Some Call Aim of Digid8 to Promote Eugenics in Dating Decisions
Recently on 60 Minutes an interview with a man some call a mad scientist stirred controversy about genetic analysis.
George Church, a Harvard University professor of genetics, heads Digid8, a company that intends to find genetic markers for diseases for potential mates who want to avoid others with genetic flaws, who might otherwise produce children with incurable diseases, such as Tay-Sachs for Jewish couples who share a genetic mutation.
For a fee, he will decide if your DNA is safe, or if you’re a good match for someone else in the dating pool using his service.
The feedback in the media—mainstream and social—was immediate and mostly negative. Deaf people took offense. Trans people took offense. Some scientists took offense. Eugenics!
You can see the 60 Minutes interview here.
Antonio Regalado of technologyreview.com saw the episode and wrote about the scientist and the TV show episode:
“None of the outraged hot takes offered any details on the app, but we now have exclusive details on the new DNA dating company spinning out of Church’s lab.”
Digid8, was incorporated in September by Barghavi Govindarajan, a self-described “Harvard-trained technologist, innovator & educator” who Church says is her co-founder in the start-up venture. The company takes its name from D8, internet slang for date, and will pursue what Church calls “whole-genome dating.”
The idea is to use DNA comparisons to make sure people who share a genetic mutation, like those with cystic fibrosis, never meet, fall in love, marry and have children.
While many couples have prenatal testing on the embryos they are fertilizing, they don’t pre-empt relationships with someone in advance because of a potential issue. However, sometimes the results show an existing disease or physical malfunction and the couple will back out the pregnancy, which is clearcut eugenics.
The Harvard professor says he’s funding the startup himself, along with some investors he didn’t want to name.
On 60 Minutes, he claimed it could be a cheap way to eradicate thousands of diseases that cost “about a trillion dollars a year, worldwide.”
Church’s lab received research funding from underage sex-crime convict Jeffrey Epstein, so it’s not great timing for him to get into the dating game. A story on sciencemarketnews.com explains that Epstein’s rationale for funding makes impacts the credibility of the project.
Epstein had a twisted take on genetics, internet hosting scientific conferences at which he expressed his want to propagate his personal genome by impregnating as much as 20 girls at a time at his New Mexico ranch, like cattle inventory.
The story gives ethicists pause to consider scientific tests as a decision making tool for who gets to be born, flawed or not. Whether or not “gene dating” will be a thing remains to be seen. The company is still in the process of hiring employees and will not officially launch for some time.
read more at technologyreview.com
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