Can There Be a ‘Liberal Eugenics’?

Abstract

It is possible to have a liberal eugenics, in which certain population outcomes are neither coerced nor predetermined, but driven by individual parental choice. There is, however, a paradox. There will always be disabled people among us, if not as a result of genetic disease, then from trauma, disease and old age. How do we create a society where parents are free to choose not to give birth to disabled children, but where we still value and support the disabled members of our community?

Key Concepts

  • The debate over ‘liberal eugenics’ is actually a number of debates, made murkier by semantic confusion.
  • It is possible to have a liberal eugenics, in which certain population outcomes are neither coerced nor predetermined, but driven by individual parental choice.
  • Authoritarian eugenics was scientifically ignorant, used coercive means and treated people as means to eugenic ends.
  • Liberal genetics is propelled primarily by individual prospective parents making free choices.
  • ‘Eugenic’ efforts have shifted from a focus on those who should not reproduce to those who should not be produced.
  • While early eugenics focused on poor and marginalised people, it is now wealthier people who have better access to scientific means of preventing the birth of disabled children.

Keywords: eugenics; prenatal testing; sterilisation; liberalism; disability

References

Baily MA (2000) Why I Had Amniocentesis. In: Parens E and Asch A (eds) Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights. Washington D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Begos K (2002) Lifting the Curtain on a Shameful Era. Winston‐Salem Journal 9: 2002.

Bérubé M (1996) Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child. New York: Vintage Books.

Brignell, V (2010) The Eugenics Movement Britain Wants to Forget, The New Statesman, 9 December 2010.

Davis DS, Gerson N, Ponsaran R and Siminoff L (2010) Ashkenazi Jews: Overburdened and Overexposed? New Genetics and Society 29 (3): 241–260.

Duster T (2006) Eugenics: Contemporary echoes. In: eLS. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Gattaca (1997) Culver City, CA: Columbia Pictures.

Hall AL (2008) Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Huxley A (1932) Brave New World. London: Chatto & Windus.

Lombardo PL (undated) Eugenics laws restricting immigration. Imagine Archive on the American Eugenics Movement. Dolan DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Available at http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/essay9text.html

Lombardo PA (2002) Three Generations, No Imbeciles. Baltimore: JHU Press.

Parens E and Asch A (2000) The disabilities rights critique of prenatal genetic testing: reflections and recommendations. In: Parens E and Asch A (eds) Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights. Washington D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Phillips KA and Chandrasekharan S (2017) At the prospect of conceiving a child with a genetic disorder, poorer women may have less information and fewer choices. Health Affairs Blog: Health Equity. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20171215.457066/full/

Rosen C (2003) Eugenics—sacred and profane. New Atlantis Summer, (2): 79–89.

Rosner G, Rosner S and Orr‐Urtreger A (2009) Genetic testing in Israel: an Overview. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 10: 175–192.

Ross LF (1998) Children, Families, and Health Care Decision Making. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rothman BK (1986) The Tentative Pregnancy: How Amniocentesis Changed the Experience of Motherhood. New York: Viking Penguin.

Sandel M (2007) The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Shakespeare T (2006) Disabilities Rights and Wrongs. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wilson RA (2017) Contemporary forms of eugenics. In: eLS. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Further Reading

Davis DS (2001) Genetic Dilemmas: Reproductive Technology, Parental Choices, and Children's Futures. New York: Oxford University Press.

Green R (2007) Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hashiloni‐Dalev Y (2007) A Life Unworthy of Living: Reproductive Genetics in Israel and Germany. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing.

Parens E and Asch A (eds) (2000) Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights. Washington D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Davis, Dena S(Nov 2018) Can There Be a ‘Liberal Eugenics’?. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028001]