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Dominic Cummings called for ‘designer babies’ on NHS

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Experts say Johnson’s aide misunderstood ‘key concepts’

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Thursday, February 20, 2020 - 6:00am

Boris Johnson’s controversial aide Dominic Cummings once suggested that the NHS should cover the cost of selecting babies to have higher IQs.

In a blog post on “designer babies”, Cummings said he believed rich couples would inevitably select embryos with “the highest prediction for IQ”. He also proposed that “a national health system should fund everybody to do this” to avoid an unfair advantage for rich would-be parents.

The post, written in 2014 after Cummings had attended a Silicon Valley science conference at Google, said: “Once we identify a substantial number of IQ genes, there is no obvious reason why rich people will not select the egg that has the highest prediction for IQ.

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“This clearly raises many big questions. If the poor cannot do the same, then the rich could quickly embed advantages and society could become not only more unequal but also based on biological classes. One response is that if this sort of thing does become possible, then a national health system should fund everybody to do this.”

However, experts say Cummings does not understand the science of the matter. David Curtis, an honorary professor in the UCL Genetics Institute at University College London, told The Guardian that Johnson’s aide had “fundamentally misunderstood key concepts in genetics and his suggestions are wildly unrealistic”.

Bobbie Farsides, a professor of clinical and biomedical ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said: “It would be such a huge step away from the fundamental values that inform embryo selection at the moment that it’s almost inconceivable. We are so many million miles away from this being on the agenda.”

Cummings has written about eugenics in a separate post. In a 2013 piece, he cited research that concluded that discovering “genes responsible for general cognitive ability and specific abilities and disabilities” would “enable truly personalised education including early intervention for specific learning difficulties”.

The latest row comes days after Cummings hit the headlines over his appointment of Andrew Sabisky, who has claimed in the past that black Americans have a lower than average IQ than white Americans and are more likely to have an “intellectual disability”. Sabisky has since stood down.

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