Supertots And Frankenkids

On the Rights of Those Not Yet Designed

Pound freely acknowledges that these people didn't earn their genes any more than would a person whose parents had them tweaked in a lab. "No matter what you do with a five-one Indonesian or Malaysian, you're never going to make him a star NBA player. You're also not going to turn a seven-two basketball player into a great badminton player," he says. "Just like athletes from developing nations with poor nutrition, those were the cards they were dealt by chance. I don't look to sport to resolve all of the inequities of the world."

Those sitting at the highest echelons of intellectual life say they'll be more welcoming. Osheroff judged the most recent round of what's widely regarded as the junior Nobels, the Intel Science Talent Search. "I believe that mental power is far more important than athletic talent to humanity, and don't think that we would be likely to exclude genetically engineered humans from such competitions as the STS," he says, adding that he'd put his money where his mouth is. "As far as my not getting a Nobel Prize because an engineered human won one, I think the issue is who has done work which is more deserving. The prizes should be considered as drawing attention to major advances in science, not something that confers instant genius on the recipients."

But in the shorthand of our culture, getting into Harvard does. "There's no dearth of quality, of brain power. Kids with 1600 SATs are a dime a dozen now, thanks to prolonged coaching since eighth grade or seventh grade," says Dwight Miller, senior admissions officer at the university. The school looks for other intangibles to round out its classes, a practice that could thwart a genetic pecking order. "There are plenty of arrogant people here already. We don't try to compound it. All of this is diametrically opposed to genetic engineering."

illustration: Glynis Sweeny

Yet Harvard wouldn't limit the number of GM students it accepted. "I don't think it's written into the Constitution that one is guaranteed the right to attend the college of one's choice. The last thing you're ever going to hear Harvard say is there are quotas," Miller says.

The trade-offs and ethical conundrums are enough to tie an anti-quota Republican parent like Steve Sanford in knots. He's a successful commercial artist and credits genetics for much of his ability, tracing his lineage through talented artists and draftsmen directly back to George Washington's portrait painter, Charles Willson Peale. His daughter, Emily, recently won admission to two prestigious New York City institutions, Stuyvesant High School and the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. But what if she couldn't get into Harvard because its ranks were filling with the offspring of parents who could afford million-dollar enhancements?

"I'd say that's definitely not fair—it's like being able to buy your way out of conscription in the Civil War," her father says. "There could be riots, I think. Things could get out of control."

Then again, if he were having a new child in an era when designer babies were common, he'd opt for enhancement if he knew it was safe and a competitive necessity. But for the same reasons he wouldn't want her to have bat wings genetically grafted on, he wouldn't want her to be so intelligent as to be "a freak, someone who can't socially relate to other people. Being smart has its own rewards, but if you go too far the kid will probably be lonely and maybe ostracized."

Sanford intuitively locks onto Lee Silver's powerful brake—that need to connect.

Society has always been cruel to the unusually gifted. "We know our members tend to be more introverted than the general public," says Jean Becker, president of the American chapter of the genius society Mensa. "They've had unpleasant experiences as children, when they were made fun of because they liked to read or were intellectual. They learned to hide who they were, and a lot of our members still hide their intelligence in daily life. Some are even secretive about their membership." When asked what enhancement she'd give a child, her answer isn't immunity to AIDS or cancer. It isn't intelligence. "Sure, I'd want my child to have at least an average IQ, but if I had the opportunity to pick one thing to enhance for a child I would probably pick physical attractiveness," Becker says. "It opens doors to you. People like physically attractive people. It's one thing that has been linked to higher wages and an easier emotional life, and I don't know of any research like that in terms of intelligence. I'm sorry to say that and ashamed that in our culture it's true."

And maybe that'll be the end to which the free market drives biotech: the quest for classic beauty under a microscope instead of a knife. Hey, at least it would spare a few slots at Harvard.

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