More on "treating" sexual orientation in utero
Julian Sanchez has an interesting response my earlier post on Southern Baptist pastor Albert Mohler's declaration parents should "treat" their fetuses for homosexuality if there were pre-natal tests for sexual orientation.
Julian agrees that the nature/nurture question is morally irrelevant when it comes to homosexuality. If we agree that sexual choice is a human right and that all sexual orientations are equally compatible with the Good Life, then it doesn't really matter how much of our sexual orientation is influenced by our genes. Sexual orientation might be a free choice that everyone has the right to make. Or it might be more more aspect of the healthy inborn variability that makes our species interesting. If you're someone who thinks that homosexuality is wrong or bad, the nature/nuture argument doesn't matter all that much either. All Christians believe that God has given us certain appetites that predispose us towards sin--like lust, greed, sloth, etc. Nobody supposes that God gave everyone the same vices in the same degrees. Some people are naturally hungrier or hornier or more wrathful than others. The bottom line, supposedly, is that we all have free will and are therefore responsible for not giving in to whatever animal urges we happened to inherit.
Getting back to Julian's post, he says he's not sure exactly how he feels about the ethics of pre-natal testing for sexual orientation:
Though on the question of taking measures in utero to determine the orientation of a child, I'm a bit fuzzier: Certainly, to the extent these are risky, it seems grotesque to chance leaving your child with some kind of serious physical defect just to ensure it comes out straight. But if it were safe? Certainly I'm out of sympathy with the sorts of motives we readily imagine as the source of such a choice—though it's also not hard to think of some less repugnant ones—but it's hard to argue it constitutes a wrong to the child, as such.
As I said in the comments at Julian's place, I think testing and in-utero "treatment" are interestingly different.
I don't think it's a wrong to the fetus, or the future person, to test for sexual orientation, per se. I'm even reluctantly prepared to accept parents' right to terminate pregnancies for reasons that I find frivolous or abhorrent. However, I'm vehemently opposed to the idea of "treating" homosexuality at any point in the life-cyle. Sexual orientations are not diseases, or disabilities.
For me, the bottom line is that fetuses aren't people, but pregnant women are. It's not wrong to the fetus to abort it, because it's not a person yet. Women don't have to justify their abortion decisions. It's enough that they don't want that fetus in their body.
Consider the ethics of sex-selection. I find it deeply creepy that couples abort daughters in order to bear more sons. I believe that this choice reveals deeply reprehensible motives, even though it is not in itself wrong. I also find it creepy that people spend a lot of money centrifuging their sperm in order to sex-select their children pre-conception. It's just disturbing and sad people care so much about gender. Still, I won't say it's wrong to try to influence the gender of your future children.*
Society must not force a woman to carry a child against her will in order to maintain desirable population parameters. A society with a full range sexual orientations is better than a world where heterosexual parents impose their preferences on the next generation. However, I'm not going to force anyone to be pregnant in the service of the social value of diversity.
If you don't like the fetus you got by luck, you can abort and start over. Likewise, you may ethically do things before conception to try to influence what kind of fetus you conceive. That said, the factors that influence such a decision might reflect very badly on your character. If you're aborting for height or body build or sexual orientation or gender, you're revealing yourself to be a horrifyingly shallow person, or worse.
On the other hand, I think it would be unequivocally wrong to continue with a pregnancy and start subjecting the fetus to so-called "medical treatments" in utero to change its sexual orientation. Heterosexuality is not a disease, and neither is homosexuality. Likewise, having a big nose isn't a disease, nor is a projected adult height of 5'2". There's evidence that your objective life prospects are better if you're better looking, but nobody thinks it's okay for parents to start doing plastic surgery in utero. It's frivolous for parents to start doing the equivalent of plastic surgery on their unborn children, with all the attendant moral and physical risks. The difference is that the fetus is eventually going to become a person who will have to live with the consequences of these interventions. All medical interventions have risks and it's not right to indulge your prejudices in the present when you know that the costs may eventually be visited upon an innocent person in the future.
*It might be irresponsible to sex-select your child in a society where sex selection is throwing off the gender balance of an entire generation, but that's a separate question. Likewise, it's probably somewhat socially irresponsible for doctors to provide tests that would enable couples to order up their future children a la carte. We've seen what humans do to the gene pools of purebred animals by aggressively selecting for superficially desirable characteristics. If there's a solution, it lies in education and more rational allocation of health care resources. A lot of women don't have any prenatal care at all in this country. The idea that gay testing should be embraced as part of medicine strikes me as obscene.