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Disclaimer: I understand that the question I'm about to pose has the potential, even the probability, of creating a firestorm response. I'm hoping it won't happen and thank everyone in advance for suspending your sense of political and religious activism while responding.

An article in my local newspaper proclaimed the successful completion of the first embryo gene-repair procedure. This got me thinking about writing a short story about an interview with the last surviving homosexual.

At this time, while I have heard many suggest corrolations between homosexuality and brain structure, to the best of my knowledge I know of no actual, factual proof that homosexuality is genetic and therefore "involuntary." This is not an invitation to complain about that statement! It is the basis for a story within a future time/world wherein the genetic dependency for homosexuality has been discovered. Not only does this provide the ability to separate the true homosexuals from the people who choose to live a homosexual life, but the combination of the two ideas produces the possibility that homosexuality can be "cured."

Yes, this is remeniscent of X-Men: The Last Stand. However, homosexuality doesn't enjoy the popularity of uber-cool super powers. It's easy for everyone to ask "why would you ever want to give that up?" concerning super powers. It's much more complicated to ask the same question of parents who want someday to be grandparents.

Obviously, there are a lot of directions this story can take, not the least of which is exploring the political compassion of allowing an "adult" (whatever that age distinction may be) to choose whether or not to go through the procedure. That's the X-Men: The Last Stand perspective. But there is also the question of what rights parents have to act in "the best interests" of their child, and what rights society or government have to do the same. I'm most interested in the relationship to the newborn.

So, here's my question: Given that this technology is politics-independent in that it can be used to cure Fibromyalgia as easily as it can homosexuality, what changes in our current society would be required to permit social mores to exist that would protect the idea that genetic differences leading to newborn gender disparity should not be modified?

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closed as too broad by Aify, Vincent, L.Dutch, Amadeus, Frostfyre Aug 11 '17 at 12:08

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ You'll likely get a more complete answer from the scientists and others that have been discussing this issue for many years. There is a wealth of discussion on this subject from many people out there. As a small but extensive beginning you could look at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing. Of particular interest might be the section entitled: Interrogating Equity: A Disability Justice Approach to Genetic Engineering. (Not that homosexuality is a disability, but the concepts here are applicable.) $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Aug 10 '17 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings, I did so because the technology is independent of the scope of its application. I added Fibromyalgia (and, equvilently, cystic fibrosis) because everyone agrees it's bad and should be fixed. What happens when it's not considered bad by everyone? What happens in an instance like this? $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 10 '17 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ What you are really asking doesn't really have anything to do with homosexuality but the bigger question of is it right to alter humans to cure things that aren't always viewed as negative. Eventually you would get to a point where everyone is exactly the same if people altered themselves to be what society thinks the perfect person is. It is a purely philosophical question and it really doesn't seem to fit with world building. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Aug 10 '17 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @A.C.A.C. There is a worldbuilding question in here. "What would cause a society to reject genetically engineering children, assuming they had a method that could both select for behavioral things like sexuality and gender identity and diseases like fibromyalgia?" Normally I'm a big fan of preemptively closing questions but If I'm correct about the crux of the question it seems an interesting one. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Aug 10 '17 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Meta discussion. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 11 '17 at 19:12
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The answer is all the way at the bottom of this long explanation. See TL:DR

In truth, by today's standards, you are more likely to have a situation where homosexuality becomes even more common due to this technology. You certainly wouldn't see it die out altogether, unless you have a hard shift in the behavior of people that practice the following three social doctrines.

Apathy and Tolerance

First, consider that in the last couples decades the homosexual pride community has become more active and visible than ever before. Large sects of the population, especially on the coasts, are far more open to both the ideas of selective gender identity and sexual identity, to the point that people appear to agree that homosexuality can be both hereditary and a lifestyle choice. More to the point, tracts of the populous just don't care, and believe people should more or less be able to do whatever they like in this regard. The "I just don't care what people do" mentality would have broad implications on the way this technology is used in that a lot of people just won't say anything one way or the other.

Activism and Modification

Second, there are individuals who actively pursue "meddling with" their inherent physical attributes by altering their apparent gender and undergoing sex reassignment surgery (SRS). Not only are people in large part accepting of these massive changes to an individual's physical self, there are large groups of people actively supporting and encouraging these changes. This means that there is a large portion of society that will no doubt actively seek modifications of this nature, and the prevailingly vocal people will advocate for the technology to become a staple of choice for people, not a "corrective measure."

Women's Choice

Finally, society is heavily adoptive of the notion that women (who will be carrying said fetus at the time of modification) have a right to dictate what happens to anything within their body, including a fetus. To this end, given current popular sentiment, there will be camps of people that use that basis for arguing in the end, women in question should have the choice to use or not use the procedure during their pregnancies as they see fit (up to a point in time, Dependant on the side-effects of the procedure.)

Conclusion

Using the above popular concepts, I think it is unlikely that society would draw the lines on modifying gender preference in unborn children, but to a different direction that you may have thought. It seems more likely to me that ability to modify a child's genetic predisposition will be en vogue, and in fact attractive not necessarily to "fix" anything, but rather as a means to ensure a behavior the parents desire.

I'm aware this sounds like a rather odd and possibly dark perspective of human nature. I'm saying essentially that, given the ability to control the outcome of our children, we will take advantage of this technology in the large part.

The thing is, we as a species show a preference to that. Sociology shows us that people spend time with others that either are most like who they already are, or like who they want to be, and eventually that is reflected either in one's friend group or in one's self. Dogs are selectively bred for the same reason: we want what we want, and we will do what we can to get it. The idea of "designer babies has been thrown around for years in discussing the technology of the future, and this is a clear (fictional) step in that direction. People want it and have wanted it and likely will want to use it.

TL:DR

The only thing that would keep people from using this or any technology - that would outweigh all the possible benefits of this technology - would be if it could be linked to causing autism or cancer. At which point all the groups either motivated to allow it or unmotivated to speak out against it will rise up to convince everyone to never do that to their children, unborn or otherwise.

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Yes social mores could definitely exist to oppose this type of "treatment" and they already do in many existing communities.

Any human community will act to protect itself, even if that community is defined by a trait with negative connotations by other communities in that society.

A good corollary to your question's situation is the acceptance (or lack thereof) of cochlear implants and other methods of restoring hearing among the deaf community. Many inside the deaf community do not view their lack of hearing as a negative thing or something that needs to be fixed at all and will often oppose any method to restore hearing in their children.

In a similar vein, most people of a non-binary gender orientation (or those associated with them) don't identify homosexuality as something negative that should be fixed or corrected. They would most definitely be opposed to this "treatment" being implemented in any sort of organized manner by governments or other groups.

On the other hand I could see a number of anti-gay (usually religious) communities gladly accepting and using this method within their group and advocating for it's use in society as a whole. There would be an interesting interplay of motivations as most of these same religious groups would likely otherwise be oppose to genetic modification of humans as messing with God's work.

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    $\begingroup$ Pointing out the cochlear implant issue is a good one. But while it's obvious that the deaf would oppose "fixing" their deaf children, how would we expect parents who can hear to react to the news that an unborn child would be deaf? Since homosexuals can't have children, their petition would be on behalf of other people's children. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 10 '17 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ Umm homosexuals can definitely have children, and I'm not talking just adoption. Surrogacy and artificial insemination are available and used. $\endgroup$ – Josh King Aug 10 '17 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Also homosexual communities will include many who are not themselves homosexual, but who will not view it as a negative trait and will likely oppose this treatment in their own children. $\endgroup$ – Josh King Aug 10 '17 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ I spoke rashly, focusing only on the issue of natural childbirth. Adoption would not be an issue with my question as the issue of mores would be addressed before the adoption could occur (although... it's an interesting story twist. What would the rights of a newborn's adoptive parents be?) and the question of using other technologies to promote childbirth certainly brings the community's opinions entirely into the storyline. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 10 '17 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH One prominent lesbian In New South Wales had been married, given birth to four children (she's Catholic, too) before turning in her gender orientation. Many homosexuals have been in different sex marriages and have had children (both male & female). In the bad old days, it was one way homosexuals concealed themselves in society. It's no wonder all this gender stuff is complicated. I was surprised by it too. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 25 at 7:36
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Given that this technology is politics-independent in that it can be used to cure Fibromyalgia as easily as it can homosexuality, what changes in our current society would be required to permit social mores to exist that would protect the idea that genetic differences leading to newborn gender disparity should not be modified?

These ideas already exist.

Cost This comes up in a number of different ways. First, if the government determines if they will pay for a procedure or not, and if insurance doesn't cover it. Second, homosexuals, while they can have treatments to have children, don't have children through the natural course of their relationships as breeders do. More homosexuals, not less, may result in the government's effort to stem population. (The fourth child must be homosexual, for example).

Today, the bar for insurance paying for sex reassignment is pretty dang high, as are the hormone treatments afterwards.

Communities Sticking together

Being gay isn't life-threatening, neither does it cause constant pain EXCEPT in a society where it isn't accepted--what this means is that it cannot be absent of politics. Politics and religion would for sure play a part if the effort was to eradicate this population.

It's even more fraught than the deaf community's fight to keep their way of life. They like their community, they don't think that there's anything wrong with not being able to hear, and so, some choose not to cure their children with current science.

Surprisingly, Religion

God created man in his own image. Does God make mistakes? The Vatican, Presbyterians and other Christian offshoots have begun to tackle this issue. Questions, such as "is the human genome sacred?" and "is humanity wise enough to mess with a process God has wrought?" are among those currently being asked. It's not beyond the pale that at least one or two major religious groups will say no to this, or have very specific rules against tinkering beyond a certain point. Other orders will go in the opposite direction, embracing this ability as a gift from God.

Choice of Identity

If an adult can have the surgery later, some parents will want to wait for their children to chose. As some parents decide not to circumcise--either because of family tradition or because they have researched and decided not to. In the case of gay, they might know gay people in their family and accept it, as one sort of identity, or they chose to allow things to play out.

Science

Choosing traits might mean that everyone is a little too...similar. If blue eyes are popular, and connected to other genetics which seem insignificant at the time--it may open the door to disease/viruses being able to attack a significantly larger population. Monoculture leads to disease--or being vulnerable to a particular thing. A diverse population is a better bet. If certain traits become popular and EVERYONE decides to get them, that's a set-up for disaster. If I were the government or a medical body, I would not allow, in a given year, more than a certain number of children genetically modified to have particular traits.

Gender and Sexuality is complex

Gender identity is really very complicated. There isn't any one thing that determines it. You are starting with the "IF this were possible" premise, but of course everything from hormones in the womb, to epigenetics, to brain chemistry, and actual xy xxy yy genes determine this.

IF this were possible, the number of changes that would need to be made in a short span of time for a newborn, might well completely change the child in ways that aren't as foreseeable as you might think. In other words there will be people who will believe, rightly or not, that this sort of fiddling causes autism or social problems later in life. (Of course if EVERY mental and social issue can be corrected via this... that's different.)

People may believe that something of value is lost

How many stories have you heard of geniuses who couldn't be social? Or of people whose differences lead to greater things? How many stories exist right now of people who, when they couldn't be physical, turned their mind to other things? How many people became great artists because they were different in the way they thought and looked at the world? And how can we know that "fixing" the gay and other things doesn't lose us benefits as a society and as individuals?

Was Einstein flawed as a baby? Would the genetic fix also lose us a Mozart? How about Stephen Hawking?

Genetics and experience are like a pile of paperclips. I can easily see groups making this argument. (It's somewhat flawed, but it is an argument that would be made).

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  • $\begingroup$ As some parents decide not to circumcise seems like this should be the other way around ... $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai Aug 11 '17 at 0:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Azor-Ahai Nope. Not the other way around. Deciding not to modify a child based on social and societal norms, concerning circumcision or genetic modification have a broad equivalency. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Aug 11 '17 at 3:17
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As always is the case drawing a line about something complex.

It is obvious a newborn is unable to take any decision, while an adult should be free to take any decision he pleases (as long as he/she doesn't violate a law or something). In the middle there is an infinite graduation and allowing the "right" amount of freedom, commensurate with discerning capability is a very hard job.

Something similar is in order here.

Of course bad genetic alterations should be corrected (think Dawn syndrome or worse) and it's clear (to me) "trivial" characteristics like hair color or breast size shouldn't be meddled with.

In the middle there's the ocean of things that may be thought as a "defect", but may also be an asset, in some circumstances.

If history serves we will see that "trivial" matters will be the most requested in practice.

Other things will be rarer and thus push on the governments would be much less.

It is arguable homosexuality impairs procreation, so I would suggest governments of overcrowded nations will leave this characteristic alone (if not "condemned" by some powerful religion).

Governments pushing for high birth rate would push for "correcting" this "obvious flaw".

Most likely result will depend if government gives in to the request for "trivial" modifications (given the huge push); in that case parents will probably get the "right" to decide.

In the opposite case meddling would be "illegal", but a lot of "underground helpers".

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