Contemporary Forms of Eugenics


Eugenics is commonly thought of as having endured as science and social movement only until 1945. With the advance of both reproductive and enhancement technologies, however, concern has arisen that eugenics has resurfaced in new forms. In particular, the eugenic potential of the Human Genome Project led to talk of the rise of ‘newgenics’ and of a backdoor to eugenics. This article focuses on such concerns deriving from the practice of prenatal screening and technologies that increase our ability to generate information about the kinds of children we are likely to have. Given individual preferences and social norms concerning what traits are intergenerationally desirable, how should we act and what practices and policies should we endorse or scrutinise? This article will concentrate on key components of eugenic thinking present today and emphasise continuities between the eugenic past and newgenic present in the subhumanisation of people with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.

Key Concepts

  • Eugenics persists in contemporary work on reproductive technologies and disability.
  • Eugenics aims to improve human populations over generational time.
  • By focusing on the idea of eugenic logic, we can explore contemporary forms of eugenics.
  • The eugenic subhumanization of people with disabilities persists in current bioethics.
  • The endorsement by philosophers of liberal eugenics deserves more critical attention.

Keywords: disability; Down syndrome; eugenics; newgenics; prenatal screening; reproductive technologies; sterilisation; subhumanisation


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Wilson, Robert A(Sep 2017) Contemporary Forms of Eugenics. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027075]