Would You Pick Your Child's Sexual Orientation?

By Kyle Munkittrick | July 20, 2010 9:12 am

Triples Raphael Goetter

“Would you take a magic pill to make yourself straight?” asked an audience member at a GLBT forum at Winona State University in Minnesota. The concept is not pure fantasy: scientists have flipped a genetic switch to make female mice homosexual and rogue pediatric endocrinologist, Maria New, has been giving mothers dexamethasone to prevent lesbian daughters. Pre-implantation genetic diagnostics, combined with in-vitro fertilization, is making it possible to select out genetic defects and disorders, and to select for desirable traits. The science of sexuality is driving us towards a future in which we may have the option to choose our child’s sexual orientation. This scenario poses a few questions:

1. Is choosing the sexual orientation of a new child an ethical act, regardless of the orientation chosen?

2. Would it be ethical to make all of one’s children a single orientation? All homosexual? All attracted to women?

3. Is it ethical to cure pathological sexualities, such as pedophilia?

Our culture reserves some of the largest swaths of freedom for procreation and child-rearing. Where does one draw the line? I don’t have answers. I open it to you, dear readers.

Photo: Triplées by Raphael Goetter via Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics

Comments (18)

  1. G

    The thing that really bothers me about the CAH article is the “dex makes girls more girly” part. It’s not entirely clear to me (I keep trying to re-read, but still not clear) if that discussion is entirely related to CAH, or if it’s being suggested independently of CAH treatment. I mean, having read about some of the treatments for CAH, I can understand not wanting a kid to be born with it; it sounds like a physically uncomfortable-if-not-painful thing–at least when treated, ISTR reading about some people who say they are untreated and happy. Not clear-cut, there, and I don’t know enough.

    But I know lots of women who are not girly and entirely happy that way. I’m one. I have no interest in kids or in being a housewife, and I have a degree in physics. Now, I’m a [happily] married heterosexual and seem to have a normal endocrine system, but I am adamantly not girly. And it disturbs me to see any medical study referring to girly girls as “normal” and suggesting that you can treat fetuses prenatally to make sure that they come out that way.

    Especially when I know of a pregnancy we think was adversely affected by dex used for something else.

    I am not qualified to have an opinion on sexual preference, except that I know mine, and the people I know in long-term homosexual relationships seem about as happy as I am in my relationship. Trying to pre-determine orientation sounds like an enormously conflicted endeavor. There are certainly people better situated to opine on the ethics of this topic.

  2. I thought dexamethasone was used for other reasons, such as decreasing the chances of a premature delivery, and that the decreased chance of being a lesbian was just a side effect?

    1. Interesting Idea. I don’t see how it is unethical because currently these things are decided by chance (which sperm is fastest). By changing that to having the parents decide traits such as this nothing really changes from the child’s point of view because they still have no control over who they are. In both situations the child has no say.

    Other traits I think it would be unethical to choose such as this article, where people argue for the right to choose to create a deaf child. I think it is incredibly cruel and unethical to intentionally create a child with a quality of life less than that of the average person. Some argue that deaf people etc. can have the same if not a better quality of life than the average person but surely it is better to be able to hear than to be deaf? (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article3087367.ece)

    2. Same as Question 1. Is this that different to choosing to have all girls or all boys? Again, the children have no say in their creation whether it be chance or design so in the long run it matters little…

    3. I think it is because pathological sexualities such as those possessed by paedophiles and other sexual predators negatively impact upon another persons life and rights.

  3. 1. No
    2. No
    3. Yes

    For 1 and 2, though, even though it is unethical, I am certain that it will not be made illegal. If parents are allowed to select for other traits (sex, athleticism, etc.) then selecting for sexual orientation is probably OK.

    Of course, beware of genetic determinism – sexual orientation is likely not 100% genetic, the genetic factors is probably for a predisposition, which can be affected by hormones in the womb, etc.

  4. To answer #1, I wouldn’t bother to change a child’s orientation even if it were possible. I live in Canada, where we aren’t afraid of gay people being happy.

    Being a part of any minority brings challenges with it when living within a majority, and at times I’m sure it is still very hard for homosexuals in Canada. But diversity is a strength.

  5. Nemesis

    I think Homosexuals are doing us all a favor by buffering against overpopulation, and by adopting otherwise unwanted children. Lesbian daughters aren’t a bad thing, unless, maybe they are yours… I think they should maybe skip the sexuality thing and just go straight to the bigger issues.
    Can they flip the “jerk” or “moron” switch instead? That one would probably be more beneficial, and would include the aforementioned pedophiles.

  6. Kris

    I find the whole concept extremely homophobic. As well, find your post a little bit homophobic, in how it’s written. It’s only a defect and disorder in the context of the culture the child is in. You did mention “select for desirable traits” but it was in passing. Picking sexual orientation is unethical because it’s using judgement and social context to make the choice. Regardless if the choice would be to make the child gay or straight. On the same side of the argument, I can’t say it would be ethical to cure pedophilia this way either. Although I do take offense to you mentioning pedophilia and homosexuality in the same breath, there is enough proof that homosexuals are not more inclined to pedophilia than heterosexuals. In fact I think studies have shown that heterosexuals are more inclined but that could be due to shear population size. Any rate, any time we deviate from that which is naturally occurring we are venturing into the unethical. Not to mention the unknown long term effects of such actions. As for myself, would I have picked to not be a lesbian if given the choice, not easy to say. But that comes from a lifetime of being a lesbian and having experienced it. I’m still proud and happy being gay. The proud and happy part is more than I can say for most heterosexuals, which leads me to believe I’m actually happier.

  7. Shana

    Taking a risk with your child’s health and future reproductive capability on the basis of some unfounded bigotry is beyond selfish. There is no shot to keep them from dating outside their race or deciding to join a cult or going to a collegeyou don’t like… Your children will be their own person just as you are. There is no way to know the future consequences of these treatments. There is no panacea for the disappointment parets feel when their kids don’t meet their expectations, and there shouldn’t be. Love them and allow them to be whomever they will be.

  8. James

    Of course cure pedophiles if we can. I mean, if you consider that the best case scenario is that the person must live their life alone, denying their sexuality so they won’t hurt anyone (and there’s plenty of horrible examples of worst case scenarios) I think the course of action would be clear. I think if you asked individuals with a legitimate compulsion, they’d obviously want to be normal. Being gay is clearly entirely different: you don’t hurt anyone and you can live a happy life. Those who wish they were straight probably do so for the same reason some parents (those not motivated by religion or hate) would consider making them straight: the pain and difficulty of growing up gay.

    But that’s not a legitimate reason to give a pregnant woman steroids (especially since endocrine function is notoriously complex and the effects would doubtlessly be varied and full of problematic side effects). That’s a reason to work on making a society more tolerant and accepting of individuals with harmless differences.

  9. TheMetalChick

    1. Is choosing the sexual orientation of a new child an ethical act, regardless of the orientation chosen? No

    2. Would it be ethical to make all of one’s children a single orientation? All homosexual? All attracted to women? No

    3. Is it ethical to cure pathological sexualities, such as pedophilia? Yes

    I have no problem with people doing what they can to ensure that their child is hetersexual, it is good for the species as a whole. But that does not mean I have a problem with homosexuality. I have unusually wrinkly hand and footprints… would it have been unethical if my parents could have prevented that? No- but I am not angry that they didnt.

    The only problem I have is with seeing homosexuality and pedophilia addressed in together. I wish these kinds of things were never, ever even metioned together, because they have nothing to do with each other- and just bringing them up in the same string of questions enforces the unfortunate belief that there IS some kind of connection between such things. :(

  10. Before anyone gets to the ethical issues, maybe address the scientific ones. The basis of same-sex attraction is not at all well-understood. Giving expectant mothers some drug untested on pregnant women is just an uncontrolled experiment.

    Let’s not decide if we should be doing anything until we figure out if we really can do it. Trying to make something happen we actually cannot control is more likely to mean harm for both mother and unborn.

    Also, how did anyone this stupid make it through med school?

  11. I’m still of the belief that the only “logical” thing to do is make your child bisexual. You double their chances of finding love, companionship, and a good time on a Friday night. Straight is too . . .limiting

  12. Rain Fall

    Paedophilia is not a sexuality.

  13. VirginiaH

    There are essentially two questions here. While people are still shedding tears and gnashing teeth over the question of whether homosexuality is a negative (either because it is “bad” or simply a liability in a society dominated by heterosexuals), the even more basic questions is whether or not it is right to use genetic engineering for anything but selecting out genetic defects.
    So while many would agree that it is acceptable to screen out defects and disorders, there is less agreement about whether it is acceptable to intervene pro-actively to ensure “positive” traits. For example, as a society, will we consider it acceptable to select genes to make a child religious? large breasted? a good golfer? a champion sumo wrestler? Once we accept that it is ethical to engineer beings that reflect our changing, culturally induced values or even fashions, it would seem inconsistent to disqualify sexual orientation. In other words, if a parent can choose between brown or blue eyes, why shouldn’t a parent chose between gay or straight?

  14. Grand Lunar

    1. Is choosing the sexual orientation of a new child an ethical act, regardless of the orientation chosen?

    – No. Let nature take it’s course in this manner. The child should be accepted for what he/she is.

    2. Would it be ethical to make all of one’s children a single orientation? All homosexual? All attracted to women?

    – No. Same as above.

    3. Is it ethical to cure pathological sexualities, such as pedophilia?

    – I think so.
    Homosexuality does no harm to others. But things like pedophilia do.

  15. JD

    Parents have been involved in the selection of their offspring’s traits since… well, since sexual reproduction evolved–just more or less indirectly, through sexual selection. Expanding parents’ ability to choose their offspring’s traits via technology is an extension of this natural law–no less their right than to choose their sexual partners.

  16. Thanks for the comments, all! A few clarifying points.

    1. I am absolutely not advocating the use of dex or any other drug that is unsafe or has unverified side-effects. I was using the Maria New dex case as a jumping off scenario for an ethical thought experiment. If there is a safe, reliable, side-effect free way to select for orientation, then we get into the question of whether or not selection itself is an ethical process.

    2. “Desirable” is defined by the parent, not by me. I am not making a normative claim regarding hetero or homosexuality. I think both are great, happy ways to be and, in my mind, neither is better than the other. Even more interesting that the comments assume I’m straight….

    3. I am not equating homosexuality with pedophilia. Consenting adults may do whatever they please with one another. Pedophilia, by definition, involves a person unable to appropriately consent.

    @Rhacodactylus: A worthy thought!

    @Mike, Grand Lunar, Metal Chick: Could you clarify as to why making a conscious decision in the genetic make up of your child is less ethical than leaving that genetic make up to chance?

  17. Kat

    [ 1 ] Your sexual orientation is like your personality; it’s a part of what makes you you. By choosing that for your children, you’re partially taking away their ability to discover themselves. It’s like getting a designer baby, in a way. In my personal opinion, it’s best to let nature take its course.

    [ 2 ] Refer to number one.

    [ 3 ] I’m kind of split on this one…Yes, it would be nice to have the world free of these people, but it’s a part of them. Therapy would probably be best for this, not determining before the time of birth, etc. You can’t really find an absolute cure for something that is mental in a person, just treat it or lessen it. Nonetheless, it’s still quite creepy. :

  18. Patrick

    I wish people would stop equating sexual attraction to X with rapists of X. Pedophilia is a sexual orientation no more likely to result in child rape than adult heterosexuality is to result in man on woman rape.
    Heck, personally, I think it might have pushed for humanity’s extreme amount of neoteny and attention devoted to children. The old too much of a good thing leading to something very bad.

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