More on Lori Andrews, the bioethicist | Bleader

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More on Lori Andrews, the bioethicist

Posted By on 12.27.11 at 08:00 AM

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In last week’s People Issue, we gave a little bit of extra print space to one of my subjects—the bioethicist Lori B. Andrews—though we could've used even more. (Thirty minutes into our lengthy, fascinating interview, Andrews expressed concern for whatever “poor intern” would be doing the transcribing, and with good reason: one of her answers, typed, ran two pages long.) Andrews, who directs Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Institute for Science, Law, and Technology, had an intriguing anecdote for every topic we covered: Diabetic students whose insulin needles are considered “weapons” by their schools; the native tribe whose genes were used for origins research without their consent; the Chicago law firm that shows new hirees their drunk, inappropriate, and publicly available Facebook pictures to modify their Internet behavior.

It was fun to be able to present the profile in the first-person—in Andrew’s distinctive, erudite voice—but, as a supplement, you’re advised to check out Bryan Smith’s excellent profile from the February 2011 issue of Chicago magazine—it’s a nice overview of Andrews’s life and work. A few snippets are posted below, though the entire article is well worth reading in its entirety.

There were the early inspirations:

At age seven, when her Ken doll went bald, she did what any enterprising schoolgirl destined for Yale Law School would do: “I wrote to Mattel,” she says. “I got action, too.” (Mattel sent a new doll’s head.)

The covert mission to investigate a genuises-only sperm bank in Escondido, California:

She arrived in Escondido expecting to find “some supercool science-fictiony place.” Instead, she “descended the stairs behind [Graham] and entered what looked like a suburban rec room.” The two-inch vials of sperm he kept there, frozen in liquid nitrogen, were shipped to women in special two-foot-high containers. . . .

A few years after her visit, the sperm bank went out of business. “But it wasn’t because we all of the sudden realized it was a bad way to go,” Andrews says. “It went out of business because now every sperm bank offers genetically enhanced sperm.” The California Cryobank, for example, offers sperm from donors who look like famous actors and athletes, she says, as well as gene choices related to education, athleticism, religion, ethnicity, build, skin tone, musicality, facial features, and artistic ability.

To Andrews, such efforts to help create “designer” babies are fraught with ethical peril. “Too many Americans now approach procreation with a shopping-list mentality,” she wrote in Self magazine. “In the future, a daughter might sue her parents for not finding a ‘better’ egg donor to spawn her.”

And—the “topper”—a visit with the Raelians:

But the topper for Lori Andrews, the Downers Grove native who grew up to become one of the world’s foremost legal authorities on the most contentious technological and bioethical issues of our time, came with a 1998 visit to the UFO Café in UFOland, a theme park for the alien-worshiping Canadian cult known as the Raelians (Ray-AY-lee-ans).

The leader, Rael (a former sports-car journalist who changed his name from Claude Vorilhon after, he says, aliens abducted him in 1973), and his science director, Brigitte Bosselier, had just announced their intention to clone humans—and animals—at $200,000 a pop for anyone interested in replacing a loved one or a pet.

Andrews wangled an invitation to the compound at a remote farming village in Quebec to question the alien worshipers about the ethical subtleties of their clone-on-demand plan. Right away she was wary. “They told me, ‘We will have our second in command pick you up at the airport and drive two hours to an undisclosed location,’” Andrews recalls. “It felt a little dicey.”

At the UFO Café, after being escorted past a full-size silver-gray model of an alien spaceship and a glass case filled with UFO souvenirs (Japanese baby socks decorated with flying saucers, alien key rings), Andrews was led to a table spread with a plastic tablecloth. Her hosts’ apparel set the tone: Rael wore a white Elvis jumpsuit; Bosselier was dressed as Cleopatra.

Rael explained that ultimately he wanted people to be able to clone themselves and implant their memories in their new bodies—in short, to become immortal. “I see,” Andrews said.

And that’s when the bioethics issue came up. Rael continued, “Stupid people won’t be cloned. Imagine how bad it would be to be stupid for eternity.”

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