Review of The Future of Man, Edited by F. J. Ebling and G. W. Heath; London, Academic Press, 1972
The Eugenics Society Bulletin, Vol. 4, 2, June 1972, p. 44-5
This is the Proceedings of the 20th Symposium of the Institute of Biology, held in London in April last year; and it is unfortunate that such a grandiose title was chosen when, inevitably, the coverage was patchy. Perhaps only the first paper, a long one by Professor J. K. Page, attempts to do justice to the chosen theme, in this case in giving a forecast of changes in the distribution of the population of Great Britain in the next thirty years; the approach is that of the building expert rather than the biologist. Other contributions, slighter and less factually documented, are on natural resources and conservation, artificial synthesis of new life forms, the nature and control of ageing (an interesting paper by D. Bellamy), keeping people alive, drug‑taking, war, and the responsibilities of the scientist.
Anne McLaren discusses the future of the family in an advanced industrial society. She thinks that both egg transfer and control of the sex ratio are possibilities in the course of the next thirty years or so. The likely effect of sex control would be to reduce family size nearer to the 21 replacement mark, with most sibships consisting of a boy and a girl. In India, where sons are particularly desired for religious reasons, there might be a shift in the sex ratio towards male preponderance, with highly interesting possibilities of change in the relations of the sexes and family constitution. Humankind has tried out a great variety of family patterns, the basic mother‑child unit being supported by (1) the group as a whole, (2) the mother's male relatives, (3) a succession of temporarily attached males, (4) the biological father in (a) a polygamous or (b) a monogamous social organisation. All these patterns seem to work well; and the (4b) form, which we know so well, may have had its heyday.
This paper is followed by J. M. Thoday with a discussion of the right to reproduce. On what grounds can we say that a normal baby is to be preferred to one with, say, mongolism? Science offers no answer. However, if parents are allowed to decide in advance what kind of a child they would like to have, we can expect them, as a general rule, to opt for a normal rather than an abnormal baby. Science can provide the means to put these wishes into effect, and once parents are permitted to have their way, the trend towards a reduction of mongol births would be irresistable. Professor Thoday is anxious that we should not erode the concept of the sanctity of human life. He thinks genetic engineering has no advantage over the selection of gametes or of zygotes, and, where ethical considerations arise, is open to the same objections. He has no doubt that, if the community wishes to influence reproductive behaviour, this must be by persuasion and not by dictate. In the discussion, the fear is expressed that persuasive measures may not prove enough.
The symposium, both the papers and the edited discussions, is well worth reading; but there is not very much that is unfamiliar. It does not live up to its title; H. G. Wells would have done it all much better!