Thursday, May 3, 2018

Eugenics


If I were more focused, I would look at Facebook much less often which would probably be a good thing. But I'm not.

There is so much about FB that irks me, but one thing in particular is the showcasing of a mistaken notion that a writer thinks is a gem of their wisdom, insight, revelation... and then seeing that it has been shared a gazillion times. It is hard for me to pass these by when they are what I believe to be false notions about what is moral and ethical and about the nature of science. When these things get mixed together in one of these FB meme-ish thingys, I am (stupidly, no doubt) compelled to comment. Such was the case with this one:



I might have had the good sense to pass it by, but someone had already commented: "Eugenics 'was once considered science'. That doesn't mean it really was science....". To which, I replied, "Eugenics is science. If wheat can be Improved through selective breeding, so too can humans, cows, or most other organisms. Science is amoral, like a hammer."

And then, someone replied to me: "Rick, this wasn't eugenics in whatever way you're referring to. This was claiming that certain morphological characteristics of humans meant that they were superior to other humans with different morphological characteristics. It is a race thing. It is a heritage thing. It is a word heavily associated with the Holocaust."

I agreed that racism is vile, but then pointed to an example of modern eugenics in Iceland.

The FB page's owner replied: "I don't think I can articulate how horrified I am that you would argue that eliminating people with Down syndrome is objectively a positive thing, and is somehow different than racial eugenics. I have friends on here with loved ones who have Down syndrome. You've basically just told them and everyone with Down syndrome that getting rid of them improves our species. How is that "uncoupled from bigotry." I'm disgusted."

I asked: "... if I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that no genetic illness, no matter the consequences to the person born with it, should be eliminated from our genome through any form of selective breeding. Is that what you are saying?"

They replied: "I'm saying that telling people who are disabled or not neurotypical that eliminating them from our population is a good thing, and that our species would be better off if they didn't exist, is ableist and reprehensible."

A new voice jumped in: "Eugenics cannot be decoupled from bigotry, and non-disabled people are not qualified to decide which disabled lives are worth living. What you're describing here is genocide." And then followed up with: "Disabled people have culture, we have shared language, struggles, and history. We aren't disabled by the way our bodies or brains work, we're disabled by the decisions of people with power. There's no reason why a Deaf parent or a Little Person shouldn't be allowed to have children who are like them, who move through the world like them, who share common experiences and values. The onus shouldn't be on disabled people to assimilate or disappear, the onus should be on the broader culture to protect the human rights of every person, including the right to exist in disabled bodies."

Clearly, we had wandered away from the question of whether or not eugenics is science. The quote at the top of this page is from Google; it suggests that there may be a general consensus that it is.

But this leaves the question of whether we ought to intervene in the expression of genes that cause disabilities or illness. Admittedly, it's a slippery ethical slope, but that doesn't mean that sliding to the bottom is inevitable. I think there are matter-of-fact clear examples of cases where intervening is unequivocally the most ethical course of action. Consider the case of deformed dogs.


While I am opposed to our breeding of all domestic animals, I think it much worse to breed animals with deformities or inherited illnesses. Like humans with deformities or disabilities, those here now deserve our concern, respect, and care. But we ought not allow cows with gigantic utters, dogs who have trouble breathing, or featherless chickens to breed.


So what about humans? Consider Tay-Sachs disease.
In the most common form, the infantile form, infants have no enzyme activity, or an extremely low level (less than 0.1%). They typically appear healthy in the newborn period, but develop symptoms within 3 to 6 months of age. The first symptom may be an exaggerated startle response to noise. Infants with this form begin to lose milestones such as rolling and sitting (regression) and develop muscle weakness, which gradually leads to paralysis. They also lose mental functions and become increasingly unresponsive to their surroundings. By 12 months of age, they begin to deteriorate more rapidly, developing blindness, seizures that are hard to treat, and difficulty swallowing. Infants with this form of Tay-Sachs disease typically do not survive past 4 years of age. The most common cause of death is complications from lung inflammation (bronchopneumonia).

Presumably, those who argue that eugenics is "ableist and reprehensible," would say that if an early pregnancy test could show that a fetus has this mutation, that it would be immoral to counsel the mother to consider an abortion or to consider counseling carriers of the genes involved to forego having children. I disagree, and I'll wager that most parents who learn that their child has Tay-Sachs wish that they could have avoided bringing their child into the world; but maybe I'm just an ethically blind cad.

The list of potential diseases and debilitating conditions that might be eliminated from the human gene pool through genetic testing is significant. I don't understand the claim that we should accept all of these conditions as just part of the rich variety of human types. [For the record, I support universal mandatory sterilization; we are a blight on the planet.]
Genetic Disorders Achondroplasia
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
Antiphospholipid Syndrome
Autism
Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease
Breast cancer
Charcot-Marie-Tooth
Colon cancer
Cri du chat
Crohn's Disease
Cystic fibrosis
Dercum Disease
Down Syndrome
Duane Syndrome
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Factor V Leiden Thrombophilia
Familial Hypercholesterolemia
Familial Mediterranean Fever
Fragile X Syndrome
Gaucher Disease
Hemochromatosis
Hemophilia
Holoprosencephaly
Huntington's disease
Klinefelter syndrome
Marfan syndrome
Myotonic Dystrophy
Neurofibromatosis
Noonan Syndrome
Osteogenesis Imperfecta
Parkinson's disease
Phenylketonuria
Poland Anomaly
Porphyria
Progeria
Prostate Cancer
Retinitis Pigmentosa
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID)
Sickle cell disease
Skin Cancer
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Tay-Sachs
Thalassemia
Trimethylaminuria
Turner Syndrome
Velocardiofacial Syndrome
WAGR Syndrome
Wilson Disease

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