US Scientist Foresees A Future of Reproduction Without Sex

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - The futuristic 1997 movie Gattaca introduced a world in which the only successful people are perfect specimens whose entire genetic makeup was put together in a laboratory before conception.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, the film tells the story of how a naturally-conceived man - a "faithbirth" or "invalid" - struggles against his genetic imperfections to achieve his career dream in an environment peopled by super-human "valids," and where "invalids" are relegated to an underclass.

It paints a sobering picture of where science could take us in the future.

Far-fetched? In just 20 years, says a leading American scientist, human reproduction in the wealthier parts of the world will be achieved in the lab and not in the bedroom.

"This is the beginning of the end of sex as the way we reproduce," Professor Greg Stock, a biologist and genetic specialist at UCLA, told the annual convention of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in San Diego this week.

"We will still have sex for pleasure, of course, but we will view our children as too damn important to leave it to a random meeting of sperm and eggs."

Instead of the "messy business" of procreation, humans will take responsibility for evolution, using science to ensure the creation of designer babies.

Stock spoke of a time when a woman will store thousands of eggs for later use, even before she plans to have a family or knows who will be the father of her child.

Advances in research already have made genetic screening during in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment a successful method of excluding embryos with problematic genes.

Early this month it was reported that an American couple had used a procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to select one of a dozen embryos to ensure the test-tube baby born to them would have the exact cells needed to be a tissue donor for their seriously ill daughter. The rejected embryos were destroyed.

Ethicists and pro-lifers expressed disquiet about where the precedent would lead, and a number of couples in Britain expressed interest in using the same procedure to determine the genetic makeup of their children, for varying reasons.

In the UK, PGD is currently only permitted to reduce the chances of a baby being born with serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

But Stock predicts that mankind will inevitably move far beyond that point.

"We will be able to screen for lots of genetic diseases," he said. "We will, in essence, be able to take a single cell from an embryo in the lab and calculate from that how the child will develop.

"Effectively, the child will have to pass a test before it is even born. Eventually it will be thought as reckless to have a child without genetic screening as to have a child without pre-natal screening, as happens today," Stock said.

Stock added scientists would have to face the reality that parents will not want to stop at simply excluding the risk of disease. They would also want to use genetic screening to weed out children who may turn out to be obese or disabled.

As shocking as Stock's predictions are, pro-lifers in Britain approached for comment Thursday said there were developments planned in the UK today that are equally disturbing.

"We may balk at Professor Stock's vision of the future," said Dominic Baster, information officer at the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, "But it is no more outlandish than the idea of cloned embryo farms for the production of spare body tissue ... and that is now very much on the agenda in the UK."

"Once respect for the inherent dignity of human life is lost, life itself becomes a commodity to be used and manipulated for the ends of others," he said.

"Professor Stock's comments are not surprising, therefore, and provide further evidence of the extent to which prominent individuals in our culture of death are seeking to undermine the very basis of civilized society," Baster said.

See Earlier Story:

'Designer Baby' Fears After US Couple Select Embryo

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow