Eugenics by the Back Door
DOI link for Eugenics by the Back Door
Eugenics by the Back Door book
The front door to eugenics is closed. Hitler’s Lebensborn project, the most infamous attempt in this century to produce “good babies,” cast a chilling pall over the frontal assault, the direct route.1 While we have witnessed the development of sperm banks, in vitro fertilization, and artificial insemination, only a small fringe will take the public stage and argue for eugenic aims. Shockley and a few others have espoused a kind of selective breeding of the “good” genetic (“eu-genic”) stock, but wouldbe human breeders remain a tiny node on the periphery of the current genetic revolution. They are likely to remain so. The romantic imagery of Romeo and Juliet is deeply rooted, and shopping at a sperm bank is not something we are likely to see in 1994, or the year 2000. Rather more indirectly, our late twentieth-century Romeo and Juliet will still take their chances of making a good baby, but if they can get a boost from the new technology to insure that they won’t have a “defective” baby, a personal head-on confrontation of the eugenic issue need never occur. But what of the social policy concern of disease prevention? Here, I believe, a subtle and subliminally compelling idea is starting to penetrate the collective conscience, namely, that the “defective fetus” can be eliminated. This book has been aimed at stimulating a general public debate, rather than advocating a single or specific policy. Insofar as I have public policy suggestions, they are made in the spirit of advancing that debate. Accordingly, there is a need to clarify the central issues converging on the horizon. Indeed, it is the convergence that I mean to emphasize. As isolated issues, they hardly present grounds for a eugenic concern. For example, there is nothing particularly disturbing about the search for genetic markers for susceptibility to a disease. Indeed, it can be applauded as providing one more piece of weaponry in medicine’s arsenal against
disease. However, when placed in a larger framework of related developments, the picture is less benign.