Science, Eugenics And The Slippery Slope

Washington Post op-ed columnist, Michael Gerson has a very profound column today. He expresses very articulately the slippery slope of abortion, child-screening and selective breeding causing society to focus on the temptation of eugenics.

Gerson begins his column discussing the recent racist remarks of Nobel-prize winning scientist, James Watson. He highlights a series of previous remarks made by Watson that demonstrates a more vicious and narrow views.

In 2003, Watson spoke in favor of genetic selection to eliminate ugly women: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great." In 2000, he suggested that people with darker skin have stronger libidos. In 1997, Watson contended that parents should be allowed to abort fetuses they found to be gay: "If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child, well, let her." In the same interview, he said, "We already accept that most couples don't want a Down child. You would have to be crazy to say you wanted one, because that child has no future."

Those kinds of remarks are outrageous. I am certain that parents of homosexual children or disabled children would contradict every point made by Watson. This arrogant scientist actually believes that he should define the quality of life a child may or may not have based on their genetics and foresee what kind of future they are capable of creating.
"If you really are stupid," Watson once contended, "I would call that a disease." What is the name for the disease of a missing conscience?

Good question.

No one should underestimate the wrenching challenge of having a disabled child. But we also should not ignore the social consequences of widespread screening of children for "desirable" traits. This kind of "choice" is actually a form of absolute power of one generation over the next -- the power to forever define what is "normal," "straight" and "beautiful." And it leads inevitably to discrimination. British scientist Robert Edwards has argued, "Soon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease." A sin. Which leaves disabled children who escape the net of screening -- the result of parental sin -- to be born into a new form of bastardy and prejudice.
This was the part of Gerson's commentary that hit the nail on the head. Soon people will be casting judgment upon people who choose life for their child, regardless of the challenges they may face - skin color, sexual orientation, facial features, multiple sclerosis, etc... Is this the path we really want to choose as a society?

Eugenics as defined by this Wikipedia article:

Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention. Throughout history, eugenics has been regarded by its various advocates as a social responsibility, an altruistic stance of a society, meant to create healthier and more intelligent people, to save resources, and lessen human suffering. More controversially, some, such as the Nazi regime in Germany, used eugenics as a pretext for racial discrimination.

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 who are claimed to have genetic defects, the killing of the institutionalized population and, in some cases, outright genocide of races perceived as inferior or undesirable.


The history of Planned Parenthood is rooted in eugenics. The founder, Margaret Sanger, was a devout socialist and an advocate of negative eugenics, promoting abortion and birth control as ways to rid society of its poor and unintelligent "unfit" members - essentially "race hygiene."

Gerson discusses the conflict that liberals and progressives face about their desire to protect the weak and vulnerable and their desire to promote scientific advances and research which potentially advocate removing human equality.

Watson and many scientists assert a kind of reductionism -- a belief that human beings are the sum of their chemical processes and have no value beyond their achievements and attributes. But progressives, at their best, have a special concern for the different, the struggling and the weak. When it comes to eugenics, they face not only a tension but a choice -- and they should choose human equality over the pursuit of human perfection.

He's right. You cannot choose to abort your own child because of a "predicted" genetic flaw or predisposition and then turn around and advocate protection and equality for those who you secretly think are genetically inferior. It is time to truly examine science and ethics and determine how far is too far. Or at the very least, take the time to open our eyes to the slippery slope. The value of human life should not be determined by the method of conception, genetic composure, gender, race, education, wealth, challenges, successes or failures.




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