Let us clarify some terms first.

Eugenics:

1. the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of a population.

2. Social philosophy that encourages higher reproduction rates for people with desirable traits and lower reproduction rates for people with undesirable traits.

Notice that eugenics mentions populations and groups of people and has the connotations of an authority carrying out the selective breeding on its citizens. I propose we call this type of eugenics “authority-driven selective breeding”.

Genetic counseling:

1. the process by which patients or relatives at risk of an inherited disorder, are advised of the consequences and nature of the disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, and the options open to them in management and family planning.

Having defined these terms, we turn to the topic of this blog post.

Is eugenics acceptable? Is genetic counseling desirable?

We will start with the first question. Due to historical factors, eugenics has gained a connotation of authoritarian imposition and discrimination on irrelevant grounds. There is the notion of an authority forcing selective breeding programs on people and the notion of choosing what traits are desirable. It is worth clarifying that authority-driven eugenics needs not to be the same as selective breeding by the involved sexual mates. Replies against eugenics often include the two notions, while replies against genetic counseling often include the later notion. However, eugenics does not necessarily need to be enforced. Individuals can choose whether or not to breed with others based on their own criteria.

There is also an inconsistency in replies against eugenics (here meaning selective breeding) regarding the second notion: they argue that we don’t have the right to choose what genetic traits are desirable. Yet the same people oppose sexual intercourse among siblings on the grounds that it is genetically undesirable (i.e. it produces genetic traits that are undesirable). These people are favouring selective breeding in one case and rejecting it in other case. How is ‘the ability/right to choose what genetic traits are desirable’ desirable in one occasion and undesirable in another? The way I see it, incest among siblings has been rationally rejected on the grounds that it is not genetically desirable. Surely, this implies that selective breeding and ‘the ability/right to choose what genetic traits are desirable’ are desirable.

If you go down this route, it seems unlikely that you can reject selective breeding when the sexual mates have enough reasoning powers to make their own decisions. Otherwise, if you reject the individual choice of selective breeding, you can’t reject incest among siblings. The conclusion seems to be that individuals should be allowed to carry out selective breeding. This leads us to the second question.

Is genetic counseling desirable?

As we said above, if we assume that: selective breeding and ‘the ability/right to choose what genetic traits are desirable’ are desirable and the parents have enough reasoning powers to make decisions involving potential children, it seems that genetic counseling is desirable.

However, by asking this question, there was something else I wanted to put on the table. It involves the termination of life of human life forms in gestation that are predicted to have traits that are not considered to be desirable by the involved sexual mates. This is where most of the hot debates focus their attention. ‘Who are you to decide on what criteria a potential human’s life should be terminated?’ some may say.

To all those who might think along similar lines, I invite them to consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1
A product is developed that removes all neurodevelopmental disorders from a person. How many do you think would not take it?

Scenario 2

And soon after this product is improved so that it allows limb growth. How many severe physically impaired people do you think would not take it?

And, what about sense-enhancement products for people with auditive problems or blindness? How many people use auditory enhancement products?

I think few people would reject the chance to use these products if they could afford them. This implies that it is desirable for most of us to (remove or) avoid having impairments if one can (remove them or) avoid them. This in turn implies that an impairment-free life is considered more desirable than an unimpaired life everything else being equal.

Scenario 3
Now think about parents expecting a baby with impairments. They have the chance to improve the baby using some of the above products. How many parents do you think would not use the above products?

Scenario 4
Now think about parents expecting a baby with impairments. The fetus is in its early stages, it has no central nervous system yet. The parents have the chance to abort the fetus and undergo a therapy to reduce risk of impairments on the next fetus.

Why is it right for all the above people to choose an impairment-free life but wrong for the parents in Scenario 3 and 4 to choose an impairment-free life?

 

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