Quick note, the baby is not here yet, though momma is bursting at the seams. We are incredibly busy all around, preparing for the baby, preparing for Christmas and preparing for our adventures into the world of homeschooling. I have managed to find some work to cover a little break that I didn't need, which should keep us afloat. On to the posting at hand then.
I have paid little attention, as I have been busy, but Seed's SciBlogs have been been hammering away at one Jim West of the Discovery Institute, a “think” tank devoted to pushing the teaching of creationism into U.S. Public schools. Suffice to say that DI is nothing more than a PR organization, rife with dishonesty. PZ Meyers started in on West a while ago with this post, which I admit I haven't actually read (I include the link for context only).
Lately, sciblogger Greg Laden joined in the fray, ruffling the feathers of sciblogger Orac. In short, Laden made some rather outrageous claims about the origins of forced eugenics programs, both those that happened in the U.S. (dark enough themselves) and those of the Nazis (i.e. The extermination of millions of Jews and other undesirables). Orac corrects the mistaken notion that the intellectual propagators of these atrocious eugenics programs were mostly Christians. In comments on both Greg's and Orac's posts, Colugo adds a lot of very interesting information to the mix.
Now I am not going to argue that the early part of the twentieth century was not to a strong degree, a world gone mad with some truly frightening notions about eugenics. From forced sterilizations, to mass exterminations, forced eugenics was a very ugly, fundamentally bigoted beast. But that is not the whole picture, not by a long shot. There is something important missing in this discussion of eugenics, that is the notion that not all eugenics is bad. Indeed, much of what falls under the heading of eugenics isn't even controversial. Unfortunately, some of it is controversial. Some of it skates very fine, ethical, dare I say, moral lines. The problem with making eugenics into some bogey man, is that it inserts a certain hysteria into a very important discussion.
So what is eugenics?
Let me start with this simple exercise. When you were choosing a mate (assuming you are a breeder of some sort), did you ever consider what your children might look like, if this person or that, was the mate you chose? Did you ever consider their intellect, for the same reason? In short, was one of the factors in choosing your mate, what they might contribute genetically? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, congratulations, you practiced a very basic form of eugenics. Not the least bit controversial, evil or unreasonable.
Lets then up it a notch. I have gotten to know quite a few folks in the world of neurodiversity. Many of them great folks. Several of them have made the conscious decision not to reproduce, because they do not want to pass on what are likely genetic disorders (at least influenced by genetics) to the children they would produce. I.e. They have identified some genetic trait that they believe it would be best not to propagate and therefor chosen not to reproduce. This too, is a form of eugenics.
Now we get to some meat. Herein lies a more controversial aspect of the discussion of eugenics, one that I will state outright, I don't have a problem with. Nonetheless, there are plenty of people who have serious objections, including readers of this blog. Right now, today, medical science has progressed to the point that we can identify many disorders and congenital diseases, in vitro. My partner and I had a bit of a scare, when the nurse called about an elevated risk for downs syndrome, with the baby that is due any time now. Lets just say that she handled it badly – leading us to believe it was a significant risk, rather than a less than three percent risk.
We want this baby. Our whole family is excited (no matter how I whine about it). But with a child already, who has followed in his papa's ADHD footsteps, there is no way that we could raise a child with those sorts of special needs. Not without seriously undermining the care and attention that the son we have now requires. Nor would we find it reasonable to burden society with such a child. It would have been a hard, but simple answer; abortion. For those who have rather profound objections to the notion of abortion, please do not judge me too harshly. Yes, this decision was reached without very much discussion. Mostly we just looked at each other, already knowing the way it would be. It took little time to consider it. This is because we are all too aware of the implications.
Nor is this limited to down syndrome. There are a host of disorders that can and routinely are diagnosed in vitro. While it is not a frequent occurrence, this does lead to decisions to terminate pregnancies. This too, is eugenics.
Finally, we come to even more controversial aspects of the discussion; where is the science going?
Our understanding of genetics and DNA, is increasing at an exponential rate. Already we have developed many gene therapies for treating certain disorders, Tays Sachs being a huge one. We are very close to viable therapies that can be started in vitro (I believe some already are). The question becomes, what is acceptable? What can we reasonably eliminate from our society? For instance, what about ADHD? Bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? Autism? What about homosexuality?
The flip side of this, is the discussion of enhancements. What if it becomes possible to enhance certain characteristics, such as intelligence, endurance, fine motor skills, or spacial reasoning? What about absolute engineering, such as Aldous Huxley describes in Brave New World? A vast panacea is opening up before us, right now. Unfortunately, we are too busy freaking out over the terminology to actually have a serious, coherent discussion. Eugenics is not a four letter word, but it does carry rather serious implications, that require their time in the limelight.