Mary Wakefield

Would you screen for the ‘gay’ gene?

Would you screen for the 'gay' gene?
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How would you feel about a couple doing IVF just in order to find the embryos most likely to to be gay… and chuck them out? Does that sound like eugenics to you?

What about the other way round: what if a gay couple wanted to maximise their chance of a having gay baby — would you let them screen for and select embryos with the genes that made it more likely they were gay? Then bin the rest? It's time to make your mind up because after decades of panic about 'designer babies' (remember Gattaca?) the future is finally here.

On the one hand, as I write in the Spec this week the genes that contribute to different human traits are rapidly being identified. For instance, a recent study of gay men concluded that that male sexual orientation is influenced by genes.

On the other hand, we're getting better and better at screening tiny embryos to see which genes they've got. There's an interesting couple of pieces in the NY Times celebrating screening because it can of course weed out embryos which would otherwise grow up to suffer appalling diseases.

But what the cheerleaders for screening don't much discuss is where, if at all, they'd draw the line. It'd be difficult to rule out screening embryos for gender, seeing as doctors will often allow abortion for 'family balancing' reasons anyway.

But what about for politically sensitive things like IQ, or sexuality? How would the trans community take it if embryos with genes associated with being transgender were weeded out?

These aren't questions for the future, they're questions for right now. Bear in mind that in 2008 deaf campaigners won the right to screen for and select a 'deaf' embryo — so that they could ensure their child grew up unable to hear. Is that right?