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Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention. The purported goals have variously been to create healthier, more intelligent people, save society’s resources, and lessen human suffering. Earlier proposed means of achieving these goals focused on selective breeding, while modern ones focus on prenatal testing and screening, genetic counseling, birth control, in vitro fertilization, and genetic engineering. Opponents argue that eugenics is immoral and is based on, or is itself, pseudoscience. Historically, eugenics has been used as a justification for coercive state-sponsored discrimination and human rights violations, such as forced sterilization of persons with genetic defects, the killing of the institutionalized and, in some cases, genocide of races perceived as inferior.
Selective breeding of human beings was suggested at least as far back as Plato, but the modern field, and term, was first formulated by Sir Francis Galton in 1865, drawing on the recent work of his cousin Charles Darwin. From its inception eugenics was supported by prominent thinkers, including Alexander Graham Bell, George Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill. Eugenics was an academic discipline at many colleges and universities. Its scientific reputation started to tumble in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rdin began incorporating eugenic rhetoric into the racial policies of Nazi Germany. After the postwar period, both the public and the scientific community generally associated eugenics with Nazi abuses, which included enforced racial hygiene, human experimentation, and the extermination of undesired population groups.
Developments in genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies at the end of the 20th century, however, have raised many new ethical questions and concerns about what exactly constitutes the meaning of eugenics and what its ethical and moral status is.
The word eugenics etymologically derives from the Greek words eu (good) and gen (birth), and was coined by Francis Galton in 1883.
Eugenics has, from the very beginning, meant many different things to many different people. Historically, the term has been used to cover everything from prenatal care for mothers to forced sterilization and euthanasia. Much debate took place in the past, and takes place today, as to what exactly counts as eugenics. Some types of eugenics, such as race-based eugenics and class-based eugenics, are sometimes called ‘pseudo-eugenics’ by proponents of strict eugenics that deals only with beneficial and detrimental intrinsic traits.
The term eugenics is often used to refer to movements and social policies that were influential during the early 20th century. In a historical and broader sense, eugenics can also be a study of “improving human genetic qualities”. It is sometimes broadly applied to describe any human action whose goal is to improve the gene pool. Some forms of infanticide in ancient societies, present-day reprogenetics, preemptive abortions and designer babies have been (sometimes controversially) referred to as eugenic.
Because of its normative goals and historical association with scientific racism, as well as the development of the science of genetics, the western scientific community has mostly disassociated itself from the term “eugenics”, although one can find advocates of what is now known as liberal eugenics. Ideological social determinists, some of which have obtained college degrees in fields relevant to eugenics, often describe eugenics as a pseudoscience. Modern inquiries into the potential use of genetic engineering have led to an increased invocation of the history of eugenics in discussions of bioethics, most often as a cautionary tale. Some ethicists suggest that even non-coercive eugenics programs would be inherently unethical, though this view has been challenged by such thinkers as Nicholas Agar.
Eugenicists advocate specific policies that (if successful) would lead to a perceived improvement of the human gene pool. Since defining what improvements are desired or beneficial is by many perceived as a cultural choice rather than a matter that can be determined objectively (e.g., by empirical, scientific inquiry), eugenics has often been deemed a pseudoscience. The most disputed aspect of eugenics has been the definition of “improvement” of the human gene pool, such as what is a beneficial characteristic and what is a defect. This aspect of eugenics has historically been tainted with scientific racism.
Early eugenicists were mostly concerned with perceived intelligence factors that often correlated strongly with social class. Many eugenicists took inspiration from the selective breeding of animals (where purebreds are often strived for) as their analogy for improving human society. The mixing of races (or miscegenation) was usually considered as something to be avoided in the name of racial purity. At the time this concept appeared to have some scientific support, and it remained a contentious issue until the advanced development of genetics led to a scientific consensus that the division of the human species into unequal races is unjustifiable. Some see this as an ideological consensus, since equality, just like inequality, is a cultural choice rather than a matter that can be determined objectively.
Eugenics has also been concerned with the elimination of hereditary diseases such as haemophilia and Huntington’s disease. However, there are several problems with labeling certain factors as “genetic defects”:
Similar concerns have been raised when a prenatal diagnosis of a congenital disorder leads to abortion (see also preimplantation genetic diagnosis).
Eugenic policies have been conceptually divided into two categories: positive eugenics, which encourage a designated “most fit” to reproduce more often; and negative eugenics, which discourage or prevent a designated “less fit” from reproducing. Negative eugenics need not be coercive. A state might offer financial rewards to certain people who submit to sterilization, although some critics might reply that this incentive along with social pressure could be perceived as coercion. Positive eugenics can also be coercive. Abortion by “fit” women was illegal in Nazi Germany.
During the 20th century, many countries enacted various eugenics policies and programs, including:
Most of these policies were later regarded as coercive, restrictive, or genocidal, and now few jurisdictions implement policies that are explicitly labeled as eugenic or unequivocally eugenic in substance (however labeled). However, some private organizations assist people in genetic counseling, and reprogenetics may be considered as a form of non-state-enforced “liberal” eugenics.
There are 3 main ways by which the methods of eugenics can be applied. They are:
There are also different goals of eugenics . They are:
Selective breeding was suggested at least as far back as Plato, who believed human reproduction should be controlled by government. He recorded these ideals in The Republic: “The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior.” Plato proposed that the process be concealed from the public via a form of lottery. Other ancient examples include the polis of Sparta’s purported practice of leaving weak babies outside of city borders to die. However, they would leave all babies outside for a length of time, and the survivors were considered stronger, while many “weaker” babies perished.
During the 1860s and 1870s, Sir Francis Galton systematized these ideas and practices according to new knowledge about the evolution of man and animals provided by the theory of his cousin Charles Darwin. After reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, Galton noticed an interpretation of Darwin’s work whereby the mechanisms of natural selection were potentially thwarted by human civilization. He reasoned that, since many human societies sought to protect the underprivileged and weak, those societies were at odds with the natural selection responsible for extinction of the weakest. Only by changing these social policies, Galton thought, could society be saved from a “reversion towards mediocrity”, a phrase that he first coined in statistics and which later changed to the now common “regression towards the mean”.
Galton first sketched out his theory in the 1865 article “Hereditary Talent and Character”, then elaborated it further in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius. He began by studying the way in which human intellectual, moral, and personality traits tended to run in families. Galton’s basic argument was that “genius” and “talent” were hereditary traits in humans (although neither he nor Darwin yet had a working model of this type of heredity). He concluded that, since one could use artificial selection to exaggerate traits in other animals, one could expect similar results when applying such models to humans. As he wrote in the introduction to Hereditary Genius:
According to Galton, society already encouraged dysgenic conditions, claiming that the less intelligent were out-reproducing the more intelligent. Galton did not propose any selection methods; rather, he hoped that a solution would be found if social mores changed in a way that encouraged people to see the importance of breeding.
Galton first used the word eugenic in his 1883 Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development, a book in which he meant “to touch on various topics more or less connected with that of the cultivation of race, or, as we might call it, with ‘eugenic’ questions.” He included a footnote to the word “eugenic” which read:
In 1904 he clarified his definition of eugenics as “the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage.”
Galton’s formulation of eugenics was based on a strong statistical approach, influenced heavily by Adolphe Quetelet’s “social physics”. Unlike Quetelet, however, Galton did not exalt the “average man” but decried him as mediocre. Galton and his statistical heir Karl Pearson developed what was called the biometrical approach to eugenics, which developed new and complex statistical models (later exported to wholly different fields) to describe the heredity of traits. However, with the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s hereditary laws, two separate camps of eugenics advocates emerged. One was made up of statisticians, the other of biologists. Statisticians thought the biologists had exceptionally crude mathematical models, while biologists thought the statisticians knew little about biology.
Eugenics eventually referred to human selective reproduction with an intent to create children with desirable traits, generally through the approach of influencing differential birth rates. These policies were mostly divided into two categories: positive eugenics, the increased reproduction of those seen to have advantageous hereditary traits; and negative eugenics, the discouragement of reproduction by those with hereditary traits perceived as poor. Negative eugenic policies in the past have ranged from attempts at segregation to sterilization and even genocide. Positive eugenic policies have typically taken the form of awards or bonuses for “fit” parents who have another child. Relatively innocuous practices like marriage counseling had early links with eugenic ideology.
Eugenics differed from what would later be known as Social Darwinism. While both claimed intelligence was hereditary, eugenics asserted that new policies were needed to actively change the status quo towards a more “eugenic” state, while the Social Darwinists argued society itself would naturally “check” the problem of “dysgenics” if no welfare policies were in place (for example, the poor might reproduce more but would have higher mortality rates).
State policies in some Latin American countries advocated the whitening of society by increased European immigration and the eradication of indigenous populations[citationneeded]. This can be seen particularly in Argentina and Brazil; in these countries this process is known as blanqueamiento and branqueamento, respectively.
One of the earliest modern advocates of eugenic ideas (before they were labeled as such) was Alexander Graham Bell. In 1881 Bell investigated the rate of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. From this he concluded that deafness was hereditary in nature and recommended a marriage prohibition against the deaf (“Memoir upon the formation of a deaf variety of the human Race”) even though he was married to a deaf woman. Like many other early eugenicists, he proposed controlling immigration for the purpose of eugenics and warned that boarding schools for the deaf could possibly be considered as breeding places of a deaf human race.
Though eugenics is today often associated with racism, it was not always so; both W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey supported eugenics or ideas resembling eugenics as a way to reduce African American suffering and improve their stature.[citationneeded] Many legal methods of eugenics include state laws against miscegenation or prohibitions of interracial marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned those state laws in 1967 and declared antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional.
Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler was infamous for eugenics programs which attempted to maintain a “pure” German race through a series of programs that ran under the banner of “racial hygiene”. Among other activities, the Nazis performed extensive experimentation on live human beings to test their genetic theories, ranging from simple measurement of physical characteristics to the horrific experiments carried out by Josef Mengele for Otmar von Verschuer on twins in the concentration camps. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazi regime forcibly sterilized hundreds of thousands of people whom they viewed as mentally and physically “unfit”, an estimated 400,000 between 1934 and 1937. The scale of the Nazi program prompted American eugenics advocates to seek an expansion of their program, with one complaining that “the Germans are beating us at our own game”. The Nazis went further, however, killing tens of thousands of the institutionalized disabled through compulsory “euthanasia” programs.
They also implemented a number of “positive” eugenics policies, giving awards to “Aryan” women who had large numbers of children and encouraged a service in which “racially pure” single women were impregnated by SS officers (Lebensborn). Many of their concerns for eugenics and racial hygiene were also explicitly present in their systematic killing of millions of “undesirable” people including Jews, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals during the Holocaust (much of the killing equipment and methods employed in the death camps were first developed in the euthanasia program). The scope and coercion involved in the German eugenics programs along with a strong use of the rhetoric of eugenics and so-called “racial science” throughout the regime created an indelible cultural association between eugenics and the Third Reich in the postwar years.
The second largest eugenics movement was in the United States. Beginning with Connecticut in 1896, many states enacted marriage laws with eugenic criteria, prohibiting anyone who was “epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded” from marrying. In 1898 Charles B. Davenport, a prominent American biologist, began as director of a biological research station based in Cold Spring Harbor where he experimented with evolution in plants and animals. In 1904 Davenport received funds from the Carnegie Institution to found the Station for Experimental Evolution. The Eugenics Record Office opened in 1910 while Davenport and Harry H. Laughlin began to promote eugenics.
During the 20th century, researchers became interested in the idea that mental illness could run in families and conducted a number of studies to document the heritability of such illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Their findings were used by the eugenics movement as proof for its cause. State laws were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s to prohibit marriage and force sterilization of the mentally ill in order to prevent the “passing on” of mental illness to the next generation. These laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927 and were not abolished until the mid-20th century. By 1945 over 45,000 mentally ill individuals in the United States had been forcibly sterilized.
In years to come, the ERO collected a mass of family pedigrees and concluded that those who were unfit came from economically and socially poor backgrounds. Eugenicists such as Davenport, the psychologist Henry H. Goddard and the conservationist Madison Grant (all well respected in their time) began to lobby for various solutions to the problem of the “unfit”. (Davenport favored immigration restriction and sterilization as primary methods; Goddard favored segregation in his The Kallikak Family; Grant favored all of the above and more, even entertaining the idea of extermination.) Though their methodology and research methods are now understood as highly flawed, at the time this was seen as legitimate scientific research. [citationneeded] It did, however, have scientific detractors (notably, Thomas Hunt Morgan, one of the few Mendelians to explicitly criticize eugenics), though most of these focused more on what they considered the crude methodology of eugenicists, and the characterization of almost every human characteristic as being hereditary, rather than the idea of eugenics itself.
The idea of “genius” and “talent” is also considered by William Graham Sumner, a founder of the American Sociological Society (now called the American Sociological Association). He maintained that if the government did not meddle with the social policy of laissez-faire, a class of genius would rise to the top of the system of social stratification, followed by a class of talent. Most of the rest of society would fit into the class of mediocrity. Those who were considered to be defective (mentally retarded, handicapped, etc.) had a negative effect on social progress by draining off necessary resources. They should be left on their own to sink or swim. But those in the class of delinquent (criminals, deviants, etc.) should be eliminated from society (“Folkways”, 1907).
With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, eugenicists for the first time played a central role in the Congressional debate as expert advisers on the threat of “inferior stock” from eastern and southern Europe. This reduced the number of immigrants from abroad to 15 percent from previous years, to control the number of “unfit” individuals entering the country. The new act strengthened existing laws prohibiting race mixing in an attempt to maintain the gene pool. Eugenic considerations also lay behind the adoption of incest laws in much of the U.S. and were used to justify many antimiscegenation laws.
Some states sterilized “imbeciles” for much of the 20th century. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case that the state of Virginia could sterilize those it thought unfit. The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963, when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States. A favorable report on the results of sterilization in California, by far the state with the most sterilizations, was published in book form by the biologist Paul Popenoe and was widely cited by the Nazi government as evidence that wide-reaching sterilization programs were feasible and humane. When Nazi administrators went on trial for war crimes in Nuremberg after World War II, they justified the mass sterilizations (over 450,000 in less than a decade) by citing the United States as their inspiration.
Almost all non-Catholic Western nations adopted some eugenic legislations. In July 1933 Germany passed a law allowing for the involuntary sterilization of “hereditary and incurable drunkards, sexual criminals, lunatics, and those suffering from an incurable disease which would be passed on to their offspring.” Canada carried out thousands of forced sterilizations, and these lasted into the 1970s. Many First Nations (native Canadians) were targeted, as well as immigrants from Eastern Europe, as the program identified racial and ethnic minorities to be genetically inferior. Sweden forcibly sterilized 62,000 people, primarily the mentally ill in the later decades, but also ethnic or racial minorities early on, as part of a eugenics program over a 40-year period. As was the case in other programs, ethnicity and race were believed to be connected to mental and physical health. While many Swedes disliked the program, politicians generally supported it; the ruling left supported it more as a means of promoting social health, while amongst the right it was more about racial protectionism. (The Swedish government has subsequently paid damages to those involved.) Besides the large-scale program in the United States, other nations included Australia, the UK, Norway, France, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, and Switzerland with programs to sterilize people the government declared to be mentally deficient. Singapore practiced a limited form of eugenics that involved encouraging marriage between university graduates and the rest through segregation in matchmaking agencies, in the hope that the former would produce better children.
Various authors, notably Stephen Jay Gould, have repeatedly asserted that restrictions on immigration passed in the United States during the 1920s (and overhauled in 1965) were motivated by the goals of eugenics, in particular, a desire to exclude races considered to be inferior from the national gene pool. During the early 20th century, the United States and Canada began to receive far higher numbers of Southern and Eastern European immigrants. Influential eugenicists like Lothrop Stoddard and Harry Laughlin (who was appointed as an expert witness for the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization in 1920) presented arguments that these were inferior races that would pollute the national gene pool if their numbers went unrestricted. It has been argued that this stirred both Canada and the United States into passing laws creating a hierarchy of nationalities, rating them from the most desirable Anglo-Saxon and Nordic peoples to the Chinese and Japanese immigrants, who were almost completely banned from entering the country. However, several people, in particular Franz Samelson, Mark Snyderman and Richard Herrnstein, have argued that, based on their examination of the records of the congressional debates over immigration policy, congress gave virtually no consideration to these factors. According to these authors, the restrictions were motivated primarily by a desire to maintain the country’s cultural integrity against a heavy influx of foreigners. This interpretation is not, however, accepted by most historians of eugenics.
Some who disagree with the idea of eugenics in general contend that eugenics legislation still had benefits. Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood of America) found it a useful tool to urge the legalization of contraception. In its time eugenics was seen by many as scientific and progressive, the natural application of knowledge about breeding to the arena of human life. Before the death camps of World War II, the idea that eugenics could lead to genocide was not taken seriously.
After the experience of Nazi Germany, many ideas about “racial hygiene” and “unfit” members of society were publicly renounced by politicians and members of the scientific community. The Nuremberg Trials against former Nazi leaders revealed to the world many of the regime’s genocidal practices and resulted in formalized policies of medical ethics and the 1950 UNESCO statement on race. Many scientific societies released their own similar “race statements” over the years, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, developed in response to abuses during the Second World War, was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and affirmed, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.” In continuation, the 1978 UNESCO declaration on race and racial prejudice states that the fundamental equality of all human beings is the ideal toward which ethics and science should converge.
In reaction to Nazi abuses, eugenics became almost universally reviled in many of the nations where it had once been popular (however, some eugenics programs, including sterilization, continued quietly for decades). Many prewar eugenicists engaged in what they later labeled “crypto-eugenics”, purposefully taking their eugenic beliefs “underground” and becoming respected anthropologists, biologists and geneticists in the postwar world (including Robert Yerkes in the U.S. and Otmar von Verschuer in Germany). Californian eugenicist Paul Popenoe founded marriage counseling during the 1950s, a career change which grew from his eugenic interests in promoting “healthy marriages” between “fit” couples.
High school and college textbooks from the 1920s through the ’40s often had chapters touting the scientific progress to be had from applying eugenic principles to the population. Many early scientific journals devoted to heredity in general were run by eugenicists and featured eugenics articles alongside studies of heredity in nonhuman organisms. After eugenics fell out of scientific favor, most references to eugenics were removed from textbooks and subsequent editions of relevant journals. Even the names of some journals changed to reflect new attitudes. For example, Eugenics Quarterly became Social Biology in 1969 (the journal still exists today, though it looks little like its predecessor). Notable members of the American Eugenics Society (192294) during the second half of the 20th century included Joseph Fletcher, originator of Situational ethics; Dr. Clarence Gamble of the Procter & Gamble fortune; and Garrett Hardin, a population control advocate and author of The Tragedy of the Commons.
Despite the changed postwar attitude towards eugenics in the U.S. and some European countries, a few nations, notably, Canada and Sweden, maintained large-scale eugenics programs, including forced sterilization of mentally handicapped individuals, as well as other practices, until the 1970s. In the United States, sterilizations capped off in the 1960s, though the eugenics movement had largely lost most popular and political support by the end of the 1930s.
Beginning in the 1980s, the history and concept of eugenics were widely discussed as knowledge about genetics advanced significantly. Endeavors such as the Human Genome Project made the effective modification of the human species seem possible again (as did Darwin’s initial theory of evolution in the 1860s, along with the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws in the early 20th century). The difference at the beginning of the 21st century was the guarded attitude towards eugenics, which had become a watchword to be feared rather than embraced.
A few scientific researchers such as psychologist Richard Lynn, psychologist Raymond Cattell, and doctor Gregory Stock have openly called for eugenic policies using modern technology, but they represent a minority opinion in current scientific and cultural circles.
Because of its association with compulsory sterilization and the racial ideals of the Nazi Party, the word eugenics is rarely used by the advocates of such programs.
Only a few governments in the world have anything resembling eugenic programs today, the most notable being China. In 1993, the Chinese government announced a law, “On Eugenics and Health Protection,” designed to “avoid new births of inferior quality and heighten the standards of the whole population.” In 1994 they passed the “Maternal and Infant Health Care Law”, which included mandatory premarital screenings for “genetic diseases of a serious nature” and “relevant mental disease”. Those who were diagnosed with such diseases were required either not to marry, agree to “long-term contraceptive measures” or to submit to sterilization. (See also: One-child policy)
A similar screening policy (including prenatal screening and abortion) intended to reduce the incidence of thalassemia exists on both sides of the island of Cyprus. Since the program’s implementation in the 1970s, it has reduced the ratio of children born with the hereditary blood disease from 1 out of every 158 births to almost zero.
Dor Yeshorim, a program which seeks to reduce the incidence of Tay-Sachs disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Canavan disease, Fanconi anemia, Familial Dysautonomia, Glycogen storage disease, Bloom’s Syndrome, Gaucher Disease, Niemann-Pick Disease, and Mucolipidosis IV among certain Jewish communities, is another screening program which has drawn comparisons with liberal eugenics.  In Israel, at the expense of the state, the general public is advised to carry out genetic tests to diagnose these diseases before the birth of a baby. If an unborn baby is diagnosed with one of these diseases among which Tay-Sachs is the most commonly known, the pregnancy may be terminated, subject to consent. Most other Ashkenazi Jewish communities also run screening programs because of the higher incidence of genetic diseases. In some Jewish communities, the ancient custom of matchmaking (shidduch) is still practiced, and in order to attempt to prevent the tragedy of infant death which always results from being homozygous for Tay-Sachs, associations such as the strongly observant Dor Yeshorim (which was founded by a rabbi who lost four children to Tay-Sachs in order to prevent others suffering the same tragedy) test young couples to check whether they carry a risk of passing on fatal conditions. If both the young man and woman are Tay-Sachs carriers, it is common for the match to be broken off. Judaism, like numerous other religions, discourages abortion unless there is a risk to the mother, in which case her needs take precedence. The effort is not aimed at eradicating the hereditary traits, but rather at the occurrence of homozygosity. The actual impact of this program on gene frequencies is unknown.
In modern bioethics literature, the history of eugenics presents many moral and ethical questions. Commentators have suggested the new “eugenics” will come from reproductive technologies that will allow parents to create so-called “designer babies” (what the biologist Lee M. Silver prominently called “reprogenetics”). It has been argued that this “non-coercive” form of biological “improvement” will be predominantly motivated by individual competitiveness and the desire to create “the best opportunities” for children, rather than an urge to improve the species as a whole, which characterized the early 20th-century forms of eugenics. Because of this non-coercive nature, lack of involvement by the state and a difference in goals, some commentators have questioned whether such activities are eugenics or something else altogether. But critics note [citationneeded] that Francis Galton, did not advocate for coercion when he defined the principles of eugenics. In other words, eugenics does not mean coercion. It is, according to Galton who originated the term, the proper label for bioengineering of “better” human beings.
Daniel Kevles argues that eugenics and the conservation of natural resources are similar propositions. Both can be practiced foolishly so as to abuse individual rights, but both can be practiced wisely.
Some disability activists argue that, although their impairments may cause them pain or discomfort, what really disables them as members of society is a sociocultural system that does not recognize their right to genuinely equal treatment. They express skepticism that any form of eugenics could be to the benefit of the disabled considering their treatment by historical eugenic campaigns.
James D. Watson, the first director of the Human Genome Project, initiated the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Program (ELSI) which has funded a number of studies into the implications of human genetic engineering (along with a prominent website on the history of eugenics), because:
Distinguished geneticists including Nobel Prize-winners John Sulston (“I don’t think one ought to bring a clearly disabled child into the world”) and Watson (“Once you have a way in which you can improve our children, no one can stop it”) support genetic screening. Which ideas should be described as “eugenic” are still controversial in both public and scholarly spheres. Some observers such as Philip Kitcher have described the use of genetic screening by parents as making possible a form of “voluntary” eugenics.
Some modern subcultures advocate different forms of eugenics assisted by human cloning and human genetic engineering, sometimes even as part of a new cult (see Ralism, Cosmotheism, or Prometheism). These groups also talk of “neo-eugenics”. “conscious evolution”, or “genetic freedom”.
Behavioral traits often identified as potential targets for modification through human genetic engineering include intelligence, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, sexual behavior (and orientation) and criminality.
Most recently in the United Kingdom, a court case, the Crown v. James Edward Whittaker-Williams, arguably set a precedent of banning sexual contact between people with “learning difficulties”. The accused, a man suffering learning disabilities, was jailed for kissing and hugging a woman with learning disabilities. This was done under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which redefines kissing and cuddling as sexual and states that those with learning difficulties are unable to give consent regardless of whether or not the act involved coercion. Opponents of the act have attacked it as bringing in eugenics through the backdoor under the guise of a requirement of “consent”.
A current line of thought correlates the legalization of abortion in the USA with the current drop in crime rate and thus is an unintended eugenics experiment on a grand scale. The book Freakonomics expounds this theory. The chain of reasoning is that the typical person getting an abortion in the USA comes from lower economic classes and have an unwanted pregnancy due to poor choices and risky behavior. Such attributes are passed on through genetics, thus abortion is selecting strongly against such genes. This results in a drop in criminals being produced. See  and  for typical articles. There may also be a similar selection against high intelligence genes due to women with such genes postponing reproduction due to career conflict.
While the science of genetics has increasingly provided means by which certain characteristics and conditions can be identified and understood, given the complexity of human genetics, culture, and psychology there is at this point no agreed objective means of determining which traits might be ultimately desirable or undesirable. Eugenic manipulations that reduce the propensity for criminality and violence, for example, might result in the population being enslaved by an outside aggressor it can no longer defend itself against. On the other hand, genetic diseases like hemochromatosis can increase susceptibility to illness, cause physical deformities, and other dysfunctions. Eugenic measures against many of these diseases are already being undertaken in societies around the world, while measures against traits that affect more subtle, poorly understood traits, such as criminality, are relegated to the realm of speculation and science fiction. The effects of diseases are essentially wholly negative, and societies everywhere seek to reduce their impact by various means, some of which are eugenic in all but name. The other traits that are discussed have positive as well as negative effects and are not generally targeted at present anywhere.[citationneeded]
A common criticism of eugenics is that it inevitably leads to measures that are unethical (Lynn 2001). In the hypothetical scenario where it’s scientifically proven that one racial minority group making up 5% of the population is on average less intelligent than the majority racial group it’s more likely that the minority racial group will be submitted to a eugenics program, opposed to the 5% least intelligent members of the population as a whole. For example, Nazi Germany’s eugenic program within the German population resulted in protests and unrest, while the persecution of the Jews was met with silence.
H. L. Kaye wrote of “the obvious truth that eugenics has been discredited by Hitler’s crimes” (Kaye 1989). R. L. Hayman argued “the eugenics movement is an anachronism, its political implications exposed by the Holocaust” (Hayman 1990).
Steven Pinker has stated that it is “a conventional wisdom among left-leaning academics that genes imply genocide.” He has responded to this “conventional wisdom” by comparing the history of Marxism, which had the opposite position on genes to that of Nazism:
But the 20th century suffered “two” ideologies that led to genocides. The other one, Marxism, had no use for race, didn’t believe in genes and denied that human nature was a meaningful concept. Clearly, it’s not an emphasis on genes or evolution that is dangerous. It’s the desire to remake humanity by coercive means (eugenics or social engineering) and the belief that humanity advances through a struggle in which superior groups (race or classes) triumph over inferior ones.
Richard Lynn argues that any social philosophy is capable of ethical misuse. Though Christian principles have aided in the abolition of slavery and the establishment of welfare programs, he notes that the Christian church has also burned many dissidents at the stake and waged wars against nonbelievers in which Christian crusaders slaughtered large numbers of women and children. Lynn argues the appropriate response is to condemn these killings, but believing that Christianity “inevitably leads to the extermination of those who do not accept its doctrines” is unwarranted (Lynn 2001).
Eugenic policies could also lead to loss of genetic diversity, in which case a culturally accepted improvement of the gene pool may, but would not necessarily, result in biological disaster due to increased vulnerability to disease, reduced ability to adapt to environmental change and other factors both known and unknown. This kind of argument from the precautionary principle is itself widely criticized. A long-term eugenics plan is likely to lead to a scenario similar to this because the elimination of traits deemed undesirable would reduce genetic diversity by definition.
Related to a decrease in diversity is the danger of non-recognition. That is, if everyone were beautiful and attractive, then it would be more difficult to distinguish between different individuals, due to the wide variety of ugly traits and otherwise non-attractive traits and combinations thereof that we use to recognize each other.
To the contrary, some studies have shown that dysgenic trends lead to a decrease of genetic diversity, a development that in theory could be countered by a eugenic program.[citationneeded]
The possible elimination of the autism genotype is a significant political issue in the autism rights movement, which claims autism is a form of neurodiversity. Many advocates of Down Syndrome rights also consider Down Syndrome (Trisomy-21) a form of neurodiversity, though males with Down Syndrome are generally infertile.
In some instances efforts to eradicate certain single-gene mutations would be nearly impossible. In the event the condition in question was a heterozygous recessive trait, the problem is that by eliminating the visible unwanted trait, there are still as many genes for the condition left in the gene pool as were eliminated according to the Hardy-Weinberg principle, which states that a population’s genetics are defined as pp+2pq+qq at equilibrium. With genetic testing it may be possible to detect all of the heterozygous recessive traits, but only at great cost with the current technology. Under normal circumstances it is only possible to eliminate a dominant allele from the gene pool. Recessive traits can be severely reduced, but never eliminated unless the complete genetic makeup of all members of the pool was known, as aforementioned. As only very few undesirable traits, such as Huntington’s disease, are dominant, the practical value for “eliminating” traits is quite low.
One website on logic has used the statement “Eugenics must be wrong because it was associated with the Nazis” as a typical example of the association fallacy known as a Reductio ad Hitlerum. The stigmatization of eugenics because of its association, on the other hand, has not at all slowed the application of medical technologies that decrease the incidence of birth defects, or to slow the search for their causes.
Supporters of eugenics are often concerned about the dysgenic decline in intelligence which they believe will lead to the collapse of the current civilization and has been the cause of the collapse of past civilizations. This decline would make eugenics a necessary evil because the possible human suffering caused by eugenics would pale in comparison to such an event.
Small differences in average IQ at the group level might theoretically have large effects on social outcomes. Herrnstein and Murray altered the mean IQ (100) of the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’s population sample by randomly deleting individuals below an IQ of 103 until the population mean reached 103. This calculation was conducted twice and averaged together to avoid error from the random selection. This test showed that the new group with an average IQ of 103 had a poverty rate 25% lower than a group with an average IQ of 100. Similar substantial correlations in high school drop-out rates, crime rates, and other outcomes were measured.
Whether a global increase in intelligence would actually increase a nation’s wealth remains disputed since IQ is partially correlated to one’s socialeconomic status, which might not change at all.
Eugenics is a recurrent theme in science fiction, often with both dystopian and utopian elements. The novel Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley is usually taken as an expression of the fear that the control of human biology by the state might result in permanent social stratefication, a theme which also plays a role in the 1997 film Gattaca, whose plot turns around reprogenetics, genetic testing, and the social consequences of liberal eugenics. Boris Vian (under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan) takes a more light-hearted approach in his novel Et on tuera tous les affreux (“And we’ll kill all the ugly ones”).
Novels touching upon the subject include The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. The Eugenics Wars are a significant part of the background story of the Star Trek universe (episodes “Space Seed”, “Borderland”, “Cold Station 12”, “The Augments” and the film The Wrath of Khan). Eugenics also plays a significant role in the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy where eugenics practicing Neanderthals from a near-utopian parallel world create a gateway to earth. Cowl (novel) by Neal Asher describes the collapse of western civilization due to dysgenics.
In Frank Herbert’s Dune series of novels, selective breeding programs form a significant theme. Early in the series, the Bene Gesserit religious order manipulates breeding patterns over many generations in order to create the Kwisatz Haderach. In God Emperor of Dune, the emperor Leto II again manipulates human breeding in order to achieve his own ends. The Bene Tleilaxu also employed genetic engineering to create human beings with specific genetic attributes.
There tends to be a eugenic undercurrent in the science fiction concept of the supersoldier. Several depictions of these supersoldiers usually have them bred for combat or genetically selected for attributes that are beneficial to modern or future combat.
In the novels Methuselah’s Children and Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein, a large trust fund is created to give financial encouragement to marriage among people (the Howard Families) whose parents and grandparents were long lived. The result is a subset of Earth’s population who has significantly above-average life spans. Members of this group appear in many of the works by the same author.
In Eoin Colfer’s book the The Supernaturalist, Ditto is a Bartoli Baby, which is the name for a failed experiment of the famed Dr. Bartoli. Bartoli tried to create a superior race of humans, but they ended in arrested development, with mutations including extra sensory perception and healing hands.
In Gene Roddenberry’s science-fiction television series Andromeda, the entire Nietzschean race is founded on the principals of selective breeding.
In Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, the character Teela Brown is a result of several generations of winners of the “Birthright Lottery”, a system which attempts to encourage lucky people to breed.
In season 2 of Dark Angel, the main ‘bad guy’ Ames White is a member of a cult known as the Conclave which has infiltrated various levels of society to breed super-humans. They are trying to exterminate all the Transgenics, including the main character Max Guevara, whom they view as being genetically unclean for having some animal DNA spliced with human.
In the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City a fictional character called Pastor Richards, who is a caricature of an extreme and insane televangelist, is featured as a guest on a discussion radio show about morality. On this show he describes shooting people who do not agree with him and who are not “morally correct”, the show’s host describes this as “amateur eugenics”.
See also Genetic engineering in fiction.
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Eugenics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia