for images pope benedict

I am happy to say that little Robbie Potter turned out to be the spectacular girl designed by her parents, true to form in every category.  No mistakes in the lab.  On the contrary, she was more gifted, intelligent, confident, and full of charm than the Potters had ever expected.  She was always faithful to her parents (ironically thanks only to a very specialized and artificially-created gene for genetic ‘affiliation’) and she and her brother who was born two years later, loved and respected each other for life.

NOTE: A breakthrough in genetic engineering came in 2012 when the future of HRD became real.  A recent (3.20.15) article in the NY Times described the reactionary concern of certain biologists. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/science/biologists-call-for-halt-to-gene-editing-technique-in-humans.html

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