FOLLOW-UP

The ‘genius’ babies

ANN WALMSLEY September 2 1985
FOLLOW-UP

The ‘genius’ babies

ANN WALMSLEY September 2 1985

The ‘genius’ babies

FOLLOW-UP

Several times a week three-year-old Doron Blake inserts a floppy disc into his Commodore 64 computer and studies educational programs designed for children twice his age. The Los Angeles boy is one of 17 children (three are Canadian) born with the assistance of the Repository for Germinal

Choice. The controversial Escondido, Calif., sperm bank claims that it increases the chances of producing brighter children by artificially inseminating women with sperm from Nobel laureates and other intellectually highachieving men. Retired physicist Robert Graham founded the nonprofit opera-

tion in 1979 as an experiment in eugenics—to improve the human race by distributing what he claimed was genetically “superior” sperm. Now several of the children, including Doron, are old enough to enable child psychologists to study the results, and Graham says that testing has revealed them to be unusually alert and precocious. Added Doron’s mother, Los Angeles psychologist Afton Blake, 43: “I would like Doron to help the world.”

Still, the full validity of Graham’s experiment has not been established. Other academics dispute his basic premise, that from 60 to 80 per cent of intelligence is innate. Instead, they say that environment plays a far greater role in nurturing mental capacity. The sperm bank’s criteria for selecting participants in its free service is also debated: women who are married and demonstrate above-average intelligence are strongly preferred, while sperm donors are chosen mainly from among high achievers in the sciences because Graham says that those accomplishments are easily measured. Said Dr. David Rosenblatt, a geneticist at Montreal Children’s Hospital: “The whole concept is ludicrous. Those donors may simply be hard workers.”

Meanwhile, the sperm bank has also been touched by several controversies. After a Scottsdale, Ariz., woman gave birth to the first Germinal Choice baby, Victoria Kowalski, in April, 1982, it was discovered that she was a convicted child abuser. As well, some Repository staff insisted that Afton Blake’s unmarried status had not been made known to them. Then, in November, 1983, the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center, another California sperm bank, launched a $3-million suit against Germinal Choice when one of its employees told Mother Jones magazine that if clients wanted “defective” sperm and babies they should “go to Oakland.” The trial is expected to begin next year.

The success of Graham’s clinic will depend largely on the performance of its progeny—including the blond-haired, green-eyed Doron.The records show him to be the offspring of donor No. 28, a Northern European computer scientist and award-winning classical pianist.

But because parents have provided their babies with enriched learning programs and stimulating toys, it is difficult to isolate the effects of their allegedly superior genes. For her part, Afton Blake says that she is delighted with both the process and the child. Indeed, she is considering becoming pregnant again soon and has acquired more vials of frozen sperm No. 28—which she keeps ready in her home for self-insertion.

ANN WALMSLEY