Scientists are worried that in fertility clinics using in-vitro (test tube) fertilizations, parents will be able to select embryos for IQ or personality traits. Now embryos are selected according to which ones are healthiest and free of genetic disease. Future genetic testing could allow them to be selected for above average intelligence, good behavior or sexual orientation.
Psychiatrist Terrie Moffitt says, “Parents are highly motivated to have the best child possible?some would consider such a selection technique if it were available.? Scientists are especially concerned after new research showed links between genes and behavior.
Professor Bob Hepple says, “This is a potentially explosive area and the first question we asked was whether such research should be carried out at all. We concluded that it can be justified because it has the potential to advance our understanding of human behavior. However, it is important to create safeguards to protect against its misuse.”
This research brings up new questions about ethics, such as the possible impact of genetics on criminal behavior. So far, ethicists say that genetic information should not absolve anyone from responsibility for their actions. However, in the future, genetic information could be taken into account by judges when sentencing, in the same way that mental illness, poverty or an abusive childhood may be considered now.
Scientists are also concerned that people with certain types of genes may take medicine in order to alter their behavior. Millions of children who are disruptive in school are already given Ritalin, and millions more adults take Prozac or similar medications to ease depression by raising their seratonin levels. Research has shown that most criminals have low levels of seratonin. Helen Wallace of GeneWatch says, “Genes are very poor predictors of behavior because behavior is complex. The danger is that a focus on genetics leads to a neglect of the underlying social, economic and environmental factors influencing things like crime.”
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