At this point if you're reading this, it is quite likely you've only recently discovered my blog. Mainly because I quite recently posted for the first time in a very long time. I'm really glad that I did, because someone managed to go back and hit on a post I wrote over a year ago (granted there weren't many posts between here and there). I'm glad, because I really think this is an important discussion to have - one that becomes more important by the day. And the comment left by Juniper Shoemaker is worth addressing. And to make it really fun, Juniper is a geneticist in training. (Juniper is also the bittering agent in the last beer I had, an awesome brew by my friend Mac back in Portland.)
For those who might not want to read the original post, I am basically making the argument that we need to get past the hysterics that almost inevitably ensue when the word eugenics is brought up. I would like to be clear that I am not advocating for or against eugenics, though there are certainly ideas involving eugenics that I am strongly against. All that I am advocating for is a rational discussion of eugenics, much like Richard Dawkins did a couple years ago.
The reason this is important right now, is that a lot of controversial things are happening that should be fostering important conversations. But those conversations aren't really happening and I suspect that the reason they aren't happening is because the term eugenics is so very loaded. So before I get into addressing Juniper's comment, I would like to point you to a very illustrative post that discusses eugenics. (without ever actually using the word)
Turns out that a couple had been searching for awhile to find an egg donor who looked like the mother and possessed certain attributes that clinics do not approve of as legitimate donor criteria.
Yup, that there is a shining example of eugenics in action. It's not abortion. It's not killing a flawed infant. It's not sterilization and it's not genocide. It's simply a couple who needs a little help having a child, a couple who wanted to exert a little control over the genes of their child to be. Not really very controversial, it's not much different than the decisions people make when choosing a mate they might reproduce with naturally. But on to Juniper's comment....
The problem with eugenicists is that they ignore the fact that the desirability of ANY trait is dependent on its environment. The environment always changes. Traits you cannot possibly conceive of as "desirable" today could prove desirable tomorrow for a myriad of reasons. For all we know, these traits could include hypertension, bipolar disorder, Down's syndrome and autism. Reality is bizarre and unpredictable.
I have no problem with that. I'm bipolar and also have very severe ADHD. And guess what? My son has been diagnosed with severe ADHD and probably has either some of my other neurological issues or those of his mom. I have very little doubt that my youngest will also exhibit something of our neurological issues too. I can even accept that there may well be some value in the propensity for DS as well.
I will also go as far as saying that the idea of aborting a fetus that has tested positive for DS is not a black and white decision or an absolute net positive. This, in spite of the fact that if our incredible one year old had tested positive as a fetus, he would not be with us today. No question, no discussion necessary. Had that test come back different, we would have terminated the pregnancy. Because while the idea is far from black and white, our ability to deal with it is absolutely clear. We already have a child who needs a lot of special attention. Under ideal circumstances, the sibling of a child with that level of disability is going to lose out. In the case of a sibling who has special needs of his own, it's a recipe for disaster.
But this statement of Juniper's is really the crux of the matter. She is presenting one of the best examples of why we really need to have this discussion. Because right now, it is possible to test for a variety of traits, invitro and make decisions to abort based on those tests.
Call me a hypocrite, because I will freely admit that in a sense I am one. I am fully aware that any child I produce is likely to carry certain traits of mine, that aren't all sunshine and roses. Having the neurological issues that I have is not an easy burden to bear. But I have reproduced and more than once. And I think that the value that comes from having neurochemiustry such as mine, is ultimately worth the hardship it entails. Honestly, if it becomes possible to test for ADHD invitro, I would have serious issues with the notion of trying to eliminate that trait.
Yet without question, I would have no problem with terminating the pregnancy of a fetus that has tested positively for DS. I'd like to say that this is only because of the child I already have. But being perfectly honest, I don't think my reaction would be much different if I was childless. Dealing with a child with that level of need is not something I think I am suited for.
And then we have a somewhat gray area for me (but not for a lot of people), autism. I suspect most people out there who would terminate a pregnancy for DS, would also terminate a pregnancy if there were a significant risk of autism. I'm not one of them, but that is because I have a fair number of autistic friends. At the same time, having the older child I do, I am not sure given the option, I could, in good conscience bring a fetus to term that carried a significant risk of severe autism.
These are not black and white questions, but they are well on there way to being a fact of life and are indicative of why we need to be talking about eugenics.
However, it irritates me when eugenicists assume that the only reason why people get pissed off with them is the "controversial" nature of the subject. That implies that people have to choose between a ringing endorsement of a loaded practice or a sheep-like unthinking aversion to the practice.
Honestly, I think that this is why we need to separate Eugenicists, from ownership of eugenics. Because I really don't think it's reasonable at all to allow anyone lay claim to a concept that is as broad as eugenics. Eugenicists, as Juniper is describing tend to fall into a fairly narrow range of beliefs. And those beliefs are not based on actual science, any more than the beliefs of the so called intelligent design movement, or evolutionary psychology.
I get pissed off because people who like the idea of eugenics usually have a shitty understanding of evolutionary theory.
I would take that one step further and say that eugenics only has a peripheral relationship to evolution at all. Because eugenics is really contra-evolution. Not that being contra-evolution makes eugenics inherently bad. But the claims made by Eugenicists are worse than ignorant, I believe that for the most part they are flat dishonest.
No matter how dishonest, no matter how ignorant their theories, I think it is long past time to take the concept of eugenics away from the Eugenics movement. It is also way past time to take the concept of eugenics away from the specter of the Nazis. Because like it or not, eugenics is a reality and the hysteria surrounding it is preventing us from having some very important discussions with very profound social implications.