Eugenics making a comeback as a respectable policy

After hibernating for 60 years, eugenics is making a comeback, both in academic and popular spheres. Nazi enthusiasm for eugenics, as well as sterilisation campaigns throughout the Western world in the 1920s and 1930s, gave eugenics a bad name. However, In the Huffington Post recently, Joe Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project made the case for Eugenics 2.0:

“Modern eugenic aspirations are not about the draconian top-down measures promoted by the Nazis and their ilk. Instead of being driven by a desire to "improve" the species, new eugenics is driven by our personal desire to be as healthy, intelligent and fit as possible--and for the opportunity of our children to be so as well. And that's not something that should be restricted lightly.”

Entine argues that we should legalise screening technologies, as most people want them and they are ultimately of great social and economic benefit to society. He tries to draw a distinction between the new eugenics and “old fears” generated by a far darker, more aggressive eugenics: “Critics solely on negative eugenics and not the positive impact that family planning and genetic screening have already had on society.”

And he suggests that a Gattaca-style world where social success depends on genetic endowment is science fiction scaremongering that will never come about: “It may sound like a real argument but it's sci-fi in the extreme.”

With many of its headlines reading as if they had been written by moonlighting editors from The Onion, the Huffington Post is obviously not a peer-reviewed journal.

However, eugenics is also being touted in the peer-reviewed journals as well. The latest addition to a burgeoning literature, from an rising Oxford philosophy student, Benjamin Meir Jacobs, arguing in the Journal of Medical Ethics that parents have an “obligation to choose a healthier child” based on a moral imperative to avoid creating situations of “harm”. Jacobs argues that we are morally obliged to select children without disabilities if we have such a choice (which is now available through preimplantation genetic diagnosis and IVF).

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