Few news accounts have equal parts disgusted and fascinated me as much as the following: the controversial dating service beautifulpeople.com has just launched a new fertility forum intended to give its beautiful members and non-members (or "ugly people") better odds of having good-looking children, according to the company.
BeautifulPeople.com’s, a dating site exclusively for attractive people (no uglies need or even may apply), most recent venture, is a "virtual sperm and egg bank for people who want to have beautiful babies." Or, "the Beautiful Baby Bank.")
The forum was launched last week and has already created a lot of interest – pro and con.
"Right or wrong, infertile couples highly value attractiveness in their donors," said Greg Hodge, the site's managing director. "It may not give us all a warm, fuzzy feeling inside but you can't argue the fact that parents want to secure every advantage for their child."
Though the dating site is only open to men and women who are voted attractive enough by other members of the site, he said the fertility forum will be available to anyone.
"Initially, we hesitated to widen the offering to non-beautiful people. But everyone – including ugly people – would like to bring good looking children in to the world, and we can't be selfish with our attractive gene pool," company founder Robert Hintze said in a statement.
Hodge said that over the years, BeautifulPeople.com, which has more than 600,000 members from 190 countries, has received repeated requests from fertility clinics to advertise on the site. He said they launched the fertility forum to help address the shortage of sperm and egg donors in the United Kingdom and help potential parents more easily find good-looking donors.
But he emphasized that the company has no financial interest in the new site. It's meant to be a forum for discussion and a way to match beautiful people with those who want their genes, he said. The site directs members to information about fertility clinics and the appropriate protocol to follow.
"It's political, it's contentious, it's polarizing. We certainly don't want to be profiting from it," he said.
But profit or not, critics say the site isn't just ethically questionable, it's an affront to other human beings.
"It's just terribly insulting. It trivializes our values. It trivializes human sexuality. It's just another example of the superficiality and consumerism that I think is running rampant in our society," said Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a bioethicist at the University of Chicago.
He said that while attraction has played a role in human mating for thousands of years, sites like this make it falsely seem as though the only attribute that matters is a person's looks. He also said that it approaches Aldous Huxley's scenario in "Brave New World," in which people are engineered for certain characteristics.
"It's another step in turning children into products rather than persons," he said.
And Sulmasy asked about what happens when things go wrong.
"This is genetics. It's still a lottery when you're picking somebody's sperm," he said. "The beauty may not come through in the genetics...What are the parents supposed to do then? Turn it in?"
Other detractors worried that BeautifulPeople's new forum would give people a way to circumvent safeguards intended to protect the adults and the child.
"If they are going to be a matchmaker between people who need donations and people who want to be donors, I'm concerned that the medical and psychological protections will not be in place for either party," said Corey Whelan, program director for the American Fertility Association.
Though the site said it would direct would-be donors and recipients to clinics and the proper protocol, she said the forum still "opens up a can of worms" as people could potentially bypass medical tests, psychological screenings and other legal requirements.
She also said that while people do consider attractiveness when choosing a sperm or egg donor, she emphasized that many other factors also come into play.
"[Fertility] centers are really trying to give a broad-based profile of what this person is and certainly looks are part of that, but so is health, so is family, so are interests," she said. "When people are looking at the profiles of potential donors, they are looking for someone with qualities that resonate with them."
There will always be people who weigh attractiveness over other attributes, she said, but that's not the vast majority of people.
"We don't create our families that way," Whelan said. "When people are looking to create their family they [consider] much, much more than looks."
Soooooooooo, had enough reality, hmmn? May I suggest...a side little trip...into the Twilight Zone! In particular, an episode from 1964 entitled, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.”
Creator Rod Serling introduces the episode: “Given the chance, what young girl wouldn't happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one? What girl could refuse the opportunity to be beautiful? For want of a better estimate, let’s call this the year 2000. At any rate, imagine a time in the future when science has developed a means to give everyone the face and body he dreams of. It may not happen tomorrow, but it happens now in the Twilight Zone.”
In this instance, the young girl is Marilyn Cuberle who must decide whether to undergo "The Transformation," which happens to everyone at the age of 19 (either by convention or by law; it isn't made clear). Their bodies are reshaped, making them beautiful, and immune to any kind of disease or unhappiness.
She has been looking through a catalog of sorts of bodies to select, torn between Number 12 (her mother’s model) or Number 8, that of a friend.
“Am I homely?” she asks her mother, Lana.
“Not to me, you aren’t,” her mother replies.
(FYI: Everyone must wear name tags, since there are so many identical faces running around, otherwise you couldn’t tell them apart.)
Marilyn is still troubled, so she talks to her Uncle Rick, whose body form is Number 17 – the same model that her late father had selected.
“But, is that good being like everybody – isn’t that the same as being nobody?” she asks.
“Where are you getting these radical ideas?” asks Uncle Rick.
From her late father. “We talked about ‘real things,’ not just about sports or buying new clothes.”
“Is there anything wrong with talking about sports or buying new clothes?” Rick asked.
“Of course not, but Uncle Rick, there’s got to be more to life than just that.” she said.
Naturally, Marilyn is taken to the hospital for the operation, regardless of her misgivings. Her mother visits to ask which “model” woman she has selected. Marilyn doesn’t answer, but says she just remembered what her dad had said once: “When everyone is beautiful no one will be, because without ugliness there can be no beauty...Mother, don’t you understand, they don’t care whether you’re beautiful or not, they just want everyone to be the same,” she cries, as the doctor moves in.
Marilyn bolts, but ends up trying to hide – in the operating room. After the procedure, she’s thrilled with her new body, she’s chose model Number 8, just like her friend Valerie. The episodes ends as she’s admiring herself and the others in a mirror.
Rod Serling recites the epilog: “Portrait of a young lady in love – with herself. Improbable? Perhaps. But in an age of plastic surgery, body building and an infinity of cosmetics, let us hesitate to say impossible. These and other strange blessings may be waiting in the future which are after all is the Twilight Zone.”
And the very best part of this episode? The screenplay was written by John Tomerlin, adapted from the Charles Beaumont's story "The Beautiful People," which was first published in the September 1952 If maganzine!
This episode of the Twilight Zone’s original airdate was Jan. 24, 1964, The Twilight Zone - Season 5 (The Definitive Edition), Episode 17.
The great cast includes:
Collin Wilcox as Marilyn Cuberle
Suzy Parker as Lana Cuberle, Eva, Doe, Grace, Jane, and Patient Number 12
Richard Long as Uncle Rick (Number 17), Dr. Rex, Sigmund Friend, Dr. Tom, Tad, and Jack
Pam Austin as Valerie, and Marilyn (after transformation) Number 8
— Danu's Daughter