Coffee House

Would you screen for the ‘gay’ gene?

27 February 2014

10:21 AM

27 February 2014

10:21 AM

How would you feel about a couple doing IVF just in order to find the embryos most likely to to be gay… and chuck them out? Does that sound like eugenics to you?

What about the other way round: what if a gay couple wanted to maximise their chance of a having gay baby — would you let them screen for and select embryos with the genes that made it more likely they were gay? Then bin the rest? It’s time to make your mind up because after decades of panic about ‘designer babies’ (remember Gattaca?) the future is finally here.

On the one hand, as I write in the Spec this week the genes that contribute to different human traits are rapidly being identified. For instance, a recent study of gay men concluded that that male sexual orientation is influenced by genes.


On the other hand, we’re getting better and better at screening tiny embryos to see which genes they’ve got. There’s an interesting couple of pieces in the NY Times celebrating screening because it can of course weed out embryos which would otherwise grow up to suffer appalling diseases.

But what the cheerleaders for screening don’t much discuss is where, if at all, they’d draw the line. It’d be difficult to rule out screening embryos for gender, seeing as doctors will often allow abortion for ‘family balancing’ reasons anyway.

But what about for politically sensitive things like IQ, or sexuality? How would the trans community take it if embryos with genes associated with being transgender were weeded out?

These aren’t questions for the future, they’re questions for right now. Bear in mind that in 2008 deaf campaigners won the right to screen for and select a ‘deaf’ embryo — so that they could ensure their child grew up unable to hear. Is that right?

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Show comments
  • Kitty MLB

    Still only 17 comments Mary!
    Clearly everyone thought the topic was balderdash
    Or the day was taken up with a chap called Nigel.
    Perhaps you could have done with the views of a lovely
    gay man but unfortunately they are in short supply
    here, there is a chap could rp2 who may respond,
    or a very new one who could have squeezed out an
    offering but his sir name is unsuitable for breakfast,
    which is a shame, it would have been amusing.
    All I know is that gay men say its in their genes,
    maybe its a meaningless term.
    the best of luck with your latest article on a similar subject.

  • Swanky

    I didn’t think it was a question of genetic inheritance at all. It seems random and subject to socialization, as well. The best theory I’ve heard is that male foetuses are normally subject to a ‘testosterone’ hormone bath in utero, but if this hormone is in short supply, it may result in a different orientation or receptivity before, during, and certainly after puberty. As for socialization or other moral and environmental factors (moral as in decision-making, not moral as in Manichaean rights or wrongs) — we don’t know how many potential homosexuals choose not to go that route. We tend to know about the ones that do, as they tend to be very vocal about it. But others may decide that a happy life is best served by subverting or redirecting their more unmediated impulses. Biology is not destiny — especially when it is not even actually biology (a homosexual is as biologically male or female as a straight male or female is).

    A parallel might be Jewish conversion to other religions or erasure of the family identity — not because there is anything inherently better about joining another religion or culture, but simply because of the social, political and economic difficulties or penalties of being identifiably Jewish. In other words, it doesn’t have to stem from anything like self-loathing; it can be a rational calculation of what’s in the individual’s best interest. Anyone prepared to deny that rational calculation can be part of sexuality has no experience of morally chosen celibacy (as opposed to celibacy that is merely seen as foisted on one, as an unfortunate fact of life). Celibates may choose that state, regardless of the cost in doing so, because overall they think it best in their own case — not because they are naturally asexual or because society makes them do so (in ours, it doesn’t).

  • Fergus Pickering

    Since there isn’t a gay gene the question is meaningless.

  • anyfool

    If you go to the extensive trouble and expense to initiate pregnancy I would think that most would not keep any with the defective or gender gene that probably decides sexual leanings towards homosexuality

  • ohforheavensake

    No point. Genetics isn’t destiny- the particular use of your genetic material depends on the environment you’re born into (and the environment your parents and grandparents experienced). For info- there’s a branch of research called epigenetics which deals with the way in which our experience of the world activates or deactivates the gene sequences we’re born with-

    • Kitty MLB

      May I be excused for asking is it not possible for genetics to be who you are
      and the environment you live in determines your morality and how you
      are or unable to express yourself.

      • ohforheavensake

        No- because it’s not that simple. Your environment also determines your genetics: different parts of your genetic code are effectively switched on and off by the environment in which you find yourself. So, there is no such thing as an entirely determinant gene: at least, not as far as behaviour goes.

        • anyfool

          It does not seem to switch off the genes in people raised as Muslim, nor has it stopped the high incidence in African races, both very severer in enacting punishment against this condition.

          • ohforheavensake

            And spot the mistake. What your genes give you is a predisposition which is then subject to a very large number of environmental factors. The point is that it’s impossible to determine whether or not someone is gay purely from their genetic inheritance.

            Twin studies has been done on this subject: the studies found that, in people with an identical genetic inheritance, it was quite possible for one twin to be gay and the other one to be heterosexual.

            In other words: it’s not worth trying to predict. And, as it’s not a debilitating (or life threatening) condition, it’s not worth screening for.

  • Kitty MLB

    May I just say the exception would probably be transsexuals,
    they would want to know, it must be horrendous to believe you are born into the wrong
    body and suffer because of that.
    The politically sensitive subject of IQ, well IQ tests are a nonsense
    you cannot measure intelligence just because you can answer a few questions,
    you cannot create genius! intelligence and education are completely separate issues as we know- but you should not be searching around for genes, would you not have
    a child just because it was not academically inclined.
    Reminds me of a book called Marching moron’s, intelligent people
    not having children and excessive breeding by less intelligent people- only science fiction !

    • Jabez Foodbotham

      “The politically sensitive subject of IQ, well IQ tests are a nonsense
      you cannot measure intelligence just because you can answer a few questions,”

      Perhaps they are misnamed. They appear to measure something since their results tend to be predictive of what we call successful outcomes in our society.
      There are also clear differences between races (self identified) that no attempts to eliminate question bias have been able to reduce.
      Yes, it is a sensitive subject.

  • mandelson

    What about the paedophile gene?

    • Fergus Pickering

      There isn’t one of those either. Nor is there a billionaire gene or a serial killer gene. Don’t be asinine.

      • mandelson

        I was making an ironic comment which I apologise for as judging by your associated ad hominem attack I have offended you.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Sorry. I missed it. You can’t be ironic here since so many of them are barking. Sorry again.

  • Magnolia

    Who is georg?

    • Camilla Swift

      Good question. He has gone away.

  • Eyesee

    It is hugely difficult having such power isn’t it? If you just let any child be born, though you knew in advance that it would have a disability that would, in effect be like torture for that person’s entire life, is that right? But should you make that decision? People who get debilitating conditions and want to die are similar, but often have already lived a life, so it isn’t quite the same. Homosexuals are an interesting point. In Darwinian terms (beloved of the Left) of course, they are an evolutionary dead end and nature (beloved of the Left, above Man) would allow them to branch and possibly die off. But human intervention and with a desire to exercise hegemony over nature (whether carelessly or by Left ideology), decides otherwise and it must be ‘celebrated’ as opposed to just existing. Why would a homosexual not want to remain homosexual, they don’t see anything ‘wrong’ with themselves and the screaming hysteria of the Left tells them what to think anyway. The biggest problem though, will come from the people most interested in this, the Metropolitan Left. They will doubtless come up with some wildly contradictory views, all held at the same time on the subject. But mainly, so they get the little babies they want.

  • Kitty MLB

    I am somewhat in two minds regarding male sexual orientation being down to
    genes, simply because I read years ago that scientists did a test on identical twin of a gay man who carries the
    exact replica of genes and they say the children of these men are more likely to be straight
    Also there are many factors such as sexual hormones in which influence the
    genes and being able to decipher the ‘ gay’ gene- a little like a needle in a hay stack.
    The other side of the coin is the fact that genes control what we are so therefore
    they contribute to sexual orientation and this has nothing to do with choice
    you do not chose to be gay or straight, I thing that
    Gay, Transsexual and other communities get a lot of persecution from
    straight people ( I am straight and have never done this myself) because they
    ignorantly think
    people chose their sexual orientation, its not down to choice.
    Its also utterly wrong for people to have a choice in regards to such a test,
    its immoral, test for diseases, but homosexuality is not a disease,
    and everyone should appreciate what they are blessed with.

  • Dtnorth

    All screening is wrong.

    If you are incapable of loving the child you are not fit to be a parent, no matter what “defect” it has.

    • anyfool

      Not much of a parent if you actually choose to have a child with some type of defects, the children with some of these defects suffer dreadfully and should not be used to salve the conscience of anyone, religious or not.