Tonight’s discussion is the biggest yet for the Cohens. Sarah tips her head to lock eyes with her husband. “Enoch, I can see there’s something important going on in that beautiful head of yours. You haven’t looked at me since you ordered the soufflé. The last time you had this much trouble getting something out, I ended up agreeing to be your wife—and look how that turned out.”
Enoch gives her a slight smile.
“Whatever it is,” continues Sarah, “I promise to listen with an open mind. Unless you are leaving me, in which case I will hold my reply until the soufflé arrives hot from the oven so that I can toss it into your lap.” She grins.
Enoch chuckles, and thinks, How could I not have fallen in love with her? He interlocks his fingers with hers.
Sensing his nervousness, Sarah does her bit on their finger interlock. “Here is the synagogue, here is the steeple, open the door, and there are no people.” She grins again.
“Synagogues don’t have steeples, Sarah.”
“Jewish technicality,” she retorts.
“Indeed it is. And, everyone knows, Jewish technicalities get thrown out of court.”
“Well, then, I guess it will be just you and me. What’s bugging you E-rock?”
This is his spot to jump in. “Sarah, I’ve been thinking it is time for us to start a family.” Sarah opens her mouth, but says nothing. She loosens her grip on his fingers. “Please hear me out. It does not have to be a large family. Perhaps, just one beautiful child for us to love, share and enjoy in our twilight years. I know you have been resistant to starting a family. I know you think there are already too many children in the world. But these things aside, I would like to open the discussion of having a child—one who could truly change the world.”
Sarah pushes back in her chair, pulls her fingers from their interlock, and drops her hands into her lap. She stares down at her wedding band. She knew this was going to come up at some point in the marriage. It is the natural circle of life—to which few women object. She does not object, per se—she just cannot imagine how it can work. She loves her job. She is just starting a company she believes will raise the standard of living for the children who already exist. She doesn’t see how she can keep the momentum going if she stops to mother a child. “Enoch, I cannot answer right now. You have obviously had some time to think this through, and I need some time as well.”
Enoch clears his throat and pulls his chair closer to the table. He does not go to her side of the table to console her, as is his habit. What he is about to ask of her requires an analytical approach and carefully selected words. Even though he has practiced his argument a few times, he struggles to find the right words to get it started. Faced with her husband’s continued uncomfortableness, Sarah pulls her napkin from her lap and pats the corners of her mouth. She summons the waiter and tells him to add the dinner to their account and to give their dessert to the young couple seated next to them. She stands up and puts out her hand to him. He stands and takes hold. They walk to the car in silence.
Enoch opens the car door for his wife. She puts her hand on his chest. “Let’s go to our spot. What do you say?” Enoch gives her a nod. Their spot is in Forest Hills, on a ledge that overlooks Soapstone Valley. When they first arrived to D.C., they found it while exploring the city on their first date. The babbling Rock Creek that runs through the valley soothed their new city jitters. They return there when either one feels overwhelmed by their careers. Though Enoch agrees to the location, he wonders if the romantic spot will be the right setting for this discussion.
Once he pulls into the parking area and turns off the car engine, Enoch decides to dive into the conversation. “Sarah, I have been speaking with my friend, Steven Abbott. You might remember him—a brilliant scientist at M.I.T. He graduated with his Master’s degree in genetics the same year you and I graduated with our law degrees. He is now President and Founder of Humanetics, Inc. here in D.C. When I told him that I was going to have this conversation with you about having a child, he asked to meet with me. He has offered to help us to have a baby who is gifted and free of defects.”
“Free of defects? It appears you aren’t just asking me about having a family, you are asking me about having a ‘designer baby.’ Is this what you are suggesting?”
“Well, not suggesting as an action at this point, but certainly suggesting as a discussion.”
“Enoch, why would you think this is a viable option? With all the work I do internationally with families living in poverty and struggling just to survive, why would you consider putting ourselves in a more ‘privileged’ category? What makes you think we deserve a child superior to theirs?”
“Not ‘deserve’ Sarah. I wholeheartedly believe DNA-engineered humans are going to be a reality in the very near future. I do not like the phrase ‘designer baby,’ but I also do not want this conversation to become a battle of semantics. Steven thinks you are the perfect candidate to lead the way into Germline Genetic Engineering. He specifically mentioned you already have the respect of the women of many nations. Some call you the ‘Mother of the World.’ You could be a pioneer here.”
“Pioneer to what? The perfection of children? What happens to the imperfect child seated next to the perfect child in school? Will he be incapable of competing for colleges and jobs? Do we gather up the imperfect children and put them on an imperfect island to live out their pathetic, imperfect lives?”
“Now, hold on Sarah. I think you are looking at this all wrong. The children you speak of so passionately, aren’t most of them suffering from physical defects and illnesses that originate in their DNA? Imagine a world where these things didn’t happen. Imagine a world where no child suffers from an unhealthy body set before they were born. Science could eradicate defects in babies in less than four decades. All children in the future might have the opportunity to grow up to become productive adults. Imagine no more Downs Syndrome, no more autoimmune diseases, and no more cystic fibrosis. How about no missing limbs, blindness, or deafness? How about children not being abandoned in orphanages by parents who are not equipped to handle such challenges? What might that be like?”
“Enoch, I hear you, and I’ve heard the scientists. Which children will they perfect? You know this could come down to elitism and economics. It usually does. And, more than not, it comes down to race.”
“Sarah, there is no racism here. Steven is emphatic about it. His team wants to mix the races—taking the finest traits of each and making a superior one. He wants to support the rule of nature that has always been in play: survival of the fittest. That’s all.”
Sarah sighs heavily. She can see her arguments are losing traction. She decides to change directions. “Why us?”
“Steven says we are the ‘face of a new world.’ We come from a small race, born to immigrant parents. We are multinational. We are also healthy, educated, political, charitable, and in a strong relationship. I agree with him that the better question would be, ‘Why not us?’”
“Have you thought about our careers? If this experimental baby and pregnancy news got out to the Press before we had time to consider all of the outcomes, it could destroy the baby, you, and me. Have you considered our parents and families? A baby represents an entire genealogy, Enoch. Jewish families haven’t always been accepting of adoption—how can you anticipate their response to a DNA-modified child?”
“Steven believes the best results will come from fertilizing the egg and sperm in the laboratory and impregnating a surrogate who can be monitored throughout the entire incubation. As far as our families and the world are concerned, they will only know we adopted a child. We decide if, and when, they can know more. The good news is you would not have to be pregnant and we could have as much time as we need to process all of this. Sarah, we can help to change the world. I am convinced the risk is quite low. I know you are open to the surrogate idea. We discussed it years ago. And there’s one more thing.”
“Yes. Steven wants to do more than mix the finer traits of the races. He wants to insert this child, the two of us, and Humanetics into the peace problem in the Middle East. I support his position that the only hope for peace is the rise of a leader who is accepted by both Muslims and Jews. Both religions are waiting for a Savior. The Jews are waiting for their Messiah and the Muslims are waiting for the Mahdi. The person both are awaiting is surprisingly similar. The core difference, of course, is their heritage. Both saviors must be of a specific family line. For Jews, it is the line of Aaron, the brother of Moses. For Muslims, it’s the line of Fatima, the daughter of Mohamad.”
Sarah’s emotions hit their limit. “This is without a doubt the most outrageously grandiose scheme I have ever heard. I wonder if I can even count high enough to cover all the holes in it. You are an attorney. Have you seriously thought this through?”
“Please keep an open mind. You have a reputation of thinking big. The team at Humanetics has been working on plugging the holes to which you refer. Yes, it is a bit out there, but you have to admit that this idea has heart. Think about it, Sarah—this may be the best idea yet to solve the Middle East unrest that’s going on for centuries. If all else fails, we still have a beautiful baby girl whose birth will have taken the science of DNA modification to the next level.”
“I know you just covered a lot of territory there, but all I heard was ‘baby girl.’ Is this being decided for us as well?”
“Steven says that the DNA of girls is easier to manipulate. He covered all the biology with me. His team will do the same for you. The other reason for choosing a female is that the focus group who is reviewing this project finds a little girl to be less threatening—and more marketable.”
“Enoch, I’ve never seen you more determined to have me buy into something. Watching you struggle for every defense is exhausting. Bottom line: What’s in this for you?”
Enoch knows from experience that this is his last “shot.” Sarah is ready to pass judgment on the idea. When she puts out the “What’s in it for you” question, he knows his answer better be succinct.
“I want to run for the Presidency when the time is right. I am a Jewish-American, so I need an edge. I believe this child—and what she will represent—will put me in the White House. Diffusing the Middle East peace problem and rebuilding the Temple of Solomon—while also respecting the Muslim community’s rights to retain the Dome of the Rock as their Holy Ground—is the problem to solve. It is unbelievable that the temple is on hold out of fear of terrorist retaliation and the entanglement of the United Nations. If this issue isn’t solved, I fear there will be one final terrible world war that will end civilization on Earth.”
“So, if I am following you correctly, you are backing this idea because it will further your career?”
“Ouch, Sarah, you make it sound as if this is only a political move. You know I want to have a family with you. You also know I’ve been working on establishing peace between these two cultures. I believe if we do not find a way to share this planet peacefully, we will probably see the end of the human race by the end of the century. What could be more important—and rightfully motivated—than raising up a leader who could legitimately speak for both sides? She can be a spokesperson, or ambassador, for peace. You and I will be at the forefront. Please promise me you will consider this.”
“Before I answer that request, tell me why Dr. Abbott is openly discussing this with you? The last I recall, the public is to believe that genetic engineering and designer babies are nothing more than great story lines for science fiction novels. They told the public we are incapable of altering the DNA of simple bacteria. Who is funding this project? Which countries are involved?”
“Dr. Abbott is sharing the sensitive material with us because he trusts us. He knows he has to trust someone if he is to launch this project. We happen to fit the requirements for the parents. As far as funding goes, I asked Steven the same thing. He doesn’t know who sends the money to the corporate account.”
“And this doesn’t concern you? What exactly do you know?”
Enoch hesitates to think through his answer. He decides to move the conversation from the business details to personal ones. “I know I love you, and I will love you forever. I know you love children. I know you want to be a mother. I know you have a soft spot for little girls. I know I want to have a child with you and leave a legacy of us for future generations. Am I on track so far?”
Sarah shuffles uncomfortably in her seat. “Yes.”
“I know we can help to advance the research that might someday eradicate life-threatening defects in genes passed from generation to generation. I know this science can enhance human bodies to live longer and have a higher quality of life. Men and women will be physically stronger and mentally superior to anything we have ever known. The aging process might be slowed, or even halted altogether. Imagine that! I also know all of this fits with who we are and what we said we wanted to be from the day we married.
“Sarah, this baby is going to be created whether we participate or not. In a way, she will be an orphan in need of a mother and father to love her and raise her. She is going to be different from any other child ever born on Earth. Her parents are going to have to prepare her for potential pushback. She will need direction on how to balance normalcy with royal design. Someone must get in front of the resentment and rejection. We are the ones to do this. We are compassionate, and we are mentally tough.
“You asked for a bottom line. Here it is: We did not go looking for this, it found us. I see it as our destiny. I believe she should be our child and I believe we should be her parents. The rest of will work itself out in time, including how we split our time to be home with her. Sarah, I want to have a child with you. I want Baby Anna to complete our family.”
“Baby Anna, did they name her for us as well?”
“No, the name is my idea. I would like to name her after your mother. It is a solid multicultural name. Naming the baby after your mother ups the odds that she will accept us having a non-traditional baby. No amount of science is going to sway a Jewish woman to compromise when it comes to accepting a baby into the family, but a good pedigree and a solid Jewish name just might.” He offers a slight smile with one corner of his mouth, not wanting to overplay the humor in this serious decision.
Enoch sits back in his seat. He has finished his argument. The rest is up to Sarah. After a few minutes of silence, she picks up his hands and kisses them. Then, she softly kisses his lips. “Mr. Cohen, I believe that was the most beautiful speech you have given since you asked for my hand in marriage.
“Even then, I promised to go on any adventure with you. I will go on this adventure with you. In return for doing so, promise me you will continue to support me in my career. I will be a mother, if you will promise to be a father. I want to be open with you that I do not subscribe to the trendy parenting model of the generation that preceded us. They thought it acceptable to allow nannies and private schools to raise their children. I do not want to parent a child this way. As I see it, the responsibility of having a child does not end after the first year. I want your word you will split this responsibility with me fifty-fifty—for her entire life.”
“Your request is more than fair. I promise. If you think about it, Anna can eventually travel with you on your international trips to the impoverished nations. She will be an inspiration to the children with whom you work. I can take her with me to some of my community activities. She will get to see both of her parents doing what they do best—using their talents to change the world in a very positive way.”
“You do paint a beautiful picture, and I very much like the name. I am putting my trust in you, Enoch. Don’t let me down,”
“I won’t. I never have, and I never will.”
“So, catch me up on what you know about this grand endeavor of ours.”
“So, we’re doing this?”
“We’re doing this.”