Now 'designer babies' with high IQ advocated

Picture used for illustrative purposes only. (GETTY IMAGES)

An Australian ethicist has advocated genetically screening embryos to create superior "designer babies" with higher IQs.

Melbourne's Julian Salvulescu, now Oxford's practical ethics professor, said there is a "moral obligation" to use IVF to choose the smartest embryos, even if that maintains or increases social inequality.

Experts have criticized the Gattaca-style idea, saying the money involved could be better spent improving quality of life in Africa.

They have also warned that IQ screening could result in unintended results.

But Salvulescu said there is a moral obligation to create a smarter society, thereby dramatically reducing welfare dependency, the number of school dropouts, the crowding of jails and the extent of poverty.

"There are other ethical principles which should govern reproduction, such as the public interest," Salvulescu said.

"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 favor of selection, but secondary to the benefits to the individual."

His comments follow economic modeling in a research paper by Oxford University ethicists Andres Sandberg and Nick Bostrom, showing that if overall IQs were raised by three percent, poverty rates and the number of males in jail would both drop by 25 percent and welfare dependence by 18 percent.

Prof Neil Levy, head of neuroethics at Florey Neuroscience Institute and a neuroethicist and deputy research director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, said investing in designer embryos would be "an enormous waste of money."

"My view is this is essentially a distraction," he said. "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."

Print Email