​Designer genes

by Phyllis Zagano

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What next? Now Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana face a boycott because Dolce said children need a mother and a father. Dolce also said that certain practices of in vitro fertilization are just not right, decrying "wombs for rent, seeds collected from a catalog."

IPhones in hand, incensed opponents of Dolce's nod to Catholic teachings and family values mounted a Twitter campaign worthy of American community organizer Saul Alinsky's rule No. 12: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions."

Emphasizing his point, Alinsky continues: "This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works."

So, gay celebrities such as Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres angrily insisted to anyone who would listen that they would never again wear Dolce & Gabbana clothing. Rock singers Courtney Love and Ricky Martin and tennis player Martina Navratilova joined in the boycott John began with #BoycottDolceGabbana.

Of course the folks with Twitter fingers at the ready probably never read the actual Dolce and Gabbana interview on children and family, which appeared in the Italian journal Panorama. The two talk about themselves, their families, and about being gay. Onetime lovers, ever friends and business partners, the two fashion designers present fairly conservative views.

Gabbana had said "the family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging."

"I am gay," Dolce said in the interview, "I cannot have a child. I believe that we cannot have everything in life ... it is also good to deprive yourself of something ... there are things that must not be changed and one of these is the family."

That's what they think. That's what they believe.

The real question, buried under piles of discarded celebrity designer-wear, is what happens to the designer-children? Dolce said nothing could convince him of what he called "synthetic children," and he wondered how they would react to being children of "chemistry." Procreation, he said, must be an act of love, and "now even psychiatrists are preparing to deal with the effects of these experiments."

They mean what they say. Their fashion firm's recent shows and exhibitions have been set with traditional families, even including models who are mothers and their children.

Their criticisms were not aimed directly at the gay community to which they belong, but rather at the commodification of human life. Do rich people have the right to essentially manufacture children? There are plenty of children already who need homes. Are designer-children just another purchase?

It is not about gay parenting. It is not even about in vitro fertilization as most people think about it -- a way to help a couple get pregnant. It is about selectively creating a human being to match the wants of specific couples, gay or not.

In fact, in a CNN interview conducted in English, the two designers backed away from direct criticism of in vitro fertilization and adopted the "personally opposed" view, although Dolce still insisted he believed in what he called the "traditional family."

What is so interesting is that these two Italian fashion-makers are joining a conversation already wending its way around the world at so many levels. What, exactly, comprises family? How is it organized, defined, lived? They have entered their opinions, to which they are objectively entitled, even as celebrities and organizations line up against them.

The anger directed at Dolce and Gabbana -- the tweets, the media comments, the picketing of stores -- are not participation in the conversation. They are mean-spirited actions meant to destroy their livelihood. 

Of course the folks behind #BoycottDolceGabbana completely miss the point these two thoughtful men are making. Children are not bespoke items to be ordered up a la carte to suit the desires of anyone with enough cash -- nowadays, upward of $60,000 -- for a child with designer genes.

Can we not question the advisability of creating IVF designer children with specially selected "donated" ova and sperm mixed in a petri dish, those with the "best" genetically tested prospects gestated in the womb of a surrogate mother? Can we not be aghast that the rejects are unceremoniously dumped? Can we not be horrified that if too many fetuses survive implantation, "selective reduction" solves all that?

It is more than the ethical implications of IVF itself, and especially of designer IVF. It is about the result. The two think, they know, that every child seeks its mother, and that every child seeks its father.

That is the real question: What about the children?

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She will speak April 16 at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, and April 18 at the Cork Theology Forum in Ireland. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Sacred Silence: Daily Meditations for Lent.]

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