Australian couples are turning to the United States to help them find the ideal child.
Among all the questions that Susan and I talked about and thought over as we considered having children, not once did we ask, ‘what coloured eyes would we prefer our children to have?’ Such contemplation would not find entry into the top 1000 questions that we asked ourselves about the children we hoped to have the privilege of raising and loving.
An article published by the Herald Sun over the weekend revealed that hundreds of Australian couples are paying up to $20,000 for ‘designer babies’. Australian couples are utilising the services made available at Fertility Clinics across the United States, to siphon out babies who don’t fit with their dream baby. Most common, parents are screening for gender, deciding whether they wish to have a girl or boy. There are also cases where parents are selecting their child’s eye colour; in fact, there is now an 18-month waiting list for this screening test.
Journalist Natasha Bita reported that “Controversially, it claims that Australian medicos are co-operating with the offshore clinic…The NHMRC yesterday warned it would be illegal for Australian doctors to co-operate with foreign clinics offering selection for gender or eye colour.”
Brisbane geneticist Professor David Coman is right when he said, this is a case of “eugenics” and it is “grossly inappropriate in the Australian culture”.
The Oxford Dictionary defines eugenics as, “the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.”
What these “desirable heritable characteristics” are, will vary depending on the culture and the dominant moral narrative of the day. Eugenics has been advocated and practiced in many cultures, perhaps most infamously in Nazi Germany during the 1930s-40s. One difference today is the greater wealth of scientific knowledge made available to medical experts for identifying all kinds of details pertaining to an individual human being from its earliest moments of life in the womb (or petrie dish as it may be). Technology is a useful servant, and it can create greater destruction than the hammer of Thor. Too often, what is discerned as possible through science, soon afterward becomes a moral commitment; we can therefore let us do.
Thank God that many forms of eugenics are currently banned in Australia, and yet the door has already swung wide open as doctors test for all manner of ailments and give parents permission to keep or to kill, based on whether they wish to have a child with a potential illness. No doubt some parents use this information to help prepare them for parenthood, while others use diagnoses to determine whether they will keep the pregnancy or not.
What happens to those embryos who don’t fit the parents’ requirements, whether it is the ‘right’ gender or even the ‘right’ coloured eyes? Are these little ones given another chance or are they discarded into a rubbish bin, like we would with a piece of fruit that is past is best used by date?
Are children to be loved unconditionally or should they be viewed as a valuable commodity, selected and loved like the family pet. Should a parent’s love for their children be measured by gender or by disability or by how many fingers or toes are counted? Is a child to be more or less valued because of their DNA or potential chromosomal abnormality? Should we really take into account the colour of a baby’s eyes? Australian culture is drifting far from the worldview of Psalm 139.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Our society has moved a long way from holding fast to these ancient words, words which delight in the life of every image-bearer of God. It is liberating Psalm, for the dignity of each person is not contingent upon the value attributed by another person or social opinion, but by the fact of ontology.
Popular threads on social media and in the news will downplay the wonder of Psalm 139 and instead elevate the freedom of others to choose life or death. The practice is revealing uncomfortable truths that can’t be denied, despite clamorous noises trying to ignore and/or downplay:
- The majority of babies aborted are girls
- Babies diagnosed with possible physical abnormalities are many times more likely to be aborted than those without
- In parts of America, such as New York State, the number of African-American babies being aborted is greater than those who are born.
- Most late-term abortions are not performed because the baby’s or mother’s life is at risk.
Most of these examples are forms of eugenics. We may avoid the language due to its historical associations, but it is nonetheless the practice of controlling breeding in order to increase desired social outcomes.
Psalm 139 reveals a complex anthropology. For while the Psalmist glorifies God for the wonder of life in the womb, he also calls for God to intervene against those who shed blood. It is as though those who destroy human life are hypocrites, denying their own humanity as they refuse it in others.
“If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.” (verses 19-22)
The Psalmist, however, does not end with this view of retribution but turns to his own situation and asks God to make known to him things that are unacceptable and unbecoming in his own life.
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting”. (verses 23-23)
The point is this, we are quick to judge nations around us for their discrimination and violence, but we are slow to acknowledge our own participation in the dehumanisation project. Instead, we have resolved to justifying ourselves in manipulating and even taking life. We allege that “it’s an act of mercy…the cost would be too great…the parents may not cope”.
Even we Christians who speak to the dignity of every human life, ever for us, especially us, we must ask of God, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”. When this process of Divine examination begins, we remember that our own faults and offences are great, so hideous that they demanded a bloody cross to bring redemption and peace. In other words, the Psalmist’s anger, although justified, leads to personal reflection and repentance; not only damning culture but offering a better paradigm. With this in mind, Christians have something worth offering. Just as Christians once challenged the Roman practice of infanticide by quietly loving and saving the unwanted, let us consider how we can counter the growing and dreadful practice of eugenics.