June 14, 2012


Eugenics, Past and Future (ROSS DOUTHAT, 6/09/12, NY Times)

[G]iven our society's track record with prenatal testing for Down syndrome, we also have a pretty good idea of what individuals and couples will do with comprehensive information about their unborn child's potential prospects. In 90 percent of cases, a positive test for Down syndrome leads to an abortion. It is hard to imagine that more expansive knowledge won't lead to similar forms of prenatal selection on an ever-more-significant scale.

Is this sort of "liberal eugenics," in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher's era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women? Like so many of our debates about reproductive ethics, that question hinges on what one thinks about the moral status of the fetus.

From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights.

But this is a convenient perspective for our civilization to take. Having left behind pseudoscientific racial theories, it's easy for us to look back and pass judgment on yesterday's eugenicists. It's harder to acknowledge what we have in common with them.

The Daughter had a question in 7th grade this year, after reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, where the teacher asked which side she'd have been on in the abolition debate.  She answered that she couldn't know because she doubted the Southerners thought themselves bad people even if they supported slavery, so, maybe if she'd been one of them she'd have shared their views.  The teacher didn't like it.

Posted by at June 14, 2012 5:29 AM

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