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Why Today’s Eugenics Is Wrong

By Christopher M. Reilly

If you have ever heard the word “eugenics,” you probably know that it is a heinous act. And in the 21st century, we’re supposed to be more sophisticated and better behaved than the Nazis or the 18th and 19th century Americans who plotted massive exterminations of the “undesirable” population. In today’s world, where individuals have a host of legal “rights,” it might seem safe to revisit such goals as purifying the human race of genetic defects, preventing births in locations designated by scientists as overpopulated, and using abortion and contraception (often the same thing) to remove “unwanted” preborn persons before they undergo a life of illness or disability—or simply because they are the less preferred sex.

Why is eugenics—the attempt to perfect the human race by controlling reproduction—wrong? After all, hardly anyone believes that it is wrong for an individual to try to improve himself. And few people believe it is wrong to try to improve society. If today’s eugenicists (who rarely call themselves by this name) are merely trying to create better individuals and a better society, and to rid our world of disabilities and disease, what’s so bad about that?

One moral issue with eugenics is the striving for control over individuals. Numerous scientists, medical professionals, and policymakers already feel they know what is best for society. Patterns of thinking like progressivism—a political ideology that promotes a scientific, supposedly objective, and morally neutral perspective in creating public policy—find a home among classes of educated and largely non-religious persons who share similar experiences and social networks. Transhumanism also appeals to persons enamored with both the imagined capabilities of the biological sciences and the idea of enhancing the biology of humans to develop superhuman abilities, health, and intelligence.

Individuals are too diverse and unpredictable, however, to expect them to independently make choices that will comply with the eugenicists’ preferences. To get individuals to make decisions about their reproduction and children in a way that will supposedly eliminate disease, poverty, disability, and maybe even perceived immorality from the world, eugenicists have a number of options. They can use laws or executive authorities to force or encourage people to abort “unfit” babies, undergo surgical sterilization to prevent pregnancy, and take contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs or devices.

Such methods are not merely things of the past. Forced sterilization of mentally disabled persons is condoned by many contemporary bioethicists, not to mention the public. Some prisoners have also been forcibly sterilized. The Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed about 64,000 Americans to be forcibly sterilized until into the 1970s still stands as the law of the land. Public opinion would be against much expansion of such methods, but that is virtually all that is standing in the way of large populations being subject to forced abortion, sterilization, or contraception.

More commonplace now are state laws and a medical system that encourage doctors and parents to have preborn babies screened for diseases or disabilities. These characteristics are not limited to treatable or correctible “defects.” In this way, the laws stack the odds in favor of aborting the preborn child who has such a “defect,” since much of the medical community would advise this to the distraught and scared parents. Tax, welfare, and health policies that make “family planning” cheap or free for poor citizens (and often immigrants) add to the likelihood of reducing an unwanted population. It is widely reported that 80 to 90 percent of preborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome—a condition under which most living children thrive—are aborted.

A close political alliance between Planned Parenthood and politicians also attempts to persuade Americans that their motives are benign and focused on “women’s health.” They have succeeded in doing this even though huge portions of Planned Parenthood’s profits come from hundreds of thousands of abortions every year. Planned Parenthood receives so much government assistance—almost half of its budget—that it is practically a political or government agency itself.

Such propaganda is another way that the eugenicists maintain control. What seems like individual choice in reproduction is really a very carefully controlled response to media bias toward abortion, euthanasia, and eugenics. How many people know that IVF increases the risk of premature birth and lower birth rates? Or that there are strong links between abortion and preterm births as well as an increase in breast cancer that may be as high as six times? Or that the experience of societies with the Plan B “morning-after pill” is an increase, not a decrease, in abortions? Or that the birth control pill also has a strong link with aggressive forms of breast cancer? Our society is under a voluntary “gag order” that stifles mention by the “mainstream” media, doctors, and researchers of very important health information.

Eugenics is also opposed to common sense and rationality. Who decides which offspring is better? Who has the power to enforce preferences? Whose interests matter more? The very use of reason becomes impossible because each individual believes in a different rationality, with different preferences and value judgments. It is a matter of pure power, and reason becomes simply an argument in favor of whoever is the strongest.

But there is only One who is strongest. Can we possibly live, as transhumanists suppose, without God?

“One is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.” — Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 13.

Christopher M. Reilly is director of External Relations at American Life League.