The Pursuit of Perfection
Let’s examine a hypothetical situation. It’s some day in the future, or maybe now, and a woman and her significant other are taking the next big step: children. This is a logical step, because children are cute and cuddly, and when they’re your own kids, even their poop is great! So they try and try to get pregnant, and after some time has gone by, she pees on a stick and a pink bar magically appears. Then, questions start, one of which is always “will this child be a boy or a girl?”
What if that question didn’t have to be a question? What if you could simply state, “my child will be a boy”, and nine months later, you birthed a healthy baby boy? This technology is already available today, amazingly enough. See this article on cbsnews.com, which explains the expensive in vitro process (originally used to diagnose embryos for disease) already providing couples with specifically gendered children. However, science fiction writer Nancy Kress asks the question (in her short story, “Sex Education”), what happens when science progresses to the point that physical characteristics can be exactly replicated by cloning? In the story, a couple (and other couples before them) chooses Mollie as their “perfect” child, a child they want replicated for their own: she is physically beautiful, fit, and intelligent. While “Xerox copies” is used to describe the embryonic clones made from Mollie, we learn this is completely inaccurate when one of her “twins” develops a disease, and the fallout from this imperfection leads to questions about the scientific and legal ethics of cloning.
Kress stresses the connection between the physical and mental, however, and the ethics involved with the individuals of cloning. Who are the clones? Mollie believes that “you make babies out of me and don’t love them when they’re not [perfect]”, making the most succinct ethical point in the story. Everyone in the story is concerned with the legal ramifications of the imperfect clone, while Mollie is concerned with the ramifications of abandoning an imperfect baby, and what abandoning her says about Mollie’s own worth. By the end of the story, Mollie can’t even accept the love of her dog. Furthermore, Kress leaves open the question of who the clones will become, which comes down to “nature versus nurture”. If behavior were based on an individual’s nature, Mollie’s clones would presumably be like the sweet, intelligent child we see at the beginning of Kress’s story. However, Mollie herself seems to believe in nurture, and at her parents’ treatment becomes bitter and angry. From this we can only assume that the parents of her clones, all pursuing “perfection”, would create emotionally different, and possibly dysfunctional, children.
So when does a parent’s desire for a child with a specific gender, maybe because they’ve had three girls already and want a boy oh so badly, turn into a pursuit for physical and intellectual perfection? And should we start thinking, as Ian Malcolm did in Jurassic Park, that “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”? Kress’s “Sex Education”, written back in 1998, becomes more and more pertinent to these and other questions as choosing the baby’s sex, and even cloning, becomes less science fiction, and more science.