Startup Patents Eugenics Tool to Build Your Best Baby
The genetics testing company 23andme was recently awarded a patent it applied for five years ago. According to PandoDaily, the patent covers a "calculator" that lets "people to pick and choose traits of their future child." Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andme and wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, is listed as the lead inventor.
You could say whether you want a kid with blue eyes or green eyes, a long lifespan, or less risk of colorectal cancer. Or more risk of colorectal cancer, if that’s what you’re into. The system then runs the database of your genes against others, to recommend a mating match that would be likely to produce a child with said traits [...]
People in parts of China or India would go crazy over this technology. They’d never have to have a girl again. ::Shudder::
23andme has received $161 million in funding from Google, Google Ventures, and Brin himself. Google Ventures also recently backed another company called Calico that wants to "solve" death.
This "Build-a-Baby" calculator likewise treats genetic traits as a problem that can be fixed, or at least avoided. Pando does some awkward dancing around the ethics of picking and choosing a child's characteristics like you're customizing a chopped salad.
The proposed 23andMe calculator is akin to asking someone to be your baby daddy (or mommy) because you think the kids you’d have with them would be cute. That’s a stupid reason to raise a child with someone, but it’s not morally reprehensible. In the TV show Parks and Recreation, the perpetually single Ann Perkins asks the manic and muscled Chris Traegar to make a baby with her. They’re not dating, but she chose him out of other possible baby daddy choices because of his looks (hot), health (A+), and ambition (intense). She wants those traits passed onto her kid.
It's hard to imagine actual human beings letting a startup's calculator dictate their romantic decisions, especially it's only about improving your genetic odds, no guarantee. If you're screening and an egg or sperm donor, however, Silicon Valley may soon help the future look like a more technologically-advanced version of the past.
However, 23andme claims it has no intention of pursuing or implementing this patent for fertility clinics. The company says it only intends employ it as part of its Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, which customers have been using since 2009 as a:
. . . fun way to look at such things as what eye color their child might have or if their child will be able to perceive bitter taste or be lactose intolerant. The tool offers people an enjoyable way to dip their toes into genetics.
Just a dip.
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