The New Love Affair with Eugenics

eugenicsOne of the modern zeitgeists that scares me the most is the growing love affair with eugenics among the elite. Whether the masses are aware of it or not, elite ideas trickle down and infect our subconscious. More and more dropping from Ivory Towers are notes that say, “Eugenics is good,” and “The problem last time was the state,” and, “Personal choice is the key to success.”

These days eugenics, which means “good birth,” is being presented as a worthy endeavor as long as there is no coercion from government. Parental choice is paramount and we are told that if parents can choose what kind of child they want, what kind of child would be a “good birth,” then the horrors that accompanied eugenics last time (i.e. millions exterminated as “unfit”) will not repeat themselves.

The latest push for this view is a paper entitled “Eugenics and the ethics of selective reproduction” by two UK academics, Stephen Wilkinson and Eve Garrard. They discuss at length what eugenics is and what it isn’t and they conclude that eugenics is simply “the attempt to improve the human gene pool.” Then they write:

But even where selective reproduction is eugenic (which it sometimes is) it does not follow automatically from this that it’s wrong (despite the fact that many instances of eugenics historically have been morally abhorrent). For provided that the means used are ethically acceptable, and that people freely consent, it’s not clear that attempting to improve population health (‘the gene pool’) is a bad thing for us to be doing. On the contrary, it seems on the face of it to be a good thing – given the high value that most of us place on good health, and on preventing ourselves and our loved ones from acquiring diseases or impairments.

First of all, selective reproduction with PGD is not, and never will be, a technique that “prevents” embryos from “acquiring” a genetic disease. This is such a prevalent fallacy that I am forced to point it out whenever I see it. In PGD, multiple embryos are created and then screened. If an embryo is genetically defective, he or she is thrown out. No embryo is “prevented” from inheriting disease. He or she is “prevented” from continuing their life. To say that PGD prevents people from acquiring disease is like saying that killing every woman with the breast cancer gene “prevents” women from getting breast cancer.

Second, there is an example of parent-guided eugenics going on right now in our world, and we only need to examine the outcomes to know that Wilkinson and Garrad are very wrong about the nature of choosing your children based solely on their genetics. I wrote about this phenomenon at the National Catholic Register in detail. Here is a portion:

This great experiment with individual parental choice based on genetic information is already under way and has had some devastating results. According to Mara Hvistendahl’s groundbreaking book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, 163 million girls in Asia are “missing.” They were likely aborted simply because they lacked a Y chromosome….

This dearth of girls is not a small problem. One hundred sixty-three million girls is the entire population of females in the United States.

Speaking strictly, by the numbers, this gendercide has easily outpaced the destruction of human life by any fascist or communist regime.

This devastation was not the result of a great government program to eliminate girls. In fact, governments in China and India have tried to curb sex selection by making it against the law. This epidemic of missing females is instead the result of millions of individual choices.

The choice to have what parents believed was the “best” child for them: a son. And the sum of these individual choices has magnified the prejudice against girls, making the lives of women who survive the womb worse, not better.

As women become more rare in Asia, violence, rape and sex trafficking are on a dramatic rise. (A problem not just isolated to China with its one-child policy.) Individual parental choice has created this demographic and social nightmare, not government intervention. Arguably, the sum of individual choices has been more disastrous than any coercion by the state.

Some would say that sex selection is not eugenics. I would argue that they are one in the same. The “improving” part of the “improving the gene pool” is subjective. In Asian cultures, that means having children with a Y chromosome since lacking one is as much a perceived determent as any genetic disease.

And what about the West? How have our individual choices affected us? Once again from the Register:

In the East, these choices mean a deepening prejudice and marginalization of women.

In the West, it has meant a deepening prejudice and marginalization of anyone deemed “defective.”

Women who give birth to a child with Down syndrome have been called “genetic outlaws.” In the Journal of Legal Medicine, one doctor/lawyer suggested prosecution for a mother who knowingly gives birth to a child with Tay-Sachs disease

The book A Special Mother Is Born is an excellent collection of stories of parents of children who have special needs. It is also a catalog of mistreatment of these parents and children by medical professionals, the very people who should be there to care for them.

These individual choices to have the “best” children have created a society where those who are not perfect are not only marginalized, but have to somehow justify their existence.

Eugenics is inherently evil. It cannot and will not be tamed. We cannot flirt with it and come out unscathed. It will spread death and destruction where ever it is applied. No matter who is applying it or for what reason. Anytime the individual human person is reduced to genetics alone, bad things will follow.

“The people of our time, sensitized by the terrible vicissitudes that have covered the 20th century and the very beginning of this one in mourning, are able to understand that man’s dignity is not identified with his DNA genes and that it does not diminish with the eventual presence of physical differences or genetic defects.”  –Pope Benedict XVI

Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for six years and is a regular on Catholic radio.