Oxford ethicist: keep clever embryos, destroy the rest

Tue, 15 Mar 2011

Human embryos should be screened for their potential intelligence and only the smartest allowed to live, an Oxford University ethicist has argued.

In shocking remarks, Prof Julian Savulescu says embryos that do not pass the intelligence test should be destroyed for the good of society.

The Australian Professor is the Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and claims that it is our “moral obligation” to use IVF to choose the most intelligent embryos.

’Obligation’

Prof 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.

Warned

“Cheaper, efficient whole genome analysis makes it a real possibility in the near future.”

But Dr David Amor, Director of the Victorian Clinical Genetic Services in Australia, warned that the genetics associated with intelligence were still poorly understood.

He 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’.”

Limited

He added: “Most couples having IVF only produce a handful of 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.”

Waste

And Prof Neil Levy, Deputy Research Director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, warned that investing in designer babies would be “an enormous waste of money”.

He added: “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.”

Research

Prof Savulescu’s comments follow economic modelling in a research paper by Oxford University ethicists.

The paper claimed that raising overall IQ by three per cent would lead to a number of benefits for society including a decrease in poverty and welfare dependence.

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