Is there a Gay Gene?
DANIEL: Well - when I say sexuality – what I mean is that research has shown a certain spread of genes can indicate – only indicate you understand – a predilection towards homosexual behaviour.
I think it’s important to emphasise the word ‘predilection’ at this point – I mean obviously environment and upbringing will play a significant part in the child’s development.
In ‘Making Astronauts’, (Adam because of his own experiences of growing up Gay) wants to select an embryo that does not display genes for homosexuality.
The debate over whether sexual orientation is a matter of choice and whether it is therefore possible to change one’s sexual orientation or if it is an inherent and immutable trait, is surrounded by controversy. The implications of each view are wide-ranging and important in terms of society’s treatment and acceptance of, for example, homosexuality. Arguments have been made that traits such as sexuality, aggression and intelligence are outcomes of inheritance, family background, socio-economic environment, individual choice and even, divine intervention. However, recent studies have suggested that there is a genetic component to sexuality.
Does a gay gene/genes exist?
In the summer of 1993, Dean H. Hamer and his research team at the National Cancer Institute announced their discovered evidence of a connection between genetics and some male homosexuality. By constructing family trees in instances where two or more brothers are gay, and performing actual laboratory testing of the supposed homosexual DNA , Hamer located a region near the end of the long arm of the X chromosome that likely contains a gene influencing sexual orientation. Men receive an X chromosome from their mother and a Y chromosome from their father (women receive two Xs, one from each parent); because of this it is assumed that the possible ‘gay gene’ is inherited maternally. Mothers can pass on this gene without themselves, nor their daughters, being homosexual.
Subsequent reports in the media suggested that the ‘gay gene’ had been found. It is, however, extremely unlikely that there is a single ‘gay gene’ to determine such a complex thing as sexual orientation, but our genes may still influence the way in which our brain perceives sexuality and its interaction with the outside world.
The ethical implications of a ‘gay gene'
Many have hoped that an understanding of genetic influences on sexuality might help homosexuals to gain real acceptance by establishing homosexuality as ‘natural’ behaviour. Although others have worried that the link between genetics and sexuality will lead to a view of homosexuality as an ‘illness’ or ‘flaw’, for which we can test.
If we eventually accept as fact that male homosexuality is genetically inherited, then the ethical logic that follows could go in a number of different directions.
Does the genetic disposition toward homosexuality limit the person's free will in the realm of sexuality? And, if so, what are the ethical implications of this discovery? Two answers seem logically possible. On the one hand, a homosexual man could claim that because he inherited this gene and did not choose a gay orientation by his own free will, he should not be discriminated against, or judged to be in any way, different to another member of society. He could claim this because homosexuality could not be judged immoral, on the grounds that it is natural; or, even if society believes homosexuality to be immoral, he could not help the fact that he has inherited his particular genome.
On the other hand, society could take the opposite position and refuse to accept homosexual behavior, even if it is proven to be genetically determined. Homosexuality could be accepted as a biological fact, but still be rejected socially, on the grounds that it lies outside of a culture's traditional, or preconceived, values and norms. In this way, homosexuality would parallel current societal views of other forms of unacceptable, though often genetically-based, behaviors, such as alcoholism and obesity. The underlying premise of this position is that innate genetic dispositions, though outside of a person's conscious control, do not excuse the behavior, trait, or lifestyle. We are then left with the unanswered question: Does our biological predisposition toward a specific behavior in itself make that behavior moral or immoral?
Selecting out homosexuality?
To return to the situation faced by Martin and Adam in Making Astronauts, what would happen if we were able to ‘select out’ fetuses before they are born, with prior knowledge of the unborn child’s future sexual orientation?
When Dr James Watson, who helped to discover the structure of DNA passed comment on this idea, outrage ensued.
Proposal for abortion of 'gay' gene babies slammed
CANBERRA, Australia (CWN) - A Nobel Prize-winning scientist became the object of scorn and outrage on Monday after he proposed that an unborn child that displays a so-called "gay" gene be aborted.
Dr. James Watson, 68, who helped discover DNA, reportedly told the
London Sunday Telegraph: "If you could find the gene which determines
sexuality and a woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child, well,
let her (abort the fetus)."
Pro-life and pro-homosexual groups were united in their derision of Watson's comments. Right to Life Australia chairman Margaret Tighe said that killing unborn children because they could have a predisposition to an unwanted sexuality would be a crude and blatant form of discrimination. "Abortion for whatever reason discriminates against a tiny member of our human family and denies the most fundamental of human rights," she said in a statement.
Debate continues: should we have the right to select out homosexual
fetuses? would proof of a genetic basis for homosexuality make it more
or less acceptable to society and does that genetic basis necessarily
make it moral or immoral? More fundamental, however, is the debate which
still continues as to what determines sexual orientation - nature? nurture?
free will? Above we have dealt only with the implication of scientific
research for perceptions of male homosexuality; if sexual orientation
were proven to determines by genetic make-up, what implications would
this have for perceptions of female homosexuality, or transvestitism,
transexuality or bisexuality? In this case, as in many, the implications
of scientific research are wide-ranging and deeply felt: the ethical,
sociological and psychological questions it raises far out-weigh the
answers it provides.
© Copyright Y Touring Theatre company an operation of central ymca, registered charity No. 213121