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Will the Supreme Court block gays from splicing DNA to create a baby?

Will the Supreme Court block gays from splicing DNA to create a baby?

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Will the right to privacy upheld by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade extend to an egg created by fusing DNA from a pair of same sex parents?

Chromosomes, stained and magnified

Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor, wants to know whether the right to privacy upheld by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade will extend to an egg created by fusing DNA from a pair of same sex parents.

It sounds crazy, but these are the issues Rosen and his colleague Benjamin Wittes are wrestling with in a report for Brookings called Constitution 3.0. Their goal, which they articulated in a recent panel discussion: to determine what areas of the constitution will become the legal battlegrounds of the future.

Other ground covered by the pair include the legality of Google or Facebook live-streaming from security cameras around the world, and police using hand-held functional MRI scanners to determine whether a suspect has been in a place before, by measuring activity in the part of the brain that recognizes familiar places.

But back to the right to privacy of an embryo: Humans cloning is banned in the U.S., but the GATTACA-like technology known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis is not. In PGD, parents screen embryos for undesirable traits. It's not quite genetic engineering of humans, but it's definitely artificial selection.

Science fiction authors and scientists themselves have speculated for generations that the human male is unnecessary, and that genetic material could just as well be exchanged between women, eliminating the male sex altogether. If that sounds far-fetched, keep in mind that this feat has already been achieved, and reproduced multiple times, in mice.

So will the Supreme Court of 2030 be asked to rule on the legality of a technology that could allow parents to eliminate the need for sex at all? That depends on how hard we push to bring this technology to humans. Given how attached most people seem to be to gender, much less sex, my guess is, it won't happen anytime soon. On the other hand, it's hard to argue that the male sex is as useful in a technologically enabled society as it was in one ruled by predators, fire and between-group conflict.

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Christopher Mims

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Christopher Mims has written for Scientific American, WIRED, Popular Science, Fast Company, Good, Discover, Slate, Technology Review, Nature and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Formerly, he was an editor at Scientific American, Grist and Seed. He is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure