Up@dawn 2.0

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Case for Perfection: Modern Eugenics

Eugenics has a bad reputation with society today, mainly due to its association with forced sterilization laws and Hitler’s mass murder and genocide. But is the newer form of eugenics as bad as the old ideology?  Eugenics was a movement that sought to improve the human race; the philosophy was created by Sir Francis Galton. Galton saw it as humanities duty to control what “nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly” to improve our “stock” (Sandel). Unfortunately when the idea spread to America it fell into the hands of “racists and cranks” that developed the idea of genetically unfit individuals. Charles Davenport opened the Eugenics Records Office in order to discover and document those with novel genetic material that benefitted society. Unfortunately, this led to some states passing forced sterilizations laws being passed for groups there were deemed unfit, in many cases this definition applied to prisoners and the poor. Today the modern eugenics movement seems to take on a similar philosophy on improving the human state, but it falls along the lines of individual choice rather than a humanitarian duty for the betterment of society. Therefore, the modern eugenics is aimed less at forcefully controlling the course of human development as a whole and more at improvement on the individual level.
Free-market eugenics puts a consumerist spin on old eugenics, egg and sperm that possess desirable traits can now be advertised and sold for often times hefty prices. Sandel documents an advertisement in an Ivy League college newspaper offering $50,000 for the egg of a 5’10” female, athletic, without any history of major family medical problems, and a combined SAT score of 1400 or higher.   He notes that some object to this consumerist approach of auctioning desirable eggs since it would exploit poor women by offering them what they could not afford, which is as morally detestable as coercion. However, unlike the old eugenics the poor are not prevented from procreation in the least bit additionally at the hefty prices of some eggs, one would venture to expect that the poor would not bother with something they could not afford. Sandel makes a key argument in this chapter when sheds light on the real issue of deliberately designing children rather than allowing nature to take its course. This seems to imply that the child is being deprived of some right to choose their own path. However, is this really a new practice to our species, or just the mastering of an ancient practice in mate choice? Some would argue that biologically, humans are made to choose prospective mates based on certain characteristics that they can pass on to ensure the survival and reproductive success of their offspring. A recent psychological study on intersexual selection and mate preference in humans was done on men and women where they were asked what traits they looked for in a mate. The traits were qualities such as; understanding, intelligent, physical attractiveness, good earning capacity, and healthy. The point being that humans have been unconsciously designing their children for centuries, it would seem that free-market eugenics just improves the options and makes them more available.
Eugenics has had a shaky reputation, but no doubt it has improved over the last few decades. If the rights are left to the individual rather than a forceful government mandate, is the eugenics movement such a bad idea? With more recent spins on eugenics such as liberal eugenics that attempts to give parents the ability to improve their child’s capacities without biasing their life choices, the movement is undoubtedly reinventing itself. With anything implemented by humanity it will be perfected through trial and era, who is to say that eugenics couldn’t contribute to the eradication of genetic diseases in society, maybe not directly but possibly indirectly. This is a case where good and bad aspects will result, of course everyone will not be satisfied, however since the philosophy is improving  to a more modern , non-coercive practice it should not be completely shut down but allowed to run its course.

Work Cited
Adamson, Joel. Sexual Selection in humans: some interesting work.  Sexual Selection and Life History    Evolution.  wordpress.com 08 Jun 2012. <http://lxmx.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/sexual- selection-in-humans-some-interesting-recent-work/>
Sandel, Michael J. The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2007. Print.


  1. I get your point, Caleb, and it's undeniable that sexual selection already casts the dye for the next generation, in terms of the "desirable" traits we all seek in our partners. Still, there's enough randomness and surprise to fall well short of engineering precision and predictability. I still think it would be very bad for children to know that all their specific aptitudes had been consciously ticketed by their parents from a list. But if we're going to mean something more benign than that, by "eugenics," we're going to need a new label. The old one has too much baggage, and too much association with the cranks, crackpots, racists, control freaks et al.

  2. You're right Dr. Oliver. And I think that's what I'm leaning more towards. I understand that it may be a little disheartening to feel like you were created like some computer program. But I do see some good stemming from it and I think that's what I want to be explored. And you're right the old label has taken acquired too much of a bad reputation. It would have to be reinvented