Eugenics

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About

Eugenics is a social movement or philosophy advocating the application of science towards improving hereditary traits through various forms of intervention, most commonly with regard to human beings. The purported goals have variously been to create healthier, more intelligent people, save society's resources, and lessen human suffering, although the last goal is often selectively applied.

Eugenics has encompassed a number of practices, some more soundly-based than others:

"Historically, eugenics has been used as a justification for coercive state-sponsored discrimination and human rights violations, such as forced sterilization of persons with genetic defects, the killing of the institutionalized and, in some cases, genocide of races perceived as inferior." [W]

Unfortunately, many advocates of eugenics seem to be proceeding from false presumptions, e.g. the idea that the benefits of civilization are causing successive generations to become stupider or otherwise less "fit".

Ethics

One thing we do seem to have learned about the ethicality of seeking to influence the genetic outcome of mating is that it absolutely must be done with the full consent of those who are reproducing, and preferably at their initiative. Advocating otherwise requires advocating any of a number of unethical practices. (More should be written about this.) --Woozle 17:23, 16 January 2007 (EST)

Usage of Term

It is probably not terribly useful to discuss eugenics except as an historical philosophy, given all the bad ideas which have become associated with it (whether legitimately or otherwise). It is probably more useful, in the context of discussing the usefulness and morality of the various aspects of human improvement which eugenics attempted to promote, to discuss those things individually:

  • objective breeding of humans: pretty much universally rejected within civilized society, as most people would prefer to choose their own mates – even for in-vitro fertilization. However, sperm and egg banks allow individuals to make reproductive choices relatively free from personal feelings, and objective evaluations provided to clients of those banks as part of the service would seem to be entirely ethical. Does this issue need further discussion?
  • Prenatal screening, prenatal testing, genetic counseling, and selective birth control would all seem to be related.
  • Genetic engineering has obvious risks to the resulting individual ("wups, sorry about the extra eyeball!"), but does it pose any inherent ethical risks?
  • Are there any other aspects of eugenics which are still being looked at seriously?

The term "boutique eugenics" has been used as a criticism of the pro-choice position on abortion, apparently with the belief that given the freedom to choose combined with prenatal testing, many women and/or couples will repeatedly abort fetuses until they get exactly the characteristics they want. (See abortion for boutique eugenics for an example.)

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Reference

Filed Links

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    Editorials

    • 2006-02-28 Eugenics doesn't work. Ask why, asshole.: attempting to improve corporate productivity through "survival of the fittest" resulted only in small-mindedly competitive individuals, and hurt productivity, when applied at now-failed corporate giant Enron. (This is probably more accurately described as social Darwinism, but nonetheless gives some indication of the popular conception of what the word "eugenics" means.)

    Sites

    • Future Generations "humanitarian eugenics"
      • While this site raises many good points, it seems to suffer from a lack of self-criticism and error-checking. For example, this quote: "4. At the present time, we are evolving to become less intelligent with each new generation. Why is this happening? Simple: the least-intelligent people are having the most children." [1] This contradicts information I've seen elsewhere, as well as my own (admittedly limited) observations – which have been to the effect that human intelligence is increasing, overall, in spite of the radically altered and reduced selection pressures we now face. It also contradicts common sense; if we're constantly getting stupider, then how did we get where we are? How did we keep developing new technology after new technology, with society successfully (more or less) absorbing each new complication? How can we today have the majority of people using computers, a technology which would have completely baffled most of our ancestors of (say) just a century ago? Brief dives into other articles in their list have produced similarly obvious criticisms, so I can't really take this site's defense of eugenics seriously (nor do I think that the validity of eugenics should stand or fall on the arguments of this site). If they ever get a wiki, I'll be happy to comment at greater length. --Woozle 18:57, 16 January 2007 (EST)