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Engineered for cuteness

Engineered for cuteness

Apparently the only fertility clinic in Calgary, Canada, a city of 1 million, won’t countenance the conception of mixed-race children. Here are the details:

Calgary’s only fertility centre, which has made headlines for requiring that patients receive only sperm from donors of the same ethnicity, is a medically respected clinic but one with conservative views.

The private clinic, known as the Regional Fertility Program, got wide attention last week after a Caucasian female patient complained that she had been told she could only get sperm from white donors.

She said that unlike other clinics, the Calgary clinic will not take patients who deal with surrogacy agencies. The clinic also long resisted taking gay patients, she added.

“I deal with a lot of fertility clinics. They are certainly the most conservative. That is their choice to a certain extent as long as it is a private service.”

Officials at the clinic didn’t reply to an interview request Monday, but administrative director Calvin Greene told the Calgary Herald that it is better to raise children who ressemble their parents.

“A child of an ethnic background should have the ability to be able to identify with their ethnic roots,” Dr. Greene said.

The patient who went public with her complaint about the clinic’s policy is a single woman who is considering in-vitro fertilization.

“I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants,” Dr. Greene said about her.

Dr. Greene said that his stance is consistent with the spirit of Ottawa’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which discourages doctors from helping create “designer babies.”

First, I have to admit that this isn’t that strange when you hear people always talk about ‘multi-cultural’ families when they really mean multi-racial. I’m in a multi-racial family personally, not a multi-cultural one. This is a slip of the tongue in our colloquial speech that has always made me uncomfortable. People aren’t born with their culture, they’re inculcated with it. It’s the majority sentiment for people to be more comfortable with people who look like themselves, but there’s no reason to make this a metaphysical or ontological issue, unless you are a racialist of some sort.

Second, this is a private clinic, so depending on how funds are allocated (Canada having literally socialized medicine) that’s their prerogative. But reading between the lines though it seems that assisted reproduction in Canada is not as widely distributed in availability as in the United States. As is clear from the above passage it isn’t simply people who don’t share this clinic’s views on race (or race-mixing) who might have problems. There have been many criticisms of the relatively lax oversight of assisted reproduction in the United States, but this shows the other side. By making it common and widely available people whose preferences don’t align with the attitudes of a given clinic have a wide array of choices. Rather than getting offended and being angry temporarily we need to be on guard against those who would interfere in one of the most private and important decisions a person might ever make.

Update: The policy isn’t on their website anymore. Show some courage! All across the internet people are Offended and asserting that this is NOT OK. The major issue I have with this is that most people prefer people of their own race in the mating game, and, most people select sperm donors who do reflect their own racial background. This isn’t just the retrograde, but the majority sentiment. The issue is that people don’t think that this should be imposed as a norm anymore. Obviously when you become a licensed professional you have particular obligations. But rather than enforcing the most up-to-date understanding of social policies to the most picayune details I believe that the best way to go is making these sorts of services widely available from an array of providers. That way there’s a minimum of imposition.

Update: The clinic claims it discontinued the policy a year ago. The website had not been updated, and the doctor who gave the quote about “Rainbow Families” was speaking in his personal capacity.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity, Science 
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  1. Robert Ford says: • Website
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  2. prosa123 [AKA "Peter"] says: • Website

    Alberta is pretty much the most conservative part of Canada.

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  3. Re: Socialized medicine – I do not believe that this clinic receives any public funds. Most provinces choose not to cover fertility treatments at all, though that is beginning to change. This clinic’s policy is very much outside the Canadian and Calgarian mainstream.

    I don’t think it’s correct to attribute this to political conservatism either. The current Conservative government is in power primarily thanks to a very deliberate and effective strategy of engaging and winning the support of recent immigrant communities. Conservatives have very effectively purged themselves of any racist elements, and Alberta’s (almost uniformly Conservative) political representation in Ottawa is the most reflective of its diversity of any province in Canada. In fact, the most recent example of racism in the public sphere was by the supposedly progressive Parti Québécois and their Charter of Values. That was rather sad too, as the Parti Québécois’ roots were very much as a diverse and inclusive party.

    I’m not saying that everything is sunshine and roses here – far from it. Racism and bigotry remain challenges that need to be addressed and continue to negatively affect main people’s lives. All I’m saying is that I think it is wrong to somehow attribute this specific case to a particular geographic or political label. Racist people do racist things. Apparently Dr. Greene is racist. Nor would I attribute this to any sort of religious fervour in Calgary or Alberta as a whole – both are among the most irreligious regions of Canada.

    I’d also point out that just last year Calgary re-elected a progressive, charismatic Muslim mayor of South Asian descent with a whopping 73.6% of the vote. To my knowledge this is the most votes won by any Muslim candidate seeking public office in the history of North America. The contrast with the overtly racist and homophobic Rob Ford should be obvious.

    There is an interesting ethical question here though. I would think that most people would prefer a gamete donor who resembles to some extent their partner to avoid awkward questions. Is that a “designer” baby though? And if it is, is that somehow unethical?

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  4. “designer baby” is a catchall rhetorical term. it means what you want it to mean. that’s why it’s a red flag when someone uses it. “genetic engineering” comes close, as most people aren’t talking about CRISPR.

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  5. “Officials at the clinic didn’t reply to an interview request Monday, but administrative director Calvin Greene told the Calgary Herald that it is better to raise children who resemble their parents.”

    Very common sentiment. We call it “looks like me”. Nobody looks like me in this family. It was nice to finally be in a place where people looked like me. Its nice to have some people at work who look like me. Its great to finally have a POTUS who looks like me, it makes me feel that I could achieve the same thing someday. Etc.

    “A child of an ethnic background should have the ability to be able to identify with their ethnic roots,” Dr. Greene said.

    This is a hot topic amongst adoptees, many of them “children of color” adopted by white parents and raised in predominantly white environments. When they are children of color from foreign countries it gets even more deep.

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  6. Suppose we use a definition along the lines of “deliberate selection of specific genetic traits.” Suppose I wanted my child to have blue eyes or the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Would selecting either of those traits be unethical? I would think favouring either would be pretty easy to accomplish through careful selection of the gamete donor(s).

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    • Replies: @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    "Genius sperm banks select sperm donors based mainly on achievements and genetic quality rather than based solely on sperm donor appearance, race, and sperm quality. They cater to clients who want to improve the intelligence of their child by selecting a sperm donor of superior intelligence and outstanding achievements. The following is a list of achiever and genius sperm banks and other sperm sources of which the author is aware. "

    http://www.geniusspermbank.com/
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  7. @CupOfCanada
    Suppose we use a definition along the lines of "deliberate selection of specific genetic traits." Suppose I wanted my child to have blue eyes or the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Would selecting either of those traits be unethical? I would think favouring either would be pretty easy to accomplish through careful selection of the gamete donor(s).

    “Genius sperm banks select sperm donors based mainly on achievements and genetic quality rather than based solely on sperm donor appearance, race, and sperm quality. They cater to clients who want to improve the intelligence of their child by selecting a sperm donor of superior intelligence and outstanding achievements. The following is a list of achiever and genius sperm banks and other sperm sources of which the author is aware. ”

    http://www.geniusspermbank.com/

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  8. “Genius sperm banks select sperm donors based mainly on achievements and genetic quality rather than based solely on sperm donor appearance, race, and sperm quality. They cater to clients who want to improve the intelligence of their child by selecting a sperm donor of superior intelligence and outstanding achievements. The following is a list of achiever and genius sperm banks and other sperm sources of which the author is aware. ”

    http://www.geniusspermbank.com/

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  9. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    The “designer baby” argument is turning the issue on its head. Actually it’s the clinic that is asserting the right to design your baby according to its notions of racial purity or whatever.

    On a different point, I wonder to what extent people actually do “prefer people of their own race”, rather than just selecting a mate from within their own social or cultural group. Any references for this?

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  10. VincentT says:

    Don’t these people know that any form of racial identity is only acceptable when it is non-white?!

    From the LA Times:

    “Since 1972, the influential National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) has taken this stance, suggesting that interracial adoption is a form of “genocide” and that “black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people.”

    “Same race makes sense because it is what the child is accustomed to, what causes the least disruption in the child’s life,” says Toni Oliver, a chairman of the organization. “Oftentimes when people are looking at ‘love is all it takes,’ they seem to overlook the impact race has on our society. Somehow when it’s a case of adoption, race suddenly doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”

    The North American Council on Adoptable Children also has serious reservations. “It is probably optimal if children are placed in same-race, same-culture placements, but we do not condone delaying placement and preventing children from finding homes just to meet that optimal placement,” says spokeswoman Diane Riggs.”

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  11. “Same race makes sense because it is what the child is accustomed to, what causes the least disruption in the child’s life,” says Toni Oliver

    This mattered a lot several decades ago, but less so now and will matter even less a decade from now, as interracial coupling increases. I believe its around 30% of American kids below the age of 10 who are mixed race. Does this have an impact on adoption?

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  12. you’re off by a factor of more three

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/number-of-biracial-babies-soars-over-past-decade/2012/04/25/gIQAWRiAiT_story.html

    though a lot of the ‘hispanic’ category is scientifically mixed race, so in that sense the 30 percent is correct, but socially it isn’t perceived as such.

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  13. Anthony says:

    I think one reason you have strange political alignments going on with this issue is the debate over nurture vs nature showing up in odd ways. You say:

    People aren’t born with their culture, they’re inculcated with it.

    This is true to some extent, but there are both right and left arguments against it.
    Right: misquoting Derb, “culture is the vector sum of individuals’ behavior”. Since many behavior patterns are highly heritable and regionally varied, people are born with at least a tendency towards a culture.
    Left: Inculcation of a culture is not just by the parents or the people the parents choose to be with their child. A black child in the U.S., for example, will have different experiences than a white child, and that will shape the child’s attitudes and culture. So even though the child isn’t born with the culture, society will assign the child a culture based on what the child is born with.

    So it’s easy enough to construct both right and left arguments for or against the clinic’s policy.

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  14. #13, i disagree with both positions on empirical grounds. but yeah, sure. or at least i don’t think the influence of both is overwhelming when it comes to cultural orientation of a given individual. though it depends on the cultural traits you are looking at.

    in this particular case the primary issue was that the clinic had a monopoly in calgary and seemed to be curtailing choices which are now normative in the broader society.

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  15. The reason I’m not outraged and ranting about the stupidity of this is because I have been to Alberta, and I never intend to go there again – it’s like some dreadful dystopic vision of White Man’s Hell. And believe me, I’ve been to some pretty damned dreadful white-only populated places, but Alberta is the pits.

    When I was in Edmonton, depopulation was so rampant that prime city office space was being offered for C$1 per square foot – the white Albertans were just desperate to get away from each other, and I seriously don’t blame them – I was desperate to get away from them too. I could have afforded to buy a whole office block in the middle of the city, but why would I want to?

    Calgary’s only claim to relevance is that it has a major international airport that serves as a gateway to the USA.

    Some Albertan has been pontificating stupidly on something? What’s new, and who cares? Just go somewhere else – it’s bound to be better than Alberta just about anywhere.

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    • Replies: @CupOfCanada
    @Shuddh Bharatiyaan

    I'm not sure that those genius sperm banks would actually be legal in Canada. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that though.

    @Sandgroper

    I'll admit I'm not particularly fond of Edmonton. There are worse cities out there but yah... Calgary really isn't that bad though aside from the sprawl. When were you last there? It may have changed in the mean time.
    , @The most deplorable one

    Just go somewhere else – it’s bound to be better than Alberta just about anywhere.
     
    Like Detroit?

    Last time I was in Vancouver (not that long ago) I had a great chat in a Chinese restaurant with a Chinese petroleum engineer (originally from HK) who lived in Alberta. Of course, he is only one of the two or three Chinese people I know. Still, I could understand his Cantonese (as long as he stuck to the two or three words I know.)

    Some Albertan has been pontificating stupidly on something?
     
    Could have been worse. Could have been an Australian!

    (Seems like there is a bug in the edit feature. If I edit a comment it gets marked as spam.)
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  16. Sean says:

    A mixed race person should avoid having children with someone of the same mix . The deletious alleles would not be shielded

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  17. @Sandgroper
    The reason I'm not outraged and ranting about the stupidity of this is because I have been to Alberta, and I never intend to go there again - it's like some dreadful dystopic vision of White Man's Hell. And believe me, I've been to some pretty damned dreadful white-only populated places, but Alberta is the pits.

    When I was in Edmonton, depopulation was so rampant that prime city office space was being offered for C$1 per square foot - the white Albertans were just desperate to get away from each other, and I seriously don't blame them - I was desperate to get away from them too. I could have afforded to buy a whole office block in the middle of the city, but why would I want to?

    Calgary's only claim to relevance is that it has a major international airport that serves as a gateway to the USA.

    Some Albertan has been pontificating stupidly on something? What's new, and who cares? Just go somewhere else - it's bound to be better than Alberta just about anywhere.

    I’m not sure that those genius sperm banks would actually be legal in Canada. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that though.

    I’ll admit I’m not particularly fond of Edmonton. There are worse cities out there but yah… Calgary really isn’t that bad though aside from the sprawl. When were you last there? It may have changed in the mean time.

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  18. lefty says:

    I’ve never been to Calgary, but Sandgroper is groping a bit with his attack.

    According to wikipedia:

    As of 2006, nearly one in four people in Calgary belonged to a visible minority group

    It may or may not be hell, but it’s not exclusively ‘white man hell’ (whatever that is)

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  19. Jefferson says:

    How does Canada classify “Mixed Race babies” ? Is it mostly applied to babies who are say half White and half Black for example ?

    Is a baby who is 1/16 Eskimo but otherwise predominantly White, classified as a “Mixed Race baby” ? Using the one drop rule, Sarah Palin’s children are “Mixed Race” because they have some minor Eskimo ancestry.

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  20. jqhart says:

    “Designer baby”? How about “genetic experiment”? Like sitting all day long, eating lots of sugar, etc., mixed race offspring are biological experiments we are doing on ourselves that very seldom happened among our ancestors in the environments of evolution. Ideological certainty notwithstanding, we don’t know what most of the biological consequences, good or bad, for mixed-race descendants are going to be.

    Of course when it did on rare occasions happen among our ancestors, even between what we categorize as different species, the results could be very important — e.g. the Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA many of us have. But as a percentage of matings these were extremely small, and probably resulted in many extra failures on the way to the longer-term success of giving selection more genetic diversity to work with. Mixed-race offspring are high-risk (potential for both high rewards and high dangers) genetic experiments.

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    • Replies: @The most deplorable one

    Like sitting all day long, eating lots of sugar, etc., mixed race offspring are biological experiments we are doing on ourselves that very seldom happened among our ancestors in the environments of evolution.
     
    In some sense all babies are genetic experiments, surely.

    (Why did this stupid comment system declare one of my comments as spam? It had no links or anything.)
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  21. mixed race offspring are biological experiments we are doing on ourselves that very seldom happened among our ancestors in the environments of evolution. Ideological certainty notwithstanding, we don’t know what most of the biological consequences, good or bad, for mixed-race descendants are going to be.

    this is false.

    1) years ago greg cochran and henry harpending tried to find evidence of hybrid breakdown (reduced fertility) in mixed race pairings. they found none

    2) there are plenty of examples of racial admixture. all of latin america for example. second, and more to the point, almost all the world’s populations alive today are the products of admixture between very divergent lineages over the last 10,000 years. see figure 1 & figure 2

    http://biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2014/03/21/003517.full.pdf

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    • Replies: @Chuck
    "1) years ago greg cochran and henry harpending tried to find evidence of hybrid breakdown (reduced fertility) in mixed race pairings. they found none"

    Can you provide some cites? I've come across dated research (from the '70s) which found increased miscarriage rates linked with increased parental genetic distance (across Europe). Has this idea been debunked?
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  22. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    This is an absolute classic – if you want to see rank stupidity in action, look up the Wikipedia explanation of “visible minority”.

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  23. The most deplorable one [AKA "The fourth doorman of the apocalypse"] says:
    @jqhart
    "Designer baby"? How about "genetic experiment"? Like sitting all day long, eating lots of sugar, etc., mixed race offspring are biological experiments we are doing on ourselves that very seldom happened among our ancestors in the environments of evolution. Ideological certainty notwithstanding, we don't know what most of the biological consequences, good or bad, for mixed-race descendants are going to be.

    Of course when it did on rare occasions happen among our ancestors, even between what we categorize as different species, the results could be very important -- e.g. the Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA many of us have. But as a percentage of matings these were extremely small, and probably resulted in many extra failures on the way to the longer-term success of giving selection more genetic diversity to work with. Mixed-race offspring are high-risk (potential for both high rewards and high dangers) genetic experiments.

    Like sitting all day long, eating lots of sugar, etc., mixed race offspring are biological experiments we are doing on ourselves that very seldom happened among our ancestors in the environments of evolution.

    In some sense all babies are genetic experiments, surely.

    (Why did this stupid comment system declare one of my comments as spam? It had no links or anything.)

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  24. The most deplorable one [AKA "The fourth doorman of the apocalypse"] says:
    @Sandgroper
    The reason I'm not outraged and ranting about the stupidity of this is because I have been to Alberta, and I never intend to go there again - it's like some dreadful dystopic vision of White Man's Hell. And believe me, I've been to some pretty damned dreadful white-only populated places, but Alberta is the pits.

    When I was in Edmonton, depopulation was so rampant that prime city office space was being offered for C$1 per square foot - the white Albertans were just desperate to get away from each other, and I seriously don't blame them - I was desperate to get away from them too. I could have afforded to buy a whole office block in the middle of the city, but why would I want to?

    Calgary's only claim to relevance is that it has a major international airport that serves as a gateway to the USA.

    Some Albertan has been pontificating stupidly on something? What's new, and who cares? Just go somewhere else - it's bound to be better than Alberta just about anywhere.

    Just go somewhere else – it’s bound to be better than Alberta just about anywhere.

    Like Detroit?

    Last time I was in Vancouver (not that long ago) I had a great chat in a Chinese restaurant with a Chinese petroleum engineer (originally from HK) who lived in Alberta. Of course, he is only one of the two or three Chinese people I know. Still, I could understand his Cantonese (as long as he stuck to the two or three words I know.)

    Some Albertan has been pontificating stupidly on something?

    Could have been worse. Could have been an Australian!

    (Seems like there is a bug in the edit feature. If I edit a comment it gets marked as spam.)

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  25. “believe me, I’ve been to some pretty damned dreadful white-only populated places”

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  26. shmiggen says:

    “the fourth doorman of the apocalypse.”

    lolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllzlolzzllz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  27. shmiggen says:

    Our genes are supposed to mix; it’s an adaptation to a changing environment, donchaknow?

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  28. #27, well, there’s hybrid breakdown. there’s a limit to how much genetic mixing is viable in an individual. though genes themselves go horizontal all the time….

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  29. Chuck says: • Website
    @Razib Khan
    mixed race offspring are biological experiments we are doing on ourselves that very seldom happened among our ancestors in the environments of evolution. Ideological certainty notwithstanding, we don’t know what most of the biological consequences, good or bad, for mixed-race descendants are going to be.

    this is false.

    1) years ago greg cochran and henry harpending tried to find evidence of hybrid breakdown (reduced fertility) in mixed race pairings. they found none

    2) there are plenty of examples of racial admixture. all of latin america for example. second, and more to the point, almost all the world's populations alive today are the products of admixture between very divergent lineages over the last 10,000 years. see figure 1 & figure 2

    http://biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2014/03/21/003517.full.pdf

    “1) years ago greg cochran and henry harpending tried to find evidence of hybrid breakdown (reduced fertility) in mixed race pairings. they found none”

    Can you provide some cites? I’ve come across dated research (from the ’70s) which found increased miscarriage rates linked with increased parental genetic distance (across Europe). Has this idea been debunked?

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  30. Can you provide some cites? I’ve come across dated research (from the ’70s) which found increased miscarriage rates linked with increased parental genetic distance (across Europe). Has this idea been debunked?

    no, greg and henry never published because there’s nothing worth publishing (my understanding is they were looking for the converse, as that would be a novel result). europeans are genetically extremely close to each other. if there were increased miscarriage rates i’m 90% sure it has to do with the blood group cline. in addition to Rh it looks like O mothers have higher rates of spontaneous abortion with AO and BO fetuses.

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  31. […] to allow multi-ethnic inseminations on the grounds of it constituted “designer babies.” Razib Khan […]

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  32. […] to allow multi-ethnic inseminations on the grounds of it constituted “designer babies.” Razib Khan […]

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