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Week of 19 March 2004 · Vol. VII, No. 24

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People: Planned parenthood

For those couples who are willing to shell out thousands of dollars, an experimental sperm-sorting procedure known as MicroSort can help them in a particularly controversial form of family planning: predetermining the sex of their baby. The March 1 issue of People reports that the Genetics and IVF Institute, which holds the technology's patent, claims to have produced 500 pregnancies and 420 babies since clinical trials on the procedure began in 1994. Such procedures could lead to a generation of “designer kids,” say critics of the program. “Children are not products you can buy like pets,” says George Annas, an SPH professor of health law, bioethics, and human rights. “Why not select for eye color, height, and strength? This is treating children like commodities.”

Boston Globe: Pols who permit same-sex marriages fuel civil disobedience

Public officials in six states who have either performed same-sex marriages or allowed such marriages to be performed in government offices are using their power to commit acts of civil disobedience and precipitate social change, says the March 15 Boston Globe. These politicians may have a personal history of activism, ascribe to the belief that sometimes laws are made to be broken, or are more willing to take a public stand supporting such nuptials, particularly when they reside in areas that are largely sympathetic to such unions. Supporting gay marriages may be a smart move for certain politicians, says Jack Beermann, a LAW professor of law instruction, J. D. Program, but it is still unusual for government officials to defy the law to influence social change. “There is a respectable view that government officials should not engage in civil disobedience, that they should resign if they feel that the law is so unjust that they shouldn't follow it,” says Beermann. “But I think the motivation of some of these officials is that they also take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. They feel . . . their higher duty is to the Constitution.”

The American Lawyer: Corporate legal ethics makeovers bypass nation's law schools

Since the Enron fiasco, in-house and outside corporate counsel have undergone makeovers to raise professional and ethical standards. Yet few of the nation's top law schools, among them Stanford and Georgetown, have added comprehensive courses on corporate legal ethics and scandal. The March issue of The American Lawyer says that law professors at Harvard, New York University, and other schools blame their schools' lack of response to Enron and other corporate scandals on the tradition of downplaying professional responsibility and other practice-oriented courses. “Law schools don't pay any attention to [legal] ethics,” says Susan Koniak, a LAW professor of law instruction in the J. D. Program.

Baby Talk: How to influence a baby's personality

Which exerts a greater force upon a child's behavior: inborn traits or parenting? Research suggests that characteristics of temperament and behavior are ultimately 30 to 50 percent genetic, reports the March issue of Baby Talk. From her studies of infant and toddler twins, Kimberly Saudino, a CAS associate professor of psychology, says that in a baby's first few years, there's genetic influence on three personality traits: activity (energy, vigor, and movement), task orientation (attention and persistence), and affect-extroversion (emotionality and sociability). While in adults these traits show close to a 50 percent genetic influence, in babies these characteristics are only 20 to 40 percent inheritable. “When it comes to personality, genes don't determine anything,” says Saudino. “They set up a range of possibilities. We know that genes influence heart disease, but if it runs in your family, do you throw up your hands and say there's nothing you can do? No. You can't change your genes, but you can choose how to live your life. People ask me, ‘Which is more important when it comes to who we are: genes or environment?' Because I'm a geneticist, my answer — the environment — surprises them. Your ‘parenting personality' — how you would treat any child you raised — appears far less important than we once thought. But it's the different ways you interact with each child as an individual that are very important.”


19 March 2004
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