Recently there was a stupid social media controversy about George Church and an interview on 60 Minutes. I say stupid because it seems likely many people were angry at Church’s association with Jeffrey Epstein, but the conversation somehow ended up mostly focusing on the “eugenics” of a potential “dating app” using DNA (at last in some quarters).
Well, Antonio Regalado was on it, and he came back with this: Here are some actual facts about George Church’s DNA dating company. What this app seems to be is a souped-up consumer version of carrier screening. This isn’t controversial, many people get carrier screening routinely now (I’ve had it done). The Ashkenazi Jewish community has famously had a registry for Tay Sachs for decades.
Nevertheless, some people still worried about a “slippery slope.” To me, this whole discussion is very bizarre in light of the widespread abortion of fetuses which come back with positive tests for Down syndrome right now. These screens are so ubiquitous that the majority of the women who receive them in the United States are now under the age of 35. Maternal age trends support uptake of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) in the low-risk population:
There was a significant increase in the proportion of specimens submitted by patients under 35, from 47.3% in 2014 to 60.3% in 2017 (Chi-square test, p < .001).
Ariosa Diagnostics alone received over 900,000 samples over a 4-year period from 65 countries. Some nations, such as Denmark, now have universal screening for Down syndrome.
What’s the point of reviewing all this? It’s that we already live in an age where someone’s genetic characteristics determined whether they will live or not live. From what I can gather the usual types who are alarmed by “eugenics” of a dating app that seems to be a glammed-up consumer carrier screen engage in benign neglect of noninvasive prenatal screening, and its consequences. Though there are many Down syndrome babies being born today, taking into account a higher median maternal age the number is probably around 30% or so lower than would otherwise be the case (in nations with universal screening it’s a much larger drop).
When “test-tube babies” became much more common, ethical worries faded. We don’t talk about the issue now. Many people from professional backgrounds made recourse to in vitro fertilization (I know many people personally who had to use assisted reproduction). Similarly, prenatal screening is very common among more educated professionals, who tend to delay starting a family. But, eugenics is what other people do. They’re just engaging in “planned parenthood.”
My own view on this is strongly libertarian. I believe that parents make the final decision when it comes to something so important. But we as a society can also talk about it because the line is probably going to be drawn at different places for different people. I have had pretty acrimonious tussles with the pro-life community which sees itself defending those with Down syndrome against genocide in the past, but the differences were clearly based on values and priors (I don’t think first and second trimester fetuses are people if you are pro-life you do).
In 2018 the General Social Survey asked if the respondent “would want to abort fetus if there were genetic defects.” It got responses from about 1,000 people. Obviously what people tell a survey is different from what they might do, but there are some notable demographic variations.
|Yes, would want to abort fetus if there were genetic defects|
|Supports legal abortion for any reason||49|