//GENDER SELECTION: The Aristotle Way Warning: Do NOT try this at home!

GENDER SELECTION: The Aristotle Way Warning: Do NOT try this at home!

In the third of this year’s excellent Reith Lectures, Prof. Sandel explored Genetics and Morality. One of his points was that no matter how hard we try, our children may not turn out the way we want because we don’t choose them. In this way parenthood, he maintains, more than other human relationships, teaches what the theologian William F. May calls an “openness to the unbidden”.

But our society is having a love affair with scientism and materialism – not the ‘unbidden’. The unbidden sounds frightening, a bit like the Boogie Man so we should go to war against it. A good example of living with the unbidden is accepting the gender of our children. But many couples don’t think a healthy child is good enough for them – they want a boy or even in some cases a girl. So it’s not unheard of for couples to abort a foetus of the ‘wrong sex’ – a really radical riposte to William F. May!

For thousands of years couples have tried to choose the gender of their children. Women were blamed for conceiving girls. Then they discovered that spermatozoa determined gender. Then some people said that it was the terrain (aka the  female reproductive tract) on which the spermatozoa raced that made the difference. So there have been various attempts to influence the agenda of a prospective foetus, including taking sperm, trying to isolate those of one gender and inseminating artificially. And that’s only about 70-80% effective. “Sorry Thomasina dear, Dad and I did our best to make you a boy but the method failed. Still we decided not to have an abortion and keep you after all because we loved you so much!”

Prof. Sandel drew my attention to one of the first attempts at gender selection – a recommendation by none other than Aristotle. The great philosopher advised men who wanted to produce a boy to tie off their left testicle before intercourse! Now while Ari was prescient about gender being determined by spermatozoa, his idea that the left testicle produces X (female) sperm and the right Y (male) sperm was utterly wrong. There must have been a few one-balled fathers in ancient Greece who could have absolutely disproved this theory but there must also have been some disciples of the great man who took this advice to groin.  Almost exactly 50% of those who did must have congratulated themselves and thanked Aristotle profusely – after the birth of a fine son or any son for that matter. However they wouldn’t have been thanking him too heartily after the act of copulation – that’s for sure. ‘Tying off a testicle’ will indeed stop some of the sperm from that testicle reaching the outside world by blocking the vas deferens. However it would also cut off the blood supply to that testicle which could be dangerous. It could also cause torsion (twisted testicle) which means that unless the poor man could be taken into the future and operated on, he would lose that testicle. At best, when the testicle is untied, blood rushes into it causing exquisite ‘unbidden’ pain which few men would welcome and certainly not with a very deep voice. In fact this cruel trick is well known to torturers who use a shoe lace to torment their victims in just this way.

So Aristotle actually recommended that men torture themselves to avoid being open to the unbidden. So always remember that when it comes to medicine, even the brightest of the bright sometimes talk balls.

By | 2009-07-07T14:08:38+00:00 July 7th, 2009|Current Affairs|4 Comments

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  1. Ruth July 8, 2009 at 8:40 pm


    That article made me wince.

    First off, lets dispense of 2 things…and Mencken does the heavy lifting with a brevity that would make Hemingway jealous:

    1. Philosophers.
    Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.
    H. L. Mencken

    2. Theologians
    What is the function that a clergyman serves in the world? I guess it’s living by assuring idiots that he can save them from an imaginary hell.
    H.L. Mencken

    So the only problem we really have to anticipate is the obstetrician armed with too-superior technology. She (?He) approaches the parents-to-be:
    “I’ve got good news and almost good news”:
    Good: “The fetus is a male.”
    Almost good: “He’s gay….”

    Perhaps I would add something like:”It is God’s will….approximately (bearing in mind, based on empiric evidence, that it may just be a board of corporate directors up there).”

    I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to mess with ‘the plan’. Everything is unfolding as it should….whether or not it is understood. I believe that Provocative Therapists know this very well.

    Best wishes from The Empire!

  2. Dr. Kaplan July 9, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Here is a poem by W.H. Auden that I think you will like, Ruth.

    As the poets have mournfully sung,
    Death takes the innocent young,
    The rolling-in-money,
    The screamingly-funny,
    And those who are very well hung.

    But another quote from Blake that influenced Huxley and Jim Morrison will put everything in perspective for you.

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”

  3. Paul Steeper July 17, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Dear Dr Kaplan

    You quote Blake in your response to Ruth

    //“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”//

    I thought you might like the followng vision of THE INFINITE
    by Leopardi

    …’Dear to me always was this lonely hill
    And this hedge that excludes so large a part
    Of the ultimate horizon from my veiw.
    But as I sit and gaze, my thought conceives
    Interminable vastness of space
    Beyond it, and unearthly silences,
    And profoundest calm; whereat my heart almost
    Becomes dismayed. And as I hear the wind
    Blustering through these branches, I find myself
    Comparing with this sound that infinite silence;
    And then I call to mind eternity,
    And the ages that are dead, and this that now
    Is living, and the noise of it. And so
    In this immensity my thought sinks drowned:
    And sweet it seems to shipreck in the sea.


    An outlook the vastness of the universe inspired, as revealed through the telescope…an invention of the materialistic science of man!
    Wouldn’t you agree that, although science has degraded man from the standpoint of contemplation, it has exalted him from the that of action and discovery?
    I would argue that the ‘love affair with scientism and materialism’ of which you write, is the outcome of a lack of trust in the design and moral purpose of nature (or the unbidden), which is blind to the child of which she has given birth (Us).
    Bertrand Russell once pointed out that science offerd the possibility of far greater well-being for the human race than has ever known before, and that ‘we are in the middle of a race between human skill as to means and human folly as to ends’. How and when the story will end is open to conjecture!


    (osteopath and medical acupuncturist)

    • Dr. Kaplan July 17, 2009 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks Paul,
      Those are wise words indeed. I love the ‘almost’ in ‘whereat my heart almost
      Becomes dismayed’ I agree with what you say about science and of course it has huge
      benefits for all of us. It will not reveal to us however, the mysteries of the universe and even
      those of the human mind. As one of the wisest put into the mouth of Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in all your philosophy”

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