I am very conscious of my own inadequacy in covering this topic, not being an obstetrician, gynecologist, sociologist, anthropologist, geneticist, or statistician. However the current fracas over the Safe School program and the same-sex marriage debate make me wonder if there is a bigger issue that may be stalking humanity. I would be more at ease if someone with authority and learning in these disciplines could set my mind at rest.
When I was in primary school there were boys and girls. Some were fat, some thin, some dumb, some smart, some tall and others short, some were sporty some were nerdy, some girls were butch and some boys were effete. We all fitted into one of these categories and everyone had a part to play. The fat ones had all the sweets; the thin and short ones were useful for specific physical activities; the sporty ones were good for school morale; the nerdy ones kept the scores; the butch girls could make up a team; the fey ones could write your poetry. Was there bullying? Yes, but there were plenty of stereotypes to share it around and most copped it one way or another.
In the classroom we were flat out keeping up with our times-tables, how many poles were in a perch, the years of Magna Carta and the Battle of Hastings. After school we were busy tormenting funnel webs, climbing trees, enjoying a pick-up game of cricket or footy, having an illicit fag under the bridge, making shanghais, and generally having fun. Then we would go home, get a belting for something or other and go to bed. Repeat the next day. Sex, what the hell was that?
But now it seems sex is what school is all about according to the urgent voices of those promoting the Safe School agenda. The whole gamut of LGBTI sexual proclivities that occupy, I hope, the far edges of the bell curve have to become part of the school curriculum or the world is going to end. I have been told that such vacuous ideas as climate change, Aboriginal mathematics, and other lefty notions have already made a hole in school curricula: now sex! It seems that school is becoming the de facto family dinner table and Australian homes either don’t have a role to play or are happily subcontracting that former responsibility to teachers. Obviously I could go on about the role of the family, the danger of introducing LGBTI concepts to school-age children, the more bizarre aspects of the proposed Safe School material and so on. Others have more than made a meal of these areas. What is of real concern to me is that if the LGBTI issue has become so significant that educators feel it is a subject which must be covered in the classroom, then we do not have an education problem: we could be in the early stages of a genetic disaster. Is that possible?
Until about sixty years ago there was one way, and one way only, to generate a baby and that was sex between a man and a woman, usually under the auspices of a marriage contract. Methods of birth controls were basic and simple and involved natural means or techniques.
Then the Pill was introduced to simplify birth control through manipulation of a woman’s natural processes by the dosed application of hormones. Then, in no particular order came IVF, sperm donors, surrogate mothers, multiple donors, cryogenic egg banks, and genetic manipulation, to name but a few unnatural birth techniques. At the same time, women for economic and/or career related reasons were choosing to have children later in life, well past the recognized optimum years for childbearing. Now add to this mix same-sex couples who are choosing to have children using any one of the available techniques noted above. Were same-sex marriages to be legalized we can expect to see an increase in the number of children being created for those in same-sex unions. As all these changes have occurred in just sixty years we have insufficient generational data or evidence to determine the impact on our society and, more particularly, the collective gene pool: we just blaze away, dreaming up the next level of sophistication in the name of science or money or gratification.
Sperm donations appear to be a most fraught area where we have a single donor’s sperm being used to impregnate five, ten, twenty, fifty (today’s news) women: what could go wrong? There is a case running at present where a donor’s sperm was found to contain a congenital defect that could produce defects in the child of the resulting pregnancy. Is this important? Of course it is tragic for those involved in that particular incident. But in addition, the multiple use of that one donor’s sperm has a scattergun effect which could extend to multiple pregnancies and multiple families. And, by the way, the media report implied that the destinations for that donor’s sperm were uncertain. Playing around with multiple donors, and I use the phrase intentionally, has the possibility of adding additional complexity to the outcomes.
Then the use of surrogacy introduces a third party to the mix. As we talking here, in most cases, about hired gestators who are under stress and parties to commercial transactions there will not always be guarantees as to the medical suitability of the surrogate. Do we know the effect of surrogates’ medical problems — un-diagnosed hepatitis-C, for instance — on the resultant child? I’ll wager that we do not know, certainly not in all cases. Additionally, the use of cryogenic eggs and women delaying pregnancy could have some negative effect on the health and wellbeing of the resultant child.
On a separate but related issue, much has been written about the different environments in which a child can be nurtured. It has been said that single-parent and same-sex households are not as effective as a nurturing environment as those with male and female parents. Other studies, mostly cited by gay activists (and often conducted by those same advocates), hold otherwise. Whether this is true or not, it is very likely that children in these households will mix socially with households of similar makeup and this lifestyle will become the norm and regarded as such. This being the case, it must be considered likely that children growing up in single-parent or same-sex households will drift into the same lifestyle in adulthood, forming loose communities that will tend to interface with each other on all manner of lifestyle issues, including sex and procreation.
Should we be concerned? For generations, going back to the early pages of the Bible, most societies (but not all) have been very conscious of the danger to a society where familial intermarriage is allowed. For example, the Israelites had strict laws, as laid out in Leviticus. The 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer has an exhaustive list of family kin that should not intermarry. It is an open question as to whether the permutations and combinations that could emerge from the procreation smorgasbord outlined above could contribute to unintended and unknown but unsuitable genetic matching over, say, a further five or six generations, contribute to unintended and unknown but unsuitable genetic matching. Initially one would expect this to be most evident in small or closed communities. Concomitant with all the above will be the associated emotional and legal issues of which early examples are now being reported.
Those in the procreation industry will assure us of unparalleled safeguards in place to ensure the consequences canvassed above do not happen. However, we know from the frailty of our systems, the desire for a quick buck, and the evidence of the cases already being reported that there are no guarantees. Call me a panic merchant, a wowser, or a stirrer if you will. But surely, when we are employing a plethora of unnatural procreation techniques mated with a slew of unnatural lifestyles, are we not courting potential disaster in the long-term?
Then again, with immediate agendas to push, who gives a damn about the long-term?
Jim Campbell, an engineer and consultant, is the author of The Logic of the Qur’an