Eugenics Genetic Enhancement and Eugenics the Word Term Paper

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Genetic Enhancement and Eugenics

The word "eugenics" was coined in 1883 by the English scientist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. He intended it to denote the "science" of improving the human stock by giving "the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable." Since Galton's day, "eugenics" has become a word of ugly connotations -- and deservedly. Eugenic aims merged with misinterpretations of the new science of genetics to help produce cruelly oppressive and in the era of the Nazis barbarous social results. Nonetheless, eugenics continues to figure in social discourse in some proposals for human genetic engineering.[footnoteRef:-1] [-1: Daniel Kelves, In the Name of Eugenics, p. xiii.]

Philip Kitcher, in The Lives to Come, describes laissez faire eugenics as the eugenics yet to come in this era of prenatal testing and genetic counseling. It is a form of planning populations. According to Kitcher, when we know how to shape future generations, the character of our descendents will reflect our decisions and the values that those decisions embody. [footnoteRef:0] Laissez faire eugenics implies attempts to honor individual reproductive freedoms in picking traits that we would like to passed onto our children. Kitcher asks if this attempt is successful and if the resources of prenatal testing in affluent societies are equally open to all members of the population. Does laissez faire eugenics help people make reproductive decisions that are genuinely their own? [0: Philip Kitcher, The Lives to Come, p. 197.]

There are many dangers associated with laissez faire eugenics, namely, discrimination and coercion. If prenatal testing for genetic diseases is often used by members of more privileged strata of society and far more rarely by the underprivileged, then the genetic conditions the affluent are concerned to avoid will be far more common among the poor -- they will become lower class diseases, other people's problems. Interest in finding methods of treatments or for providing supportive environments for those born with the diseases may well wane. Furthermore, individual choices are not made in a social vacuum, and unless changes in social attitudes keep pace with the proliferation of genetic tests, we can anticipate that many future prospective parents, acting to avoid misery for potential children, will have to bow to social attitudes they reject and resent, and may have to choose abortion. In actual world unequal wealth is likely to result in unequal access, and social attitudes will probably prove at least partially coercive.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Ibid, p. 198-199.]

Decisions about prenatal testing must ultimately turn on a social consensus about what kinds of lives are valuable. We can give a principled restriction of biomedical technology that will distinguish proper medical uses from abuses born of social prejudice[footnoteRef:2]. Testing to see if a fetus bears an allele for Sanfilippo syndrome is justified at bottom because the lives led by children with those alleles are sadly truncated and may diminish the quality of lives of others. Deciding which types of prenatal testing or which types of molecular intervention are acceptable requires us to ask how the tests and interventions would affect the quality of future lives. What kind of a life could a child who developed from this fetus, given what is known about its genotype and the environments that could be provided. [footnoteRef:3] [2: Ibid, p.209] [3: Ibid, p. 216-217.]

Utopian eugenics would use reliable genetic information in prenatal tests that would be equally available to all citizens. Although there would be widespread public discussion of values and the social consequences of decisions, there would be no societally imposed restrictions on reproductive choices -- citizens would be educated not coerced. Finally there would be universally shared respect for difference coupled with a public commitment to realizing the potential of all those who are born.[footnoteRef:4] [4: Ibid, p. 202.]

In contrast to Kitcher's described minimalist position, Stock holds a maximalist position with respect to eugenics. He conceives germline therapy as being widely available and morally permissible on maximalist grounds, maximalist being that enhancement for acquiring intellectual and physical abilities (as well as for cosmetic reasons) is as justifiable as for curing disease. Stock offers many challenges against Kitcher's minimalist position and provides reasons and examples for them. According to Stock, widespread use of GCT would almost certainly raise average performance levels and improve health in coming generations, as well as narrow the spread between those with higher and lower potentials. Moreover, if adult enhancements become broadly…[continue]

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