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California Cryobank and designer babies

In a marriage of modern science and the culture of celebrity, a Los Angeles-based sperm bank is grouping donors according to which famous people they resemble.

On its website, the California Cryobank asks: “Have you ever wondered if your favorite donor looks like anyone famous? You know how tall he is and his hair and eye color, but wouldn’t it be great to have an idea of what he really LOOKS like? Now you can find out with a CLICK of your mouse!” Browsers are typically directed to pictures of two or three celebrity lookalikes.

The purpose of the celebrity option is to compensate for the fact that, for privacy reasons, photographs of the donors themselves aren’t available. But it surely will appeal to star-struck prospective parents who dream of the day when a passerby peers into the stroller and remarks on Junior’s resemblance to this action hero or that talent contest winner — or maybe a combination of the two?

The program has its critics. David Stevens, chief executive officer of the Christian Medical and Dental Assns., said that it’s “another step down the road to the illusion of designer children.” But patrons of sperm banks long have been able to express a preference for some traits over others. Even if they don’t avail themselves of the celebrity option, women and couples are “designing” babies, or trying to anyway, when they choose donors based on height, ethnicity or intelligence.

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Moreover, modern reproductive technology isn’t the only way to pursue a preference for potential fathers who look like a favorite movie star. How many blind dates have begun with an assurance that “he looks just like Rudolph Valentino (or James Dean or Leonardo DiCaprio)”?

It’s one thing to hope for a strong, healthy, smart child, but it’s quite another to insist that your sperm donor look like Zac Efron, Shia LaBeouf or Seth Rogen (hey, what’s he doing on the list?). Genetic engineering of the first kind may or may not be morally wrong, but at least it’s understandable. The second is just silly. If you aspire to celebrity lookalike children, perhaps you’re not quite ready to be a parent.


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