RE: Eugenics

From: Billy Brown (
Date: Sat Jun 10 2000 - 13:26:36 MDT

Sarah Lawrence wrote:
> I confess that I have no idea what the Extropian line is on this,
> but I find it profoundly frightening.

To the extent that there is such a thing as a party line, it is that
regulation of genetic research should be minimal and individuals should be
free to do anything that they like with their own bodies. The issue of using
genetic engineering on unborn children is more complicated, but the general
feeling seems to be that parents should be able to make their own decisions
unless there is clear evidence that some particular proposed modification
would be harmful to the child.

> You may think that infringing your children's autonomy is a
> necessary evil. But -- *don't* think it doesn't hurt them: that way
> lies madness. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that
> anyone *intends* to harm their children. We all love our children
> and want what's best for them. We so much want to help them that we
> sometimes feel compelled to take the decision out of their hands,
> because we can't bear to think of them suffering as a result of
> their mistake. But when we do that, we're infringing their autonomy
> and doing them wrong.
> The arguments that show why it isn't right to do things to *gypsies*
> against their will apply just as much to every other group of
> people, including children.

I agree with most of what you've said, but I think you've missed one
important point. Just because the idea that 'group X is incapable of making
their own decisions' has been abused in the past does not mean that it can
never actually be true. Is simply means that we should err on the side of
caution, and overrule an individual's preferences only when there is
overwhelming evidence that said individual is incapable of making a reasoned

If the case of teenagers it seems reasonable to suppose that the only thing
they lack is experience in making their own decisions, so your reasoning
applies fully. In the case of infants it seems equally clear that the
capacity for even rudimentary decision-making has not yet developed, so it
would make no sense to adopt a hands-off policy.

In the intervening years (age 2-12, more or less), things get complicated.
It would seem sensible to adopt a policy of allowing a child to make
decisions about anything that he can actually understand, but it is very
difficult to know how far the capacity for understanding has developed at
any given time.

Billy Brown

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:13:06 MDT