Genetics and Reproductive Rights

Friday, June 22, 2007

Over at Arts and Letters Daily is an article that does just about as good a job as possible of discussing potential biological causes of homosexuality in today's context of politicized science, legislated morality, and the left's co-option of the issue of sexual preference. I highly recommend the article as a very interesting read, regardless of your sexual orientation. It is that good.

I wish here to focus on one issue that appears twice in the article: Although the area of research described in this article is in its infancy, one clear implication is that science could discover a biological basis for homosexuality and invent a way to allow a couple to prevent their child from developing as a homosexual.

The topic interests me because I am considering having children. I would love my children no matter what sexual orientation they ended up with, but homosexuality is not something I would necessarily want for them.
Because the science is young, it is academic to us whether my wife and I could do this, but if it were possible, I would seriously consider it.

Before I answer the obvious question the research brings up, which is, "Should a couple be allowed to implement such a medical technique?" I wish to consider two possible answers from the article. The first answer, which author David France and I both agree is completely unacceptable, is the one that certain religionists would give, namely that such a procedure would not only be acceptable, but should be required by law:

Some of this research may prove to be significant; some will ultimately get chalked up to coincidence. But the thrust of these developing findings puts activists in a bind and brings gay rights to a major crossroads, perhaps its most significant since the American Psychiatric Association voted to declassify homosexuality as a disease in 1973. If sexual orientation is biological, and we are learning to identify how it happens inside the uterus, doesn't it suggest a future in which gay people can be prevented? This spring, R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of a Southern Baptist theological seminary in Kentucky and one of the country’s leading Evangelical voices, advocated just that. "We want to understand why some persons will struggle with that particular sin," he explained. "If there is a way we can help with the struggle, we should certainly be open to it, the same way we would help alcoholics deal with their temptation."

That in part is why gay people have not hungered for this breakthrough. Late last year, Martina Navratilova joined activists from PETA to speak out against an experiment that sought to intentionally turn sheep gay (it failed, but another experiment successfully turned ferrets into homosexuals, and the sexual orientations of fruit flies have been switched in laboratories). Some 20,000 angry e-mails clogged the researchers' inboxes, comparing the work to Nazi eugenics and arguing that it held no promise of any kind to gay people. "There are positives, but many negatives" to this kind of research, says Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "I will bet my life that if a quote-unquote cure was found, that the religious right would have no problem with genetic or other kind of prenatal manipulations. People who don't think that's a clear and present danger are simply not living in reality."
I do not regard homosexuality as a moral issue, and, of course, recognize that homosexuals, as human beings, possess the same individual rights as everyone else, and that these rights should be protected just as strongly as the rights of all others.

Having said that, what, exactly, is wrong with making all couples adopt measures to have children who will not develop into homosexuals? It is wrong to do this, but it isn't because this would somehow violate the rights of any homosexuals who are alive at the moment, which is how I see the political activist above interpreting such an idea. What is wrong with the idea is that it violates reproductive rights.

I will elaborate a bit more on that last sentence in a moment, but not before I consider the second answer to this question which appears in the article, and which makes the very same mistake, but with the opposite objective!
The rush to declare a biological mandate is motivated by a political agenda, says [feminist biologist [sic] Anne] Fausto-Sterling, the author of Sexing the Body, who is married to a woman after a marriage to a man. "For me and for any feminist, I think it’s a pretty fragile way to argue for human rights. I want to see the claims for gay rights made on moral, ethical, legal, and constitutional bases that don't rely on a particular scientific view of sexual development."

Especially if that view invites the opponents of gay people to consider dramatic interventions meant to stop the development of homosexual orientation in a fetus. What if prenatal tests were able to show a predisposition to gayness? How long would it be before some pharmaceutical company develops a patch to regulate hormone flow and direct the baby’s orientation? [bold added]
The clear implication is that the likes of Fausto-Sterling would seek to ban any such measures -- violating the reproductive rights of a couple, and ironically enough, on the basis of a "scientific view of sexual development" that has been politicized.

To David France's great credit, he does quote someone else who does not make either error, but that person does not adequately explain his stand, only that "There's no reason to ban, or become hysterical about, selecting for heterosexuality," before making such a vague statement on the nature of parenting that I cannot express agreement or disagreement with it.

While I do not think a step that could affect the intellectual and psychological development of a child should be taken lightly, a woman has just as much right to determine the traits of a fetus she brings to term as she does to decide whether to complete her pregnancy. To require by law either that she prevent her future children from becoming homosexual -- or that she forgo an attempt to prevent them from becoming homosexual against her wishes -- is to make the same fundamental error as making abortion illegal, which is to violate the right of a woman to control her own body and thereby to exercise some rational control over the rest of her life post conception to the best of her ability and judgement.

Ayn Rand once said, "The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities." I completely agree. If homosexuals wish to see their rights respected by society at large (and protected as they should be by the government), they must work for the protection of the rights of all individuals within that society, including the reproductive rights of heterosexuals.

-- CAV


: (1) Deleted the word "other" from last sentence. (2) Ergo also discusses this article.


z said...

I haven't read the article yet, I will tonight, I just wanted to share a wonder of mine that came up as I glanced at your post. I assume that science will unlock many of these doors. I can imagine a gay-male couple with a surrogate female having a baby programmed also to be gay. I am certain that some dwarves will want their children to be average-sized and some will want dwarves. I'm sure the laws passed in this area will be statist as hell. Some blind people will want to raise blind children. I wonder what individual rights apply in this area. I also wonder about the psychological effect it's going to have on a person who knows his parents chose him to have a certain, lets say, malady.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's a very interesting question, which also occurred to me, although I am not ready to answer it since I never really thought about it before seeing the article this morning.

But it is worth thinking about. Certain "deaf culture activists" I have heard about oppose even the successful treatment or cure for their conditions. There will doubtless be some in those quarters who will seek to bear deaf children.

Jennifer Snow said...

Screw deafness, I want to have a prehensile tail and eyes that can see into the infrared spectrum! Not to mention properly-working ankles and a body that doesn't store fat like it's expecting an ice age. :P

As far as homosexuality goes, I don't really care, but I think it'd be nice to know what causes it regardless. The funny thing is that I have several "gay" traits (the index/ring finger ratio, for one) but I've always thought of myself as "straight" . . . but the telltales aren't 100% and the issue is more complex for women anyway.

Gus Van Horn said...

Of course, Murphy's Law would probably kick in and deafness and cloudy infravision would be part of the bargain of having a prehensile tail. Put that in your pipe and smoke it -- using your tail to hold the pipe if you wish!

The thought of millions of people reading that article and stopping to hold their hands up is rather amusing, but the telltales are nowhere close to 100%.

The hair whorl thing that the article starts out with is merely something like three times more frequent among homosexuals than straight people -- not that this isn't going to get overblown among certain types of people who seem to obsess over homosexuality for whatever reason.

In any event, I would think that homosexuality, like many other conditions, is not caused by any one thing. For example, schizophrenia is probably multifactorial (and, if I recall correctly, not always observed in both members of a set of identical twins), as is multiple sclerosis. (I am going out on a limb here, but I think that schizophrenia is much more due to genetics than MS.)

z said...

Going out on a LIMB, huh? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Jennifer Snow said...

The incidence of schizophrenia in identical twins is about 50%.

I have read some compelling suggestions (although it has been a while and the current research may be heading in a different direction) that conditions like schizophrenia and alzheimers are caused by a breakdown of some important nutrient-processing mechanism in the body and the result is a terrible affliction.

The nutrient-processing mechanism is genetically "weak" and breaks in some people while it maintains functionality in others. This is why the disease doesn't always show up in everyone prone to it.

Gus Van Horn said...

Your theory is a good example of how a disease could be multifactorial. The body's handling of nutrients entails successive manipulations by enzymes of raw materials leading to desired final products.

In very general terms, if a shortage or surplus of "product A" leads to schizophrenia, then defects in any of the enzymes in the pathway leading to "A" could cause (or predispose someone to) schizophrenia. Each enzyme in the pathway is a potential failure point and since each is coded by a different gene, you have multiple possible genetic factors to hunt for.