Eugenics by default: Abortion is of greater significance now than infant mortality ever was

We determine the demographic future – almost unthinkingly – by the patterns of child-bearing and child-rearing that we practise today. Population and its composition for the next 100 years or so has already been determined. The Chinese population has started declining and will continue to do so till at least 2100. The Indian population will reach its peak around 2050 and will then decline. The “aging” of populations and the increase of longevity has also been fixed. Demographic “robustness” is critically dependent on maintaining the ratio of the “working” population to the “supported” population (the young and the old). The US is maintaining its demographic sustainability by means of immigration in the face of declining fertility rates. Some countries in Europe are doing the same. Many do not since maintaining  some form of “racial purity” is an undercurrent in many societies and fuels the resistance to immigration – even with dangerous declines in fertility rates. Japan is facing an aging crisis as immigration is resisted. The numbers are inexorable.

Fitness to survive after birth is no longer of significance in the survival stakes. All around the world societies see to it that those with disabilities – once born – are protected. The further evolution of humans will now increasingly be the result of

  1. artificial selection for particular genetic traits, and
  2. the deselection of individuals who have been conceived but are not allowed to be born or to survive and reproduce.

It is my contention that we are in fact – directly and indirectly –  exercising an increasing amount of genetic control in the selection and deselection of our offspring. So much so that we already have “eugenics by default” being applied to a significant degree in the children being born today.

The numbers tell the tale.

One of the key measures of the advances of medical science has been the drastic reduction of infant mortality rates (defined here as deaths after birth but before the age of one year). In the 16th and 17th century this was about 30% of all births (an estimate based on a dearth of data). Since 1950 this rate has dropped from about 15% of all births to around 4% today. The variation is still very high with the current rate being as high as 12% in Afghanistan and 11% in Niger but less than 0.2% in Monaco. By 2050, as development in Africa proceeds, this global rate is expected to have dropped to about 2% (20 per 1000 live births).

It is more difficult to define miscarriages. After fertilisation of an egg it seems that perhaps 50 – 70% fail to attach themselves to the uterus wall and these would not even be considered – or even show up – as a pregnancy. I take such “miscarriages” to be failures of conception. Taking attachment to the uterine wall and the establishment of a fetal heartbeat as being a successful conception, around 10% still result in a miscarriage today.

In 2012 about 135 million babies were born (7 billion population and crude birth rate of 19.15 per 1000 of total population). Worldwide induced abortions numbered about 45 million (estimate). One third of all successful conceptions were not allowed to reach birth.

Economist:  It fell precipitously in the 1990s, but recently the rate has not budged, barely dipping from 29 abortions per 1,000 women (aged 15 to 44) in 2003 to 28 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008. Eastern Europe has the highest abortion rate in the world, at 43 per 1,000. The geography of abortions has also shifted. In 2008, 86% of abortions were in the developing world, up from 78% in 1995.

(Note! the number per 1000 women of child bearing age is different to the number per 1000 live births).

The current status then is:

  • Of 1000 successful conceptions (fetal heartbeat established)
  • less than 20 are by IVF
  • 100 are miscarried before birth
  • 330 are aborted before birth
  • 570 live births result
  • 22 do not survive beyond one year
  • 548 survive beyond 12 months
  • 3 do not survive beyond 5 years
  • About 540 – 545 live to child bearing age

Four hundred years ago miscarriage rates (after successful conception) were probably around 20% of live births and infant mortality rates were about 30%, such that only 50% of all successful conceptions led to children surviving up to their first birthdays.

The picture today is not so different. About 55% of all successful conceptions lead to children surviving beyond one year.

Without moralising about abortion – which I am not qualified to do – as far as the numbers are concerned, infant mortality of 400 years ago has effectively been replaced by abortion today. Deselection which took place in the first year after birth has been shifted to the period after conception but before birth. From a genetic perspective and since there is an element of “selection” in every abortion, abortions today are of greater evolutionary and demographic significance than infant mortality ever was.

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