Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The history of eugenics

This article summarizes the history of eugenics in Europe and cites the opinions of scientists who practice it today. That eugenics erodes the freedom of parents to give birth to disabled children and lowers the dignity of the handicapped themselves seems of small concern. Note that eugenics was outlawed by the Catholic Church in 1935, just as it was coming into vogue with the Nazis.
Source; Contact Genetique of the Institute Lejeune in Paris

Antenatal (pre-natal)diagnosis and eugenics

French daily La Croix published a special issue on eugenics on 24 November. This was the focal point of the Annual Ethics Summit in Paris, which began on Tuesday, 24 November. The issues examined were pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and prenatal screening, which were the subject of the CCNE (French National Ethics Advisory Committee)'s recommendation no.107 released recently (cf. Synthèse de presse du 18/11/09). The purpose of both these techniques is to detect defects in the embryo. PGD is used in particular cases with IVF, before the embryo is implanted in the mother’s uterus: it aims to select a healthy embryo free of a serious genetic disease which runs in the particular family. Prenatal screening is systematically carried out in all pregnancies: these examinations enable any defects to be detected in the unborn child. "The problem is the almost automatic correlation between screening for a defect and abortion," commented Didier Sicard, former CCNE chairman. The journalist questioned whether it was “justifiable” to speak of eugenics.

Eugenics first arose at the end of the 19th century. The term was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin, who saw it as the "science of improving heredity". For science historian André Pichot, it is "the desire to compensate for the demise of natural selection in human societies by establishing a kind of artificial selection". He notes that most 19th century biologists were in favour of this approach, distinguishing between negative eugenics (marriage restrictions, sterilisation or physical elimination of people with unwanted genes, etc.) and positive eugenics (reproduction of individuals with high genetic potential, etc.). Philosopher Jean-Paul Thomas explains: "In fact, the two positions went together. The only positive eugenics to have been implemented was the Lebensborn programme (Editor's note: nurseries for children born of Aryan parents) in Nazi Germany.”

The eugenic movement rapidly had a major influence on legislation. In 1907, the state of Indiana authorised sterilisation for particular types of criminals and sick people. Between the two world wars, its example was followed by certain countries, essentially Protestant ones as the Catholic Church officially outlawed eugenics in 1935 : Switzerland (1928), Denmark (1929), Norway, Finland and Sweden (1935). The law of 14 July 1933, enacted by the Nazi regime and which imposed mandatory sterilisation for people with 9 diseases considered to be hereditary or congenital, was accepted by almost the entire German medical corps, and was based on a Weimar Republic project drawn up in 1932.
Eugenic laws therefore preceded the Nazi period, and survived it. In 1948, Japan authorised the government to impose sterilisation for criminals “with genetic predispositions to crime”. In Sweden, handicapped people were sterilised up until the 1980s. Is it possible then to speak of eugenic policies in France today?

Bioethics laws condemn "eugenic practices that tend to organise the selection of people", which some consider include practices organised and imposed by the State. Another view is that when screening for defects is systematic, organised and leads to the elimination of the sick children in most cases, this constitutes eugenics. Eugenics can be the result of a restrictive policy or be a consensual trend on the part of an entire society. Jean-François Mattei pointed out that although there is no "collective decision to eliminate sick or handicapped unborn children, in reality, the sum of all the individual decisions … amounts to the same thing".

Opinions are divided and contradictory among the medical practitioners involved. Stéphane Viville, of the Strasbourg University Hospital reproductive biology laboratory, admitted to being "disturbed" by the "systematic aspect" of defect detection. In his view, we are ”verging” on eugenics because the social pressure is so great it leads women to have abortions almost systematically: "That’s what’s disturbing. There’s no real free will." Perrine Malzac, a geneticist at La Timone Hospital in Marseilles, also noted: "The dominant discourse from doctors and the family means that, in practice, couples have little room to manoeuvre! Only those with very strong convictions are able to stand their ground". Nonetheless, neither wishes to challenge current practices as the intention behind this selection of human beings is compassion for the couple or the unborn child. In Stéphane Viville’s words: "Eradicating a serious pathology in a family does not pose any ethical problems for me. We would be practising eugenics if we selected embryos based on a pre-established list of pathologies to be detected, and indicating those which were not supposed to live. In his view, it is even justified to go a step further and extend PGD to detect mutations that cause certain breast cancers. "These are extremely aggressive forms of cancer which carriers of the mutation are sure to develop," he said.

Biologist Jacques Testart has always strongly protested against this selection of the "best embryo" through PGD. This stance contrasts with society’s general acceptance of diagnosis practices: no one seems to view them as violating the dignity of handicapped people.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out the film - Maafa21 and see how eugenics through abortion still exists today - www.maafa21.com