A Beneficial, Unintended Consequence of Gay Liberation
Evolutionarily the reproductive agendas of males and females differ. For males maximum reproductive success means availability for mating as opportunity arises. For females maximum reproductive success means selecting the best possible mate because her greater investment in fewer offspring makes selection for quality more important than quantity. Monogamous birds solve this problem in an interesting way. In some species 25% of nestlings cared for by a mated pair are not sired by the male of the pair (average of all species over 11%) (1). This permits the female to hedge her bets about quality in her offspring while preserving the advantage of help in rearing the brood. Presumably the most fit males are available to provide this stud service.
What does this have to do with the Chinese? When their sanctions against having more than one child are inevitably relaxed, the sanctions could be forgiven for couples willing to have their second child by artificial insemination. Several generations of careful public records could demonstrate and fine tune the relative benefits of various semen selection criteria. Achieving major reduction of inherited diseases should be relatively easy. Even beneficial change in personality traits should be possible after a few generations of refining the process. That this could succeed is illustrated by the breeding cattle for gentle temperament in New Zealand not to mention the many gentle breeds of dogs—all descended from wolves. Of course consensus regarding which personality traits should be favored would be required early on. Consensus conferences with groups of citizens meeting regularly for a few months could be very helpful. See Appendix B. Many of us would already favor peaceable temperaments for our species if only because of the weapons of mass destruction.
This public input might even produce new ideas that could be crucial in the ultimate success of such great social change as we have been discussing. Here is an example of an incentive to enhance public acceptance of the new eugenics: arrange for subsidies for higher education of qualified offspring resulting from constructive use of the semen bank--the mothers wouldn’t have to be lesbians (see below and remember the “monogamous” birds). Scores of consensus conferences would surely result in many better ideas than my extemporaneous one. Our gradual acceptance of enlightened eugenics would/might shift social norms, especially with positive reinforcements as opposed to the coercion of the Chinese one-child policy (imposed in 1979 because of immediate threat of severe economic decline caused by already occurring overpopulation—and with recently obvious economic benefits).
Another problem that we need to confront with research, consensus conferences, and education is how to make step children more like adopted children—step children really do suffer discrimination by their step parents—not just discrimination, but even infanticide. This is true across great cultural and religious divides. Any, even partial, solution to this problem would make active human eugenics a much more viable plan. Participation in the new eugenics should (initially) be voluntary making the new relationships quite like adoption in our present culture.
Getting closer to home, geneticists studying family trees find 10-15% are not as advertised—just like the birds (2). When these geneticists stumble on such a situation, they probably reassure the individuals of the family, not at risk of some inherited defect under study, by saying something like, “Your branch of the family is not at risk,” without mentioning the nature of the evidence. Cultural subversion of primal instincts seems to be only partial. Our present acceptance of monogamy has created some problems such as serial polygamy (referring to our rising divorce rate and increasing numbers of step children). If we are to improve on the present, we must proceed with humility.
For a totally new slant on human temperament and culture, here is a book published since I started to write this article: “Our Inner Ape” (2005) by Frans de Waal, Riverhead Books, Penguin Group, USA. The author is from the Netherlands currently at Emory University in Atlanta. Meredith Small, author of “What’s Love Got to Do with It? The Evolution of Human Mating” says about this book:
“It is no longer acceptable to consider ourselves related only to the socially touchy, aggressive chimpanzee. The time has come to realize that we are also beholden to the peaceable bonobo. Thank goodness. Eminent primatologist de Waal is the best guide we could have to lead us to an understanding of the nicer side of human behaviour.”
The suggestion mentioned at the beginning of this article for using biological knowledge to promote the future health of our species by intelligently modifying culture is just one example of constructively altering culture. It is obvious that improving man’s lot by cultural evolution can occur much more rapidly than Darwinian evolution especially if you consider technology such an improvement—arguably not true of all technology. A very interesting example in the context of this discussion is PGD (pre-gestational diagnosis), already utilized by in-vitro fertilization clinics. A single cell is taken from an eight cell developing embryo. By multiplying the DNA of this cell its inheritance of a long list of inherited diseases can be determined in only two days—in time to implant the embryo if it passes the tests. *
Cultural change and biological evolutionary improvement might be synergistic. An interesting example could be gay rights resulting in homosexuality becoming socially acceptable. When some of the lesbians want to reproduce, they will naturally and logically seek the best possible inheritance for their progeny not only in avoiding diseases but also in improving intelligence and temperament. Considering the probable female evaluation of the most desirable temperament, Aristophanes, the early classic Greek playwright, might win the day. He wrote the play, Lysistrata, in which the women contrived to eliminate war by withholding sex from men who fought—not a bad unintended consequence of acceptance of gay rights—and perhaps with an assist from the Chinese depending on the details of how they escape from too rigid application of the one-child policy.
Eugenics deserves to be taken beyond its errors of the early twentieth century in sterilizing mental defectives in North America and Europe and the appalling errors of Adolph Hitler. An appendix briefly describing the origin and history of the eugenics movement follows.
* PGD is a remarkable technical accomplishment, but it is only one example of inadequate discussion of public policy questions about the activities of fertility clinics. Except for artificial insemination there has been insufficient follow-up at least to early adulthood of the “successful” results of fertility clinics. A common practice is to implant multiple embryos to overcome the low success rate with single or twin implantations, and if more than two embryos do implant, to do selective abortions on the excess even though the consequences to the retained embryos are not fully known. We already know that some couples elect to have a completed pregnancy of 4 to 6 infants in spite of the inevitable low birth weights and pre-maturity. Many of these children will have permanent defects resulting in some of them becoming wards of the state.
John A. Frantz, MD October 10, 2005
812 22nd Ave, email@example.com
Monroe WI 53566-1672 www.frantzmd.info
Appendix A: A Brief History of Eugenics (from the Encyclopedia Britannica).
The very word, eugenics, originated with Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton pioneered the scientific study of human inheritance even utilizing comparisons of identical twins, still the most powerful method of studying environment versus heredity. However the concept of improving human inheritance by selective arranged marriages goes back at least to Plato’s Republic.
Unfortunately early promoters of the new science of eugenics including Galton himself retained the prejudices of their times about the “obvious” superiority of the white race and upper social classes. Thus he underestimated the influence of environment on his studies of the lives of famous men in his first book Hereditary Genius (1869). Galton did oppose the extreme views of some of his followers about the great danger of a high birth rate among the poor. Even criminality was considered a concomitant of feeblemindedness. These erroneous ideas resulted in thousands of sterilizations in our 27 states that had such laws and similarly in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland, countries with similar laws. Better scientific input in the 1930s pointed out that the average human has several hundred potentially harmful but recessive genes meaning that the laws that had been enacted were ineffective and unfair.
The ability to control these recessive genes awaits new knowledge and much soul searching by both professionals and the public with additional caution because of the errors of the past. Many families with a strong diabetic tendency or with diseases having dominant inheritance like Huntington’s disease are voluntarily limiting their reproduction already.
Appendix B: Consensus Conferences (inspired by a symposium at the 2002 annual meeting of the AAAS in Boston organized by Steven Katz of North Carolina State University) (3)
Consensus conferences are a method pioneered by the Scandinavians of involving the public and politicians in a variety of policy questions and decisions. An appropriate government body advertises for volunteer “jurors” to study the topic with materials provided and from any other source. The jurors then meet formally about three times for a day at intervals of a few weeks for discussion and on at least one occasion with experts and stakeholders to answer questions. The final meeting is to write a report for parliament and the news media. In Denmark, these conferences are duplicated in secondary schools and any unique ideas produced among the school participants are summarized and also transmitted to parliament and the media.
These conferences seem to be most useful when they deal with new questions about which opinions are not yet polarized. For instance, Canada in 2001 sponsored conferences about xenotransplantation. This is the use of animal organs for replacement in humans especially kidney, liver, and heart. There is currently research in progress to modify pig genetics in hopes of making pig organs compatible for humans. Xenotransplantation is not entirely new. In 1963, a school teacher lived nine months after receiving two transplanted kidneys from a chimpanzee. She did resume teaching for much of the nine months.
The current push for xenotransplantation stems from the fact that there are now 80,000 people eligible for transplants and only 15,000 available human organs annually. Pigs are being studied because they match us in size and are available in any quantity. There are ethical problems for study beside the technical and economic questions. If pig organs can be bred to fill this unmet demand, there will be great pressure to use them. So it is appropriate to start educating the public about the issues involved.
Six consensus juries in Canada concluded that the risk to the general public of xenotransplantation was too great to accept for now considering our present state of ignorance of porcine endogenous retroviruses. It was a chimpanzee endogenous retrovirus that got loose in humans and became more virulent to cause AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). These Canadian juries suggested a greater effort to obtain more human organs. For example, implied consent for donation, meaning that only a specific request by an individual that his/her organs not be used after death, would prevent their use if the organs were otherwise acceptable. The jurors expressed the hope that stem cells might be a better solution in some specific instances. They also felt that there currently is insufficient public health infrastructure for long term monitoring of the health of the recipients and their relatives and associates. They recommended waiting for an international regulatory framework. They also had some concerns about society’s increasing resistance to animal experimentation and undefined health care costs.
For such conferences about eugenics: start with some details that are likely to be acceptable to the general public and persist with more conferences for several generations. Here is an example of an innovative and possibly beneficial finding of a consensus conference about eugenics. Violent and other antisocial behavior is more likely to occur in people inadequately parented in childhood, frequently the result of teenage pregnancy. These mothers and infants should be more adequately supervised to ensure a nurturing environment or, failing that, the infants could be more promptly placed in foster homes (not to mention pregnancy prevention). Some of the resulting monetary costs to society could be recovered from childcare payments from both parents in return for visitation rights as already occurs with nonresident fathers.
Here are some other public questions which might be appropriate for consensus conferences:
1. Stem cells and cloning, but this might have better been done before polarization of opinion and confusion about reproductive and therapeutic cloning.
2. Genetically modified organisms: In the United States, we seem to have remained more open minded on this topic than the Europeans. Consider this November 2000 quote from the president of Monsanto Company: “We thought we were doing some great things. A lot of other people thought we were making some mistakes. We were blinded by our own enthusiasm. We missed the fact that this technology raises major issues for people--issues of ethics, of choice, of trust, even of democracy and globalization. As we tried to understand what had happened, we realized that we needed to hear directly from people about what they thought, what their concerns were and what they thought we ought to do. If we are to close the gap between those who believe in the benefits and those who have concerns, then something has to change.”
3. We need a more informed public about the issue of missile defense and military solutions to world problems.
4. In 2001, two billionaires, Ted Turner and Bill Gates, stated that we shouldn’t eliminate inheritance taxes completely because after a few generations, a small group of families would own too much. When this happened in Europe hundreds of years ago, there was a new world open for emigration. Let us get Ted Turner or Bill Gates on a consensus conference about tax fairness and simplicity. A pipe dream?
March 14, 2002, minimally revised November 2, 2005
2) Diamond, Jared (1992) “The Third Chimpanzee, The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal” HarperCollins pp85-86
3) This conference was organized by Steven Katz of North Carolina State University. Speakers included Edward J. Woodhouse (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Patrick Hamlet (North Carolina State University), Jane Macoubrie (North Carolina State University, and discussant, Katherine R. Smith (Economic Research Service, USDA).