[Paleopsych] ContraCostaTimes.com: 'Designer babies' pose near-term ethical issue
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Sat Aug 21 20:29:38 UTC 2004
ContraCostaTimes.com: 'Designer babies' pose near-term ethical issue
[Thanks to Ted for finding this article. The paper is produced in Walnut
City, CA. Ted certainly searches far and wide!]
Saturday, Aug 21, 2004
By Kathi Wolfe
RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
Nazi Germany's crimes discredited the "breeding" of the "fittest"
babies, yet eugenics is resurfacing today in the advances of
biotechnology, say some ethicists and theologians.
The eugenics of the past originated with government, said Ted Peters,
president of Pacific Lutheran Seminary and a researcher at the Center
for Theology and the Natural Sciences.
Now, he said, "We're going to see free market eugenics. Families are
going to plan the genetic makeup of their children."
Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term "eugenics"
in 1886. His idea was to "improve the human race through better
breeding," said Christine Rosen, author of "Preaching Eugenics:
Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement" (Oxford
University Press). To achieve this goal, Galton and other adherents of
eugenics encouraged "the production of the fittest specimens," she
Some bioethicists say the urge to produce "the fittest" is still with
us. Now parents have begun to use genetic screening and engineering to
keep their children free from diseases, Peters said.
In the near future, he said, biotechnology will permit parents to move
beyond "therapy" -- preventing or treating disease. "Designer babies"
could be on the horizon within five years, Peters said.
This technology, which Peters and other bioethicists consider to be
"enhancement" rather than "therapy," would allow parents to use
genetic selection and modification to enhance traits of their
children, such as intelligence and musical ability.
"Only the wealthy could afford it. A 'gene-rich' class could develop,"
Modern biotechnology may be different from that of Galton's time, but
it doesn't make eugenics any less significant or troubling, said
Gilbert Meilaender, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.
Some biotechnologies "invite us to think of ourselves as the makers
rather than the begetters of our children," said Meilaender, a
theologian at Valparaiso University. This makes parents think of their
offspring as "products" -- to view themselves in a God-like role, he
We should ask if the goals justify the means when parents want to
protect the health and improve the lives of their children.
Contrary to popular perception, eugenics didn't begin in Nazi Germany,
Rosen said. The eugenics movement flourished in the United States from
the early years of the 20th century through the 1930s, she said.
"Eugenics flourished in the liberal Protestant, Catholic and Jewish
mainstream," Rosen said.
Eugenicists supported efforts to restrict immigration from countries
"whose citizens might pollute the American melting pot" and
"compulsory state sterilization laws," Rosen said.
More than 30 states passed sterilization laws between 1907 and the
1970s, said Paul Lombardo, a historian at the Center for Biomedical
Ethics at the University of Virginia.
During this time, more than 60,000 people were involuntarily
sterilized, he said.
"Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race," an exhibit on display at
the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., through Oct. 16, 2005,
shows how Nazi Germany incorporated the ideas of eugenics.
Bioethicists and theologians today aren't comparing the United States
with Nazi Germany. But they say the specter of eugenics hovers.
Unlike the early 20th century, religious leaders aren't playing a key
role in bioethics debates today, Rosen said.
"Nobody in religious groups is thinking about eugenics now," Peters
said. But it will be on their radar screen when people in church pews
begin asking clergy about the ethical and theological implications of
biotechnology advances, he said.
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