Friday, August 17. 2012
Everyone knows about Peter Singer, the utilitarian ethicist that argues for everything from euthanasia to infanticide. People do not know about his protégé Julian Savulescu. It is time to start paying attention.
Who is Julian Savulescu? He is the Director of The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Savulescu is also the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics that recently published the now infamous article "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" Savulescu wrote a defense of the infanticide justification calling it nothing new and suggesting that it was those of us who found the entire thing morally repugnant who had the problem.
Savulescu argues for an seemingly harmless philosophy called "procreative beneficence." He insists that parents should choose the "best" child slated to have the "best" life judged simply on his or her genetics and if parents start being genetically selective about their kids that will make life better for all of us. Savulescu is peddling his wares to popular media. Reader's Digest in the UK just did a piece on Savulescu and his euphemistic "procreative beneficence."
Continue Reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, August 22. 2011
Eugenics is a movement of the early 20th century that tried to create a better human race by preventing the birth of those deemed "unfit." Eugenics literally means "good birth" and it seeks to "improve" the human gene pool. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century was championed by advocates and intellectuals like Margaret Sanger, H. G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Bernard Shaw. They believed that encouraging those with desirable traits to reproduce and preventing those with "undesirable" traits from having children was the key to making sure the human race was always improving. Eugenics assumes that the individual is nothing more than what is encoded in their genes. The American Eugenics movement resulted in the forced sterilization of over 60,000 Americans in 33 states.
But eugenics did not stop there. Adolf Hitler was a huge fan of eugenics and brought it to its natural conclusion: the Holocaust of World War II where millions of the "genetically unfit" were exterminated in an effort to create a master race. Those considered unfit were not just Jews, but the also the criminal, weak, feeble-minded, insane, and disabled. Before the war, American eugenicists openly supported Germany's program and American research institutions financially supported Hitler's eugenic experiments. Some who visited Germany were excited about how the eugenics movement was spreading there. After returning from a visit to Germany, one American eugenicist wrote to another:
"You will be interested to know, that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought.…I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people."
Eugenics is back, but now instead of taking place in concentration camps, it is taking place in IVF clinics and abortion clinics all across the globe. PGD and eugenic abortion are systematically ending the lives of millions who are view by their parents as "genetically unfit." Whether it is because they have an extra chromosome or they are the wrong sex, embryos and fetuses everywhere are being destroyed because their genetic make up is not what is desired. In many countries the rate of abortion for fetuses with Down Syndrome is over 90%. This is clear indication that eugenics is back in full force but this time it is the youngest members of our species that are the victims.
Our society has somehow rationalized our eugenics as something other than it is. Often PGD and eugenics abortion are presented as the compassionate alternative to bringing a genetically defective child into the world. Parents are told that it would be cruel to continue their child's life because the child will undoubtedly suffer. What well-meaning parents do not realize is that Hitler used the same argument for his extermination of genetically defective children. Hitler praised the ancient Spartan practice of disposing of any weak or deformed babies as the compassionate way to deal with them:
The exposure of the sick, weak, deformed children, in short, their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject, and indeed at any price, and yet takes the life of a hundred thousand healthy children in consequence of birth control or through abortions, in order subsequently to breed a race of degenerates burdened with illnesses.
Killing embryos and fetuses with disease does not elevate their status or prove how compassionate we are. It instead screams that these lives were better off dead than diseased. As uncomfortable as it is to hear, that was also Hitler's approach and we all know how that ended. The proper way to treat disease is to treat the disease, not to get rid of the patient. But we have somehow fallen into the same eugenics trap of last century. Of this I am certain. It only takes a look at eugenics past and present.
"The feeble-minded person is not desirable, he is a social encumbrance, often a burden to himself. In short it were better for him and for society had he never been born. Should we not then, in our attempt to improve the race, begin by preventing the birth of more feeble-minded?"
Monday, January 10. 2011
This story breaks my heart. I spent many years sequencing the DNA of little girls looking for the mutations that cause Rett Syndrome. A toddler with Rett Syndrome has drowned under suspicious circumstances after her parents asked if she could be euthanized. From Australia's Herald Sun:
Maybe this was an accident; maybe it wasn't. What is clear is if a disabled child was left unattended in a backyard pool for anywhere near 20 minutes, she was not being cared for properly.
It is not surprising that this couple asked for their daughter to be euthanized. In a society that believes death is a legitimate medical treatment, their request is reasonable. If this couple had known she had Retts in utero they would have no doubt aborted her. But Retts doesn't show itself until a girl is 12 to 18 months old when a seemingly normal toddler suddenly begins to lose her ability to speak and becomes developmentally delayed. That is likely this couple's rational: "If only we had known, we never would have let the pregnancy go to term! We would have saved her (and us) all that suffering!"
What is tragic is that in recent years there has been some promising treatments for Rett Syndrome tested in mice and now researchers have used induced pluripotent stem cells to create Rett Syndrome neurons as a testing model. It is very possible that had she lived, this little girl could have seen a treatment for Retts in her lifetime.
This is the fruit of embracing abortion as the "treatment" for genetic defects in fetuses. Using death as a solution to genetic disorders disregards the possibility that ten, fifteen or twenty years in the future a treatment may be available.
Contrary to popular belief, aborting genetically diseased children does not cure genetic disease. It only gets rid of the people with the genetic disease. And it marginalizes those children that do make it out of the womb. Like this couple, I am sure there are many other people who also think that if you can abort "defective children" before they are born, then you should be able to kill them after they are born as well.
Friday, June 25. 2010
I know a lot about the genetics of cystic fibrosis also known as CF. I have tested thousands of people for mutations in the CFTR gene that cause this debilitating lung disease. The majority of people that I have tested were pregnant women. I know some of those babies that were found to have CF (upon further testing) probably did not make it out of the womb. Like with Down Syndrome, there is a systematic assault on fetuses with CF. I have heard first hand accounts of women who were pressured to abort their CF baby and made to feel like they were terrible mothers if they didn't. This is truly a shame because, as I also know first hand, there are people walking around who genetically have CF, but are healthy. Some have CF and do not even know it. Even if they are not healthy, CF children are still wonderful human beings that should be celebrated.
I saw two such people on America's Got Talent. Christina and Ali were told they would not be able to sing. I am so glad they proved the doctors wrong:
Monday, January 25. 2010
No one is immune to the lure of eugenics. Since eugenics was a progressive movement, Republicans should know better. But not all do as Joe Carter from First Things Blog points out:
Friday, August 14. 2009
Arthur Caplan has a piece at MSNBC.com that accuses right-wingers of cheapening the Holocaust by comparing Obama's health care plan to Nazi Germany. Caplan says that the horrors of Nazi Germany were the product of racism and eugenics masquerading as science:
Caplan is right here. No doubt. I agree we have to be careful when we make analogies to Nazi Germany so as not marginalize what happened there. But it is this next part that has me scratching my head:
Caplan seems to be saying that none of these abuses go on in this country. But take a closer look and you will see that maybe we are not as far from these abuses as you might think. Many women have recounted their experience with doctors bullying them into aborting their "genetically defective" babies. The Oregon Health plan (state run health care) has told terminally ill Oregon residents that they will pay for drugs to kill them but not drugs to extend their lives. And ethicists have contended that it is criminal for parents with known geneticist defects to pass them on to their children. In addition, there is some public sentiment that the "defective" are a drain on the rest of the nation. Consider the following quotes from Lori B. Andrews, a reproductive rights lawyer:
I contend we have a racism alive and well in this country. Now, it is against those who are "genetically defective".
While Caplan rightly identifies racism as a driving force in Nazi medicine, I have to wonder of this racism have gone so far without a socialized system of medicine? The Nazi's were socialists are all. Would this prejudice have gone so far without the Nazi government running health care? The Nazi's, as Caplan points out, took existing prejudice and took it to a another level.
I am not eager to repeat the experiment to see if it would happen here. The British health system has already been accused of appalling treatment of the mentally disabled, including the starvation death of a man with Down syndrome in a hospital.
Unless the government is willing to uphold the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, I do not trust it to NOT put the current prejudices of the day into public policy. Especially, with presidential appointees who idolize known eugenicists.
Wednesday, August 12. 2009
President Obama has appointed John P. Holdren as his "science Czar." Holdren is the co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology or PCAST that met last week for their first meeting.
This expose, brought to my attention by Michelle Malkin, goes in depth into Holdren's infatuation with the known eugenicist Harrison Brown. In a speech as recent as 2007, Holdren has held up Harrison Brown as his mentor and a source of inspiration. In 1986, Holdren edited and co-wrote a book honoring Harrison Brown titled Earth and the Human Future: Essays in Honor of Harrison Brown in which Holdren writes:
So what does Harrison Brown's book The Challenge of Man's Future that so greatly inspired John Holdren actually say. Here are a few gems. From page 104:
This is the same garbage espoused by the eugenicists of decades earlier. This thinking was rejected by 1954, especially after Americans saw where it ended up: namely Nazi Germany. But here is Brown rehashing the same social engineering masquerading as science. And again from page 263:
Priorities for artificial insemination could be given to healthy women of high intelligence whose ancestors possessed no dangerous genetic defects. Conversely, priorities for abortions could be given to less intelligent persons of biologically unsound stock.
Ironically, these words were written a scant 12 years before President Obama was born. And Holdren praised this work in his own book when Obama was 22. I have to wonder, since this was written before the civil rights movement, if the Obamas would have fit into Brown's idea of "biologically unsound stock."
Please read the entire piece on John Holdren and Harrison Brown. It is critical that we know and understand who is advising our President on science and technology and what ideas have shaped them.
Tuesday, August 11. 2009
This story was from a few months ago, but has new meaning in light of todays debates about health care reform in the United States. Martin Ryan, a man with Down Syndrome, was allowed to starve to death in a British hospital. From The Guardian:
Outrageous. This is not just a single incident either. An investigation into Britain's National Health Service (NHS), the government run health care system, revealed an "appalling" neglect of people with learning disabilities by the NHS. From The Guardian:
Monday, June 29. 2009
Friday, May 29. 2009
I hate to be so sensational, but I think it is important for parents to understand that your child's DNA maybe stored in a state government facility and you have no idea.
Impossible you say? You know that heel stick that your child got in the hospital right after birth? Some states keep and catalog that blood for use in further research and some envision a time when a whole genome scan is performed on that sample. There are real concerns that the information provided by that seemingly innocuous heel stick could be used to usher in a new era of eugenics.
Now I am NOT saying that the newborn testing programs that screen newborns for as many as 76 genetic conditions is evil. I think these newborn screening programs are important to the health of American children. But I am very concerned that parents are not informed about what happens to their children's blood after it leaves their precious little feet. I am sure that parents do not know that once the blood leaves their child, it is often the property of the State.
The Citizens' Council on Health Care has released a new report that raises concerns about the extension of eugenics into State newborn screening programs. The report states:
I believe the issue here is not the newborn screening. It is the fact that parents are not being properly informed about what is being done with their child's DNA. States do allow parents to "opt out", but that means that their child does not get the benefit of testing.
Parents need to be given the option of having their child's sample be destroyed after the testing is done. Any storage or use of their child's DNA for research should be an "opt in" situation where informed consent is given by the parents for any use outside the scope of the initial genetic testing.
Beyond the parental consent issue, the Citizens' Council on Health Care is concerned that these databases will be used to bring back state-sponsored eugenics:
Unfortunately, the Citizens' Council on Health Care is correct. Especially in a possible future state sponsored health-care system where rationing health care resources is a necessity, your child's genetic profile maybe used against them.
The Citizens' Council on Health Care concludes that parents need to be given choices on what conditions their children are tested for. They call for the destruction of any existing State newborn DNA repositories and call for informed consent from parents for further storage and testing of newborn DNA.
Hat Tip: BioPolitical Times
Friday, January 23. 2009
A reader of this blog has told me that a movie about eugenics is opening at the 24th annual Santa Barbara Independent Film Festival. The movie is called "War Against the Weak" based on the Edwin Black book of the same name:
If you live in the Santa Barbara area please go see this film. We are falling in love with eugenics again. I pray we wake up to its fallacies before it is too late.
Friday, January 16. 2009
Thank-you William Saletan! I have hope for humanity after reading his piece "Eugenic Euphemisms: Protecting our children from diseases—and ugly truths." He could not be more right on about preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). From the redefinition of scientific terminology to the "duty" for parents to have genetically healthy children, all of his points hit the bulls-eye. Here is my favorite:
A director of a medical facility is calling a human embryo "an affected cluster of cells." This is outrageous!
Just as I suspected, it was the doctor that stated that PGD was done "preconception." No matter that "preconception" testing technically would be on the parents' egg and sperm. Serhal makes his own definition of conception so desperate English couples can solicit his services guilt-free.
Doctors and scientists are people too. Some will pull the wool over your eyes to enhance their bottom line.
Monday, January 12. 2009
The worst evils in history are those that clothe themselves in compassion. The wolf in sheep's clothing. "Procreative Benefience" is one of these very palatable evils. I know Julian Savulescu's paper "Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children" was published way back in 2002 in Bioethics, but I have been seeing him quoted more and more lately.
As with many issues in bioethics, Catholics need to be ahead of the curve on this rhetoric. "Procreative Beneficence" is by no means a new idea, but Savulesc gives it a shiny new, woolly coat that masks the wolf underneath. What is "Procreative Beneficence" you might ask? I will let Savulesc tell you in his own words:
Eugenic selection of embryos is now possible by employing in vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). While PGD is currently being employed for the purposes of detecting chromosomal abnormalities or inherited genetic abnormalities, it could in principle be used to test any genetic trait such as hair colour or eye colour.
So essentially Procreative Beneficence is a euphemism for old-fashioned eugenics with the added dimension of "parental choice" which somehow supposed to make it acceptable.
But in this day and age of "choice" being synonymous with "compassion," Procreative Beneficence has appeal to those who do not know better. What parent wouldn't "choose" the best for their children?
And therein lies the rub. Procreative Beneficence is not choosing the best FOR your children, it is choosing the "best" child among several children (currently up to 20 and in the future possibly thousands), according to some seriously limited set of criteria.
The fallacious thinking contained in Procreative Beneficence is endless, most notably who dares decide what constitutes a "best life." But I want to address two points that I think are often overlooked.
The first is that children are not things from which one can choose the one that most suits parental ideas of having a "best life." Human beings are not objects from which we can choose those that we think will perform the best. I found this quote from Savulesc that illustrates my point:
I have a litmus test that I want to try out here. If I can interchange a human being for an object like a car or home in a statement and it still makes sense then there is something seriously wrong with the statement. Let us change the word "embryo" for the word "car" And "Alzheimer Disease" with "transmission trouble" and see what we get:
Children are not cars or homes. When we begin to see them as major investments that we research in Consumer Reports and then make the best choice, we have a real problem. Why? Well, what happens when we do not get what we paid for? Do we get to take them back? Do we sue the 'manufacturer' and call them a 'mistake?' What happens if we decide we should have waited for a better model? Do we get to trade-up? And what happens to the 'outdated unit?' All of a sudden Procreative Beneficence turns children into nothing more than a major life purchase. Is that really giving children the "best life?"
And what if the criteria we used to make our choice was seriously flawed? Which brings me to my second point, which is purely for the secularist. What ever happened to Darwin? The whole idea of evolution is that individuals have small genetic differences and NATURE decides who has the genetic advantage. Nature being a million different influences in an entire ecosystem, most of which our tiny humans brains could not possibly comprehend.
If we could screw up the planet so bad with our choices for a "best life", then who could possibly think we could do better with our own species? Genetics is a truly complex area and it is pure arrogance to think we could ever have all the information to decide which children will have the "best life" based solely on genetic information. By choosing one trait, we may just be choosing against another that would make those who have it better adapted to future environmental constraints. Nature is vastly more qualified than we are to make such decisions. It would be folly to believe otherwise.
It seems to me that to have true Procreative Beneficence we should NOT select the "best" children. Children will have the 'best life" if we embrace the genetic diversity that results from old fashioned reproduction and love our children unconditionally. As for genetic disease, I say we should treat the disease, not get rid of the people who have it. Who knows, that "genetic defect" maybe a "genetic advantage" for a better life in the future.
Wednesday, November 19. 2008
Bill Muehlenberg has written a tremendous piece at Mercatonet.com called "Towards a coercive utopia" where he argues against modern eugenics that uses genetic testing in the worst way possible: to discard humans that are "genetic defective." The whole piece is an amazing read, but I would like to point out a couple of important points. Muehlenberg quotes Julian Savulescu, a bioethicist who argues for using genetic testing along with IVF to create the "most genetically fit" children. Savulescu wrote:
This statement is such a subtle slight of hand, that even I almost missed it. The karomapping that Savulescu discusses would test embryos created with IVF for genetic disorders, among other things, and then the couple can chose which embryos to implant. The embryos that do not make the cut are discarded, donated to research or kept in the deep freeze indefinitely. So Savulescu is very wrong. Couples will conceive both "healthy" and "defective" embryos. The defective ones just don't get a chance to finish their lives because they are deemed inferior to their siblings.
This procedure, a more sophisticated version of preimplantation genetic diagnosis or PGD, does not cure disease. It just gets rid of those humans that have the disease. Muehlenberg writes:
Which brings me to a quote from Leon Kass that Muehlenberg rightly highlights:
Anyone who was awake during this election cycle could not escape the vitriol spewed at Sarah Palin. The irrationality of it made me conclude that her transgression was not just being a conservative. Her real sin was to give birth to Trig, her Down syndrome son. Open your eyes and you will see that in the eyes of many, including some of the most influential bioethicists in the world, "genetic sins" are already walking among us.
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