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Harvard Geneticist Making Genetics-Based Dating App Thinks It's Ridiculous That We're Comparing It to Eugenics

Illustration for article titled Harvard Geneticist Making Genetics-Based Dating App Thinks Its Ridiculous That Were Comparing It to Eugenics
Photo: Craig Barritt (Getty Images for The New Yorker)

Harvard geneticist George Church thinks it’s “ludicrous” to compare his dating app — that uses genes to pair adults together — to eugenics. “It’s ludicrous to think that’s what I’m doing, but it makes good clickbait, doesn’t it?” Church told The Daily Beast.

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Church’s dating app would stop people from matching with potential partners with “similar genetic mutations” that could result in conditions like Tay-Sachs, according to The Daily Beast. It would be a premium service on already existing dating apps. “Eugenics is coercive. Rather than restricting people’s options for their health and their families, we’re expanding them. We’re not going to be forcibly sterilizing people, if that’s the business model they think we’re up to,” Church said. “That’s as far from what we intend to do as can be.”

He’s painting the idea as a way to help people create families. “If you know what you’re doing is the right thing to help families have healthy children, I don’t think you need to worry whether somebody somewhere has been associated with you in a way that’s less than ideal,” Church told The Daily Beast.

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Curious about person associated with it who’s “less than ideal”? Church used the interview to distance his connection to the late Jeffrey Epstein, who at one point proposed inseminating hundreds of women on his New Mexico farm. “Just because they hung out with me briefly doesn’t mean I bought into their malarkey in any sense, just like geneticists today don’t buy into the eugenics of the 1920s,” Church told The Daily Beast.

Epstein was one of the funders of Church’s lab at Harvard, and Church maintained contact with the convicted sex offender after Epstein registered as sex offender. In fact, Church went to Epstein’s private island, Little St. James, in 2007. But don’t worry, the scientists in attendance slept on a separate island. “Scientific meetings take place all over the place, and usually you’re so wrapped up in the meeting that you don’t take advantage of the place you’re in. This was one of those cases. We did our science nerd thing and left,” Church said.

Church said doctors will be the people drawing the line about what is acceptable to weed out of offspring, likely genes that produce “illnesses that cause very premature deaths, often with pain and a lot of medical costs,” he said. “There is no line, just as there’s no line with what speed limits should be on the road, but you have to draw one, and medical doctors are very good at drawing practical lines.”

The only good part of this interview is his assertion that he’s open to suggestions! “If any doubters, after they see what’s actually there, make a compelling counterargument, I may change directions,” Church told The Daily Beast. “I’m very open to suggestions, and I’m very interested to hear what everybody has to say once they see what’s really there.”

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My compelling counterargument: Being casual about eugenics has never ended well.

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DISCUSSION

heywooducuddleme
Heywood U Cuddleme

Can’t you just do genetic screenings to see if you and your partner are carriers of whatever diseases you have in your respective families? Why turn it to a dating app? I’m not going to date someone just because neither of us has the genes for Huntington’s disease. And if it did turn out both me and my partner are carriers for some horrific disease, I wouldn't dump them. IVF is no fun, but it allows you to do genetic testing on embryos if you are at risk for passing on a disease to your kids.