My argument is not that we must never intervene in nature. My argument is that there is a moral difference between intervention for the sake of health, to cure or prevent disease, and intervention for the sake of achieving a competitive edge for our kids in a consumer society.
Other animals can make sounds, and sounds can indicate pleasure and pain. But language, a distinctly human capacity, isn´t just for registering pleasure and pain. It´s about declaring what is just and what is unjust, and distinguishing right from wrong. We don´t grasp these things silently, and then put words to them; language is the medium through which we discern and deliberate about the good.
Parental love is not contingent on the talents and attributes the child happens to have. We choose our friends and spouses at least partly on the basis of qualities we find attractive. But we do not choose our children. Their qualities are unpredictable, and even the most conscientious parents cannot be held wholly responsible for the kind of child they have. That is why parenthood, more than other human relationships, teaches what the theologian William F. May calls an “openness to the unbidden.
First, individual rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of the general good, and second, the principles of justice that specify these rights cannot be premised on any particular vision of the good life. What justifies the rights is not that they maximize the general welfare or otherwise promote the good, but rather that they comprise a fair framework within which individuals and groups can choose their own values and ends, consistent with a similar liberty for others.
It's true that to speak of an ethic of giftedness, which is very much the ethic that I deploy in raising questions about designer children and genetic engineering - an appreciation of the giftedness of the child or the giftedness of life does have religious resonance, because a great many religious traditions emphasize the sense in which the good things in life are not all our own doing; they are gifts from God.
If parents are aiming at choosing children who will be good athletes, or great musicians, or who will get into Ivy League schools, or who will be tall enough to make the basketball team, then there is a danger that the life of the child will bear the burden of that expectation; and the risk of disappointment and the cost of disappointment will be even higher than they are now, and even now they can be considerable.
In some parts of the world, that sex selection for boys - and it's usually for boys - reflects sex discrimination against girls, and it leads to very large imbalances - in China, in Korea, in India - in the population between boys and girls, a vast disproportion of boys to girls, and it reflects really this discriminatory attitude toward girls.
In natural pregnancy, more than half of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise lost. Should we regard that as an instance of infant mortality? And if so, why are we not mounting ambitious public health campaigns to try to save and rescue all of the fertilized eggs that are lost in natural pregnancy? We would need a public health campaign of massive proportions if there really were over a fifty percent rate of infant mortality.
The other effect that I worry about is the effect on the parent, that the moral teaching of humility and of the limits to our control that parenthood teaches- - that that will be lost and that we will begin to think of children more as consumer goods than as gifts that we can't fully control and for which we aren't fully responsible.
A market economy is a tool - a valuable and effective tool - for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavour. It's a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.
I think people who want to use genetic technologies to gain a competitive edge for their children are engaging in a kind of overreaching that could really undermine our appreciation of children as gifts for which we should be grateful and, instead, to view them as products or instruments that are there to be molded and directed.