Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Déjà Vu All Over Again

By Michael Cook

In vitro eugenics could soon make Huxley’s Brave New World a reality.

Michael Cook is editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Where would bioethics have been without Shakespeare? If he had never written “O brave new world, That has such people in’t” in The Tempest, perhaps Aldous Huxley would never have written Brave New World, his 1932 dystopian novel about genetically engineered babies gestated in industrial hatcheries. And perhaps conservatives like Leon Kass, George W. Bush’s chief bioethics adviser, would have lacked a thought-terminating cliché with which to rail against embryo experimentation.

At least that is the view of Kass’ critics, like Stephen Pinker, who sneered that he had a “disconcerting habit of treating fiction as fact”. However, the disconcerting thing is that the hoary old “brave new world” chestnut is putting down roots and sprouting leaves.

An Australian bioethicist is “calling for a vigorous debate” – code words for “when can we start working on this stuff?” – on “in vitro eugenics”, which is remarkably similar to the “Bokanovsky process” in Huxley’s novel.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Dr Robert Sparrow of Monash University sets out a blueprint for making better humans. His starting point is current research into the creation of sperm and eggs from stem cells. Mice have already been produced with “artificial” gametes, and the production of humans may not be too far away. Until now, the focus has been creating gametes for the infertile...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.