Related or contrasting ideas may be found in the sections on Animal Rights, Knowledge, Life, Medical Ethics, Nature, Progress, and Science




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Eugenics is good

NAZIS

Nobody supports the eugenic model of the early 20th century

“Regulating eugenics,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 121 (April 2008), p. 1581-1582

“The eugenics of the first half of the twentieth century is rightly considered abhorrent. Couched in faux scientific language, eugenics policies were at bottom motivated more by racism, classism, and colonial subjugation than by any real concern for genetic fitness. The Nazis’ justifications for the Holocaust are perhaps the apex of the horrors of the early eugenics movement.”


Modern liberal eugenics differs from authoritarian Nazi eugenics

Chris Ganchoff (Assistant Professor of Sociology, Michigan State Univ.), “Eugenic undergrounds: stem cells and human futures,” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 121-122

“Liberal eugenics, persuasively argued by Nicholas Agar, differs from older, non-liberal (or authoritarian) forms of eugenics primarily in that the focus is on the individual’s decision-making capability. The state, or other large corporate actors, is disallowed from using coercive tactics regarding the individual’s reproductive choices. These entities can regulate the use of the biotechnologies that underlie liberal eugenics, such as genetic diagnostic and enhancement technologies, but they are not allowed to mandate or prohibit their usage. This choice falls to individuals and couples, and other potential parents. Authoritarian eugenics was overseen by the state, and played a major role in the imagination and implementation of the nation. The transition to liberal eugenics marks the attenuation of the state, and the unfolding of the field of biotechnology, within which the state is one actor among many. Authoritarian eugenics were applied to perceived marginal populations as coercive ‘therapeutic’ solutions. Liberal eugenics will be applied first by the elite to themselves, or those with the material resources to make the choices that affirm liberal eugenics. Agar concludes that ‘underground’ (illicit or morally and/or technically questionable practices) biotechnological intervention in the human genome will be the driving force across the fraught terrain of human experimentation — that is, the kinds of genetic interventions that defenders of the genetically human perspective fear will inevitably happen. Juxtaposing Nazi experimentation on concentration camp inmates with early organ transplantation, he concludes that the latter should be our frame of reference for thinking about those who may conduct genetic enhancements.”


Contemporary genetics policies are far removed from past forms of eugenics

Alan Petersen (prof. of sociology, Monash University at Clayton, Australia), “Is the new genetics eugenic?: interpreting the past, envisioning the future,” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 86

“To the extent that policies pertaining to the new genetics are not overtly class- or race-biased, and do not appear oriented to eliminating certain groups, they seem far removed from eugenics policies of the past. Everyone is called upon to play their part in tracking genetic risk or managing the effects of illness, thereby taking responsibilities of citizenship to a new level. This responsibility extends to others in the family, particularly offspring, and to future generations and other members of one’s own and other groups, who may be at risk of developing a genetic-related disease.”


HUMAN NATURE

Opposition to human genetic modification relies on a specific view of human nature

Elizabeth Fenton (Instructor and Research Assistant, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia), “Liberal eugenics & human nature: Against Habermas,” The Hastings Center Report, November-December 2006, p. 35

“The view now often dubbed ‘liberal eugenics’ holds that people should be able to choose genetic enhancements for their offspring, should these become safely available. This view is opposed by what I will call the ‘human nature’ objection to genetic technology. This objection holds that human nature, or ‘what it is to be human,’ is definable and natural (that is, has not been tampered or interfered with, by, say, human technology). The human nature objection also assumes that a clear line can be drawn between what is natural and what is unnatural, and that this line marks a moral difference: whatever is unnatural is wrong, or at least morally suspect, and whatever is natural is morally valuable, perhaps intrinsically valuable. From this assumption comes the claim that human nature is fixed, to the extent that it should not be improved upon. Proponents of this objection, such as Jurgen Habermas, George Annas, and Francis Fukuyama, conclude that genetic technology is intrinsically wrong, since it threatens something intrinsically valuable.”


Humans are not substantially different from other animals

James Rachels (prof. of philosophy, Univ. of Alabama), Created from Animals: Moral Implications of Darwinism, 1990, p. 171

“The doctrine of human dignity says that humans merit a level of moral concern wholly different from that accorded mere animals; for this to be true, there would have to be some big, morally significant difference between them. Therefore, any adequate defense of human dignity would require some conception of human beings as radically different from other animals. But that is precisely what evolutionary theory calls into question: it makes us suspicious of any doctrine that sees large gaps of any sort between humans and all other creatures.”


PERFECTIBILITY

Mankind has interfered with its own natural evolutionary course

Eve and Albert Stwertka (physicians and college instructors), Genetic Engineering, revised edition, 1989, p. 127

“On the other hand, supporters of biotechnology like to point out that humans began disturbing evolution long ago. Medicine, by saving lives, continually interferes with evolutionary patterns. Even by the simple means of correcting young people’s vision with eyeglasses, we change the evolutionary rule that people who can’t see well enough to hunt and gather may be eliminated from the gene pool in early youth.”


Civilization preserves those who otherwise would have been weeded out as unfit

Daniel E. Bender (Canada Research Chair in Urban History and Assistant Professor, Dept. of Humanities, Univ. of Toronto at Scarborough), “Perils of degeneration: reform, the savage immigrant, and the survival of the unfit,” The Journal of Social History, Fall 2008, p. 8

“As the savage tribe left the aged and sick to die, those races entering the stage of civilization responded with kindness and charity. The result, of course, was the preservation of the unfit. Civilization seemed to breed new depths of misery and poverty, alongside its new comforts. The ironic mark of progress, poverty was simply evidence that those who in the past would have been ‘crushed out of existence’ were helped to survive, though not to thrive.”


We are now insulated from the defects in our genes

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. 29

“Each of us has a genetic ‘load’ of three to eight defects. This could double in 200 years if we go on spreading genetic disorders through random sexual reproduction, multiplying the illnesses and costs that result from bad genes. This increase used to be offset by death and natural selection, but now the weak are preserved and protected.”


Human evolution has stalled

Gunther S. Stent (prof. of molecular biology, Univ. of California), The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress, 1969, p. 12

“Shortly before the turn of the century, the apocalyptic notion arose that civilization has an adverse effect on human evolution, in that medical technology makes possible survival not only of the fit but also of the unfit.”


Stalled evolution puts man in peril

Carl Heintze (public information officer, The Institute for Medical Research), Genetic Engineering: Man and Nature in Transition, 1974, p. 114

“The study of evolution shows, at least to many biologists, that man has evolved because he is the best present answer to the conditions under which life must exist on the earth. This may not mean, however, that he is the final answer. By halting any further random combination of genes, by halting any hope of adaptation to a changing earth, he may eventually find it impossible to change as the planet changes.”


If things continue, the human race will atrophy

Gunther S. Stent (prof. of molecular biology, Univ. of California), The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress, 1969, p. 13

“This it seemed to follow that unless some remedial action were undertaken, the human species could look forward to a steady biological deterioration, which would ultimately lead to its decline and eventual extinction.”


Genetic engineering can allow for directed evolution

Eve and Albert Stwertka (physicians and college instructors), Genetic Engineering, revised edition, 1989, p. 127

“Finally, what some observers call ‘playing God’ seems to others no more than our duty to guide our own destiny. Biotechnology gives hope to those who dream of perfecting human beings and the lives they live on earth.”


We can perfect the human race

June Goodfield (fellow, British Royal Society of Medicine), Playing God: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life, 1977, p. 5

“Whereas other species must rely on random mutation and blind chance for their evolution, the human species, by manipulating the first and selectively eliminating the second, can direct its own destiny. Find the goal, specify the ‘ideal’ homo sapiens and science will take us there.”


Many improvements can be made in the human form

Brian Stableford (science lecturer, Univ. of Reading, England), in Genetic Engineering, ed. by William Dudley, 1990, p. 67

“What appalls us most when we contemplate the human condition is probably our frailty: the ease with which we can be damaged, and our vulnerability to disease. Nature, like contemporary commercial technology, seems overfond of planned obsolescence, and human bodies suffer the double disadvantage of being soft and brittle at the same time. If one were laying down specifications for a new kind of man, one would probably ask first that he should have flesh which would not tear so easily and bones which would not snap so readily.”


Improvement is a natural human goal

John Langone (lecturer, Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School), Human Engineering: Marvel or Menace? 1978, p. 3

“Improvement, if not perfection, of physical and mental strength has long been considered a desirable goal, and each of us employs different methods to achieve it. Diet and vitamins, exercise and transcendental meditation are all among the formulas, each of which offers a do-it-yourself way to fulfill author George Eliot’s message, ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’”


Analogies to Brave New World are inappropriate

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. 13

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: “In his fantasy he was setting up a utopia in reverse, or a dystopia, and his aim was political, not cultural; he was warning us against totalitarianism, not medical biology, and he decided to use biology only as a major instrument of his imaginary dictatorship. In a new forward (for the 1946 edition), he pointed out that in his story the dictatorship created the biological nightmare, not the other way around, and that nonbiological controls could have been used for the same end.”


JUSTICE

If genetic technology allows the rich to avoid ailments, well, that’s how things go now

John Dupré (Director of Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society; prof. of philosophy, Univ. of Exeter), “Liberal Eugenics,” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 153

“My own guess would be that new biotechnologies will not massively exacerbate the existing inequities between those who do and those who do not have access to modern medical resources. Seriously deleterious genetic conditions may become the prerogative of the poor. This hardly makes the problem morally insignificant, but perhaps it is not morally novel: many diseases are already the prerogative of the poor.”


Various conceptions of justice may permit genetic enhancements

Mary B. Mahowald (professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago School of Medicine), “Drawing lines between extremes: medical enhancement and eugenics,” The Pluralist, Summer 2006, p. 30

“Enhancement eugenics may occur all along the line, with enhancement of intelligence as a subset of these practices. Rawls’s theory of justice provides a rationale for justification of enhancement in moderation; Sen’s theory of capabilities provides a rationale for a more complicated view of the matter. Rawls’s justice permits a range of interventions that overlap the center of the line; Sen’s justice opposes the disparate capabilities of groups, especially when these are triggered by social or economic constraints. In a liberal society such as ours, Rawls’s approach may be interpreted as an ethics of obligation, and Sen’s more demanding approach may be considered an ethic of virtue. Both approaches are applicable not just to society but to individuals as well. The contrast between Rawls and Sen has to do with their different emphases on individual liberty and equality, and different attentiveness to the social conditions that affect both.”


Liberal eugenics is consistent with Rawlsian justice

“Regulating eugenics,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 121 (April 2008), p. 1582-1583

“Professor John Rawls, the founder of modern liberal political philosophy, endorses liberal eugenics in A Theory of Justice. Professor Rawls’s argument is simple: a rational actor wants to ensure that her descendants have the capabilities to pursue their preferred plans of life. And because enhancing one’s children’s natural talents neither infringes on others’ liberty nor makes anyone worse off, ‘society is to take steps at least to preserve the general level of natural abilities and to prevent the diffusion of serious defects.’ Professor Ronald Dworkin expands on Professor Rawls’s point, creating an ethical individualist account of morality. First, ‘it is objectively important that any human life, once begun, succeed rather than fail.’ Second, every person has the right to ‘define, for him, what a successful life would be.’ Given these two precepts, society should have no qualms about enhancing the capabilities of its children so that they may have a greater choice of life paths and better odds at succeeding at whatever they choose to do. Indeed, morality requires that society do so.”


SOCIAL CONTROL

Genetic engineering cannot modify behavior

Bernard D. Davis (prof. of bacterial physiology, Harvard Medical School), in Manipulating Life, ed. by Gary McCuen, 1985, p. 19

“We cannot as yet identify a single specific behavioral gene, while we can identify several hundred that cause hereditary diseases.”

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