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June 02, 2005

Homosexual Gene Therapy

Stephen Pinker, author of How The Mind Works, on the genetic component of homosexuality in a recent NYT editorial.

The difference in the brain responses of gay and straight men does not, by itself, prove that homosexuality is innate; after all, learned inclinations, like innate ones, must reside somewhere in the brain. But in this case nature probably does trump nurture.

Gay men generally report that their homosexual attractions began as soon as they felt sexual stirrings before adolescence. And homosexuality is more concordant in identical than in fraternal twins, suggesting that their shared genes play a role.

Homosexuality is a puzzle for biology, not because homosexuality itself is evolutionarily maladaptive (though no more so than any other sexual act that does not result in conception), but because any genetic tendency to avoid heterosexual opportunities should have been selected out long ago.

Perhaps "gay genes" have some other compensating advantage, like enhancing fertility, when they are carried by women. Perhaps the environments that set off homosexuality today didn't exist while our genes were being selected. Or perhaps the main cause is biological yet not directly genetic, like differences in hormones or antibodies that affect the fetus while it is developing.

Let's assume for a moment that homosexuality is genetic in nature, a postulate I happen agree with, for what it's worth. Studies supporting that thesis come out practically every month, or so it would seem.

What I wonder is this; If homosexuality is genetic in nature, doesn't that argue that at some point a "treatment" could be developed for it? Gene therapies meant to address a host of other genetic conditions either already exist or are on the near horizon. Shouldn't it be logical to assume that at some point in the future a procedure will be developed that essentially rewrites the genetic code that homosexuality arises from--in short, reversing or (as is more likely, if the genetic conditions for homosexuality can be detected at a fetal stage) preventing the condition from arising in the first place?

The problem with If you think about it, if homosexuality is a choice, who would choose it? is that such an argument presupposes that such a choice cannot exist.

What if it does, one day?


Fade in: Interior of a pediatrician's office, circa 2025. A couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, are seated within. A door opens, and Dr. Jones enters. She takes a seat on the other side of the desk from the Smiths.

Dr. Jones: "Afternoon, Dez, Sally. We've gotten back the results from your fetal screening. Good news, for the most part."

Mrs. Smith leans forward, a look of worry on her face. "For the most part? What's wrong with my baby?"

Dr. Jones waves a hand over her desk, and the holographic image of a 9-week-old fetus appears. It's a boy. "Nothing to worry about." Another wave, and a chromosomal map replaces the fetal hologram in the air above the desk. Two small areas on one chromosome glow brightly. One is red. The other, pink.

Dr. Jones: "First, and potentially the most serious, is the red area. The results of his assay have indicated that little Robert is genetically very likely to suffer from Huntington's Chorea in adulthood. As I told you last week, Huntington's chorea is one of the diseases the Genetic Disorders Act requires us to treat. It's a short, painless procedure. I'll have Roberta contact you about finding a time next week when you can come in."

Mr. and Mrs. Smith glance at each other.

Mr. Smith: "That should be fine, Doc. We're not Christian Scientists."

Mrs. Smith: "What's the pink for? We already know Bobby's a boy."

Dr. Jones: "This is..." She waves her hand, and a chart appears in the air beside the chromosomes. "...your third son?"

Mrs. Smith: "Yes."

Dr. Jones: "Well, we've known for some time that, thanks to the changing environment of the womb, younger sons are statistically more likely to be homosexual than their older siblings. In Robert's case, this appears to be so. His genetic survey has detected a number of the genes known to be responsible for homosexuality."

Again, Mr. and Mrs. Smith glance at each other, then back at Dr. Jones."

Mr. Smith: "But you can fix it, right?"

Dr. Jones: "...'Fix' is perhaps not the most accurate term, but yes, we can alter the genetic sequence so that Robert will have a heterosexual proclivity rather than a homosexual one. It can be done at the same time we address the Huntington's, should you choose to do so. It's not one of the....conditions.....covered by the Genetic Disorders Act."

Mr. Smith: " Fine. We'll do it then."

Mrs. Smith: "Itís a very difficult life, homosexuality. If you think about it, even if it is a choice, what parent would choose it for their child?"

Dr. Jones: "Well, very few do, actually, though as with deafness, some parents with the same condition do choose to leave it unaltered."

Mrs. Smith: Well I just think it's selfish, choosing to burden a child like that. Life is hard enough even when you're normal."

Dr. Jones: "Many people feel the same. Now, see Roberta on the way out, and I'll see you again next week."


Postscripts: It strikes me that, given the advances of genetic knowledge, that eventually--probably sooner than later--a bill along the lines of "HR 131: An act providing for the funding of inquiries into the genetic nature of homosexuality and the treatments thereof." will be introduced at some point in time.

I can only imagine the furor that will follow.


Some anecdotal evidence that most parents will inevitably strive for a "normal" environment for their children, even if they have no intention of raising the kids themselves.

The drift of preferences is clear: The typical Snowflakes donor, while not necessarily Christian or conservative, is unlikely to favor gays, lesbians, or even single mothers. "Most want a mommy and a daddy for their embryos."


Comments from FoH and drinking buddy Ace, of The Pryhills, who was blocked by our mighty spam filter.

Legislation like this is not far off. Case in point, Maine State Rep Brian Duprey and his LD908: An Act to Protect Homosexuals from Discrimination, which would make it illegal to abort a fetus based on "the projected sexual orientation of the fetus after birth." The bill died in committee late last month with zero support.

Duprey sponsored the bill more to be a smart ass to highlight his belief that a genetic component to gayness doesn't exist and secondly, since most gays lean left (not I, said the little Log Cabin republican), he wanted to trap pro-choice gays, predicting "that overnight gays would become pro-life."

More here and here.

Posted by Bigwig at June 2, 2005 01:29 PM | TrackBack
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Considering the popularity of sex selection abortions among certain ethnic groups, it's not hard to imagine sexual orientation abortions being performed in the near future.

Perhaps that is why a surprising number of gays and lesbians are pro-life (Andrew Sullivan, for example). They understand what will happen when genetic technology joins forces with abortion on demand.

Which brings up the odd prospect that pro-life Evangelical Christians might end up being their best friends.

Posted by: Captain Holly at June 2, 2005 07:15 PM

HATE CRIME! Derbyshire Award Winner! Gay basher!

Just thought I'd beat Andy Sullivan to the punch.

Posted by: Al Maviva at June 2, 2005 09:28 PM
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