SOC/BIO: The leap from "intentional reproduction" to "eugenics"

Date: Thu Feb 22 2001 - 06:11:47 MST

The following article from an Australian source points to some interesting
moral territory that should provide fertile (ahem) grounds for social science
reearchers. The idea that a couple has the right to choose whether or not to
have children is fairly well accepted in Western society (even the Vatican
allows it's followers to abstain from reproduction if they can do it without
"artificial" contraceptives). Choosing to have children at a time and under
circumstances in which the parents can provide optimal care for their
offspring obviously has a great impact on the quality of life of the children
that result. Likewise, I don't know of anyone or any group that would
condemn a couple from completely refraining from having children if they knew
that their offspring would have a high likelihood of being handicapped. Yet
exercising that judgment at the level of selcting embryos or even gametes
with the best chance of development into a healthy child seems to at least
begin to cross the line for many people.

Obviously, the reference to "society" in the comment about which the article
below reports and the reaction to those comments provides a clue to what may
be at least one trigger of "the Eugenics Reflex" so many people seem to have
with regard to human genengineering. In a sense, this is a sign that most
people in the West have a healthy suspicion of social controls on human
genengineering. One big problem, though, is that most people seem to see the
issues in binary terms of either 1) social DIRECTION of human genengineering
or 2) complete prohibition. Thank you Aldous Huxley . . . .

>From The Advertiser,,4511,1734370%255E911,00.
Fury at genetic selection remarks
By Science Writer MARK STEENE

ONE of Australia's leading geneticists has sparked outrage among disability
groups by claiming society would be better off without handicapped people.

Professor Grant Sutherland, of the Women's and Children's Hospital, said
parents would be able to use technology gleaned from the human genome
project to test if unborn babies had inherited genetic diseases.
They would then be able to terminate the pregnancy if they wished.

"Anyone's who's born like that we have to deal with, we have to deal with
compassion, with understanding," Professor Sutherland, who led the
Australian research effort into the ground-breaking project, told the ABC's
7.30 Report on Tuesday night.

"But, if we can prevent the birth of handicapped individuals, then I think
that society will be better off."

Disability campaigners and support groups yesterday said his comments
smacked of eugenics, the science of improving offspring.

Helen Meekosha, senior lecturer at the school of social work at the
University of NSW, said she was shocked and disappointed by the professor's

Ms Meekosha, who has multiple sclerosis, is in Adelaide as a speaker at the
Fourth Australian Women's Health Conference.

"Sutherland's comments demand that we, as a society, question who has the
right to exist and who doesn't," she said.

"Making a comment like that suggests society doesn't want them (handicapped
people) - that they're in some way costing society."

Carolyn Frohmader, executive director of Women with Disabilities Australia,
was sickened by Professor Sutherland's comments.

"It is alarming that this man, whose research was the only Australian
contribution to the human genome project, can make such a discriminatory,
value-laden statement," she said.

"That somehow he has the right to decide who can and can't be born."

Professor Sutherland, who agreed disabled people have all the rights of
able-bodied people, yesterday said it was not for him to decide if a
pregnancy should be terminated, and the technology merely provided a basis
for parents to make a decision.

"It's not my decision at all - it would be totally inappropriate for it to
be my decision," he said.

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