“I know, but I still have reservations Dr. Reichmann.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Well first, let me get this straight, you are saying that you are now able to tissue engineer a zygote?”
“So you’re able to create synthetic sperm and egg cells, fertilize the egg, and under artificial conditions raise them into viable human embryos?”
“That’s right. We start with basic proteins, engineer them into sperm and egg cells, and then insert the desired DNA with the help of our computers.”
“And you’re able to organize and arrange the genetic sequencing of each cell through these computers?”
“Which means you are able to completely determine which genetic characteristics the eventual human will have, such as sex, height, hair, eye, and skin color?
“Yes, yes, we are able to match up the alleles in whatever way we want. We control the Punnett Square, it is no longer left to chance.”
“And this will mean that parents can basically choose whatever kind of child they want?”
“That’s right, here’s the catalogue right here.”
Dr. Reichmann pushed a remote control button, and suddenly a large display of various children appeared on a screen on the wall. Some had light skin, dark skin, brown eyes, and blue eyes. On the right hand side were two color palettes, one for eye color and the other for hair color, just like the color palettes you would see in a clothing catalogue or in the paint section of a hardware store.
“As you can see, Mr. Nelson, we have all the possible shades of eye color, hair color, skin pigmentation, etc. but in addition to the child’s visible characteristics, we also have the unseen characteristics in the child’s genotype such as intelligence and resilience to various types of diseases.
So given this information, it is just up to the parent to decide which characteristics they want their child to have. There are, of course, certain characteristics that are advantageous to the child’s flourishing, such as having darker skin pigmentation, which highly reduces the risk of skin cancer. We also recommend not making the child too tall to avoid the potential drawbacks of having too much of the growth hormone IGF1 (Insulin-like growth factor). Regardless, we can’t guarantee that the child will have exactly the height we project, since environmental factors also play a role in the child’s development. But I digress, the point is, if a parent wants a child to have dark skin, blue eyes, brown hair, and likely grow to be at least six feet tall, that will be no problem for us.”
Mr. Nelson nervously looked around at the many tanks aligning the walls, and said,
“So you’re essentially selling children to people, instead of having them produce children themselves. Isn’t this going to pose a problem, Dr?”
“Well, it seems like this will replace the need for natural reproduction.”
Dr. Reichmann smiled, looking slightly triumphant, “Maybe so, and why is that a problem?”
“I don’t know, it just seems like that’s the natural way to produce a child and we have no good reason to interfere with that.”
“Let me tell you something, Mr. Nelson, about how children are naturally produced. Out there in the world, babies are born every few seconds out of sheer chance. Two irresponsible teenagers unite in a swell of passionate, unprotected intercourse, and a conglomeration of their DNA emerges as a living creature. No care, no thought, just sheer passion and chance.”
Mr. Nelson opened his mouth slightly as if to respond but then immediately closed it, and Dr. Reichmann continued,
“Two successful business people, man and woman, meet on a vacation in Hawaii. They fall in love, get married, and have a child together, willingly I might add. Is there a difference? Sure, the fact that they willingly have the child means that there is a degree of thought and care this time, but still the result is a living being that is the product of sheer passion and chance. If the circumstances were different, if one parent decided to not go on the Hawaii trip, the two never would have met. They would have married different people and the child would have never been born. When taken in perspective, the so-called “planned” child that is the product of two responsible adults is just as randomly produced as the unplanned child that is the product of two irresponsible teenagers.
Here, Mr. Nelson, things are different, you see. There is thought, there is care, but most importantly, there is intent and design. The children we will produce here will not be the result of a random flurry of passion, nor a random turn of events, but rather they will be the result of the deliberate and intricate design of our best engineers.”
Mr. Nelson was starting to sweat now, his eyes darting back and forth across the room, “I don’t know Dr., it just seems wrong.”
Dr. Reichmann’s eyes widened, “You know what is wrong, Mr. Nelson? What is wrong is that people are dying from malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, cancer, and countless other diseases. Here, today, we have such a comprehensive knowledge of human DNA that we not only can engineer creatures that look, smell, feel, and think exactly like ourselves, but we can create them in such a way as to be resilient to all sorts of diseases and viruses.
Moreover, with our technology, we can assure that there are no deformities, mutations, or harmful recessive genetic diseases. Tell me, what is wrong about that?”
“Ok fine, but what about the reality that this can turn into some sort of eugenics program? You admitted yourself that there are certain traits that are optimal for human flourishing. If you had it your way the whole world would be full of six-foot-tall tan people.”
Dr. Reichmann frowned,“Well, what’s wrong with eugenics? The Nazis gave it a bad rap because of their insistence on eliminating undesired people groups. No one here is suggesting to do anything of the sort.”
“Well what about the beauty of variation, of ethnicity and the cultures that come with it?”
“Mr. Nelson, both you and I know that race is a concept that is dying out. The world is so flat now and people from different parts of the world have been mixing with each other for so long that there are barely any pure races or ethnicities left. As for culture, you can leave that for the art museums and libraries that still care about such things.”
Mr. Nelson, looking somewhat abashed, gathered his composure and said, “Your company is called Utopia, Dr. Reichmann, surely because you hope to achieve such a place in the future. What if you do? What if there is no more pain, no more disease, no more war, just pure human flourishing, maybe we even figure out how to attain biological immortality or at least digital immortality by downloading our consciousness into computers. What will there be left for us to do? What would be the point of our existence once we have achieved all this?”
Dr. Reichman smiled at Mr. Nelson and said, “Let’s worry about that question when the time comes.”
“Alright, well one last question, how do you know this is going to work? How do you know these embryos are actually going to turn into real humans?”
“I know, Mr. Nelson, because—albeit with a few shortcomings in the mathematical reasoning features—we made a successful prototype about 14 years ago. He is now in high school, he lives in my house, and I have adopted him as my son.”
Billy stood frozen in utter shock, but after a few seconds, he carefully made his way back down the hallway, just managing to catch the words, “So do we have a deal Mr. Nelson?” Billy turned the corner and headed back towards the elevator. He pressed the button and opened the door. As he stepped inside, thoughts started to flood his mind, “Why had his father never told him this before? Can he even think of Dr. Reichmann as his father anymore, or is he more like a Dr. Frankenstein, which would make the relationship between them more like that of a creator and his creation. And what about Dr. Reichmann’s comment about being more intricately designed than natural born humans? Was he better than his natural born friends because he was genetically engineered and they weren’t? What would his friends think of him when they found out that he is just the first prototype of a new product line of designer children?
As the elevator came to a halt, Billy looked at his reflection in the metallic wall, his bright green eyes piercing back at him, and whispered under his breath, “What am I?”