I have to say it was a surprise a few days back to find a link on Drudge for an article that Julian Savulescu has published in Reader’s Digest, of all places. It’s the UK edition, mind you, but all signs on their website point to it being as impeccably middlebrow as its U.S. counterpart. And Savulescu’s piece advocating the moral obligation to screen babies in utero for desirable genetic traits catches just that tone of banal sweet reasonableness which is perfect for the venue, despite the fact that the homepage link provides the heading “The Maverick: Thinking Differently.”
Yet I wonder if this rhetorical effort can ultimately succeed. For the more you try to make it seem obvious that the parental ability to design children is a self-evidently good thing, the more you are inviting people to think about the all-too-often not very pretty parenting choices they see in the real world. Savulescu’s arguments seem completely detached from that world, where it is a problem when parents try to go too far in molding their children into their ideal image. But then again, maybe in the UK there are no parents who are obnoxious at their children’s sporting events, no little-girl beauty pageants, no dance moms living through their daughters, no parental pressure for academic over-achievement. Maybe everybody in the UK raises children with only the most high-minded motivations and principles — or at least maybe those are the kids Savulescu meets at Oxford.
It could be argued that the kind of real-world parents I’m calling attention to are problematic to the extent that they fail to see the unhappiness they are creating in their children, and they would not create that unhappiness if their children were designed from the start to meet their expectations. Precisely at that point we reach the most frightening possibility, of course: parenting as unmediated narcissism, and child as consumer product. So what kind of warranty have you got on that baby?