OXFORD, UK, Thu Mar 24, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - An Australian ethicist working at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics claims that humanity has a “moral obligation” to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to select the most intelligent embryos for the good of society, with the obvious implication that the less intelligent “surplus” embryos should simply be destroyed.

Professor Julian Savulescu of Melbourne made the statement while commenting on an economic modeling research paper by Oxford University ethicists Andres Sandberg and Nick Bostrom, who claim that a rise in humanity’s IQ would result in a reduction in poverty, welfare dependency, crowding of jails, school dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and single parent families.

“The overall societal impact of even a small increase in general cognitive function would likely to be sizeable and desirable,” Sandberg and Bostrom wrote in their report.

Professor Savulescu said, “There are other ethical principles which should govern reproduction, such as the public interest.

“Even if an individual might have a stunningly good life as a psychopath, there might be reasons based on the public interest not to bring that individual into existence.

“My own view is that the economic and social benefits of higher cognition are reasons in favour of selection, but secondary to the benefits to the individual.

“Cheaper, efficient whole genome analysis makes it a real possibility in the near future,” said Savulescu, according to the Herald Sun.

Conservative bioethicist Wesley Smith, however, denounced the suggestion as “bigoted.” “Alas, these bigoted ideas – because that’s what eugenics boils down to, bigotry – are embraced in contemporary academia and their intellectual purveyors are all the rage, garnering named chairs at the most elite universities,” he said.

“And notice,” he continued, “these eugenicists rarely mention trying to bring out the best traits of humanity, such as love, humility, selflessness,  or gentleness – traits that promote peace and harmony, and which people with Down syndrome possess in abundance.”

“Intelligence is good,” says Smith. “But if we’re going to pick and choose the traits of our progeny – which we shouldn’t – let’s aim instead for people with genes that might give them a propensity to express the virtues.” 

Professor Neil Levy, Deputy Research Director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, also pointed out the practical shortcomings of Savulescu’s plan, saying that investing in “designer embryos” would be “an enormous waste of money,” according to the Herald Sun.

“Why spend all that money when we could be doing so much with that money to increase the IQs and life spans of babies in sub-Saharan Africa? The pay-off in terms of raising quality of life for many people would be much greater than you’d get from concentrating on just a few.”

“My view is this is essentially a distraction,” Dr. Levy said.

“If you have an enriched environment as a kid, you’re just going to have a higher IQ. Birth weights strongly predict IQ, and the mother’s nutritional status strongly predicts IQ. But these are things we’re not worried about, because we’re used to them,” Dr. Levy remarked.

Dr. David Amor, Director of the Victorian Clinical Genetic Services in Australia, warned that the genetics associated with intelligence were still poorly understood, and that geneticists are skeptical that a specific gene for IQ is likely to be discovered.

“It is likely that some genes involved in intelligence have both advantages and disadvantages, depending on the complex genetic environment they are placed in,” Dr. Amor said.

“It’s possible an embryo that appeared to have a perfect genetic make-up for intelligence might turn out to have less desirable attributes in other areas, such as health or personality. It might be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.”

Dr. Amor added that another consideration that limits the accuracy of genetic testing for intelligence is the small number of viable embryos produced by IVF.

“Most couples having IVF only produce a handful or embryos suitable to test and therefore the ability to select is limited,” he said.

“Even if there were larger numbers of embryos, intelligence of children tends to cluster closely around that of parents. Therefore, if a hypothetical genetic test for intelligence was applied to embryos, results would most likely be similar for all embryos.”

Contact Information:

Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Deborah Sheehan, Administrator
Suite 8, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street
Oxford UK OX1 1PT
Phone: +44 (0)1865 286888
Fax: +44(0)1865 286886
Email: ethics@philosophy.ox.ac.uk