Posts Tagged ‘Eugenics’

Modern eugenics in all but name: Sex selection by abortion is legal in the UK

October 7, 2013

Eugenics is here even if nobody wants to acknowledge it for fear of being equated with the Nazis. Artificial selection and deselection rather than natural selection will eventually come to dominate the future evolution of humans. In India the abortion of female foetuses is sometimes an extension of female infanticide caused by the fear of the cost of female children and by the social status accorded by a male child. Sex selection by deselecting foetuses of unwanted genders is not just a feature of the developing world. Even in the UK, sex selection by abortion is legal.

The Telegraph:

Doctors have been informed that they can carry out sex-selective abortions in certain circumstances, the Director of Public Prosecutions has disclosed.

The British Medical Association (BMA) updated its guidance in the wake of an investigation by the Telegraph to advise doctors that “there may be circumstances, in which termination of pregnancy on grounds of fetal sex would be lawful”.

The disclosure is expected to spark fury among dozens of MPs who have criticised the medical establishment for seeking to redefine abortion laws.

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, today publishes a detailed memorandum explaining the controversial decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute two doctors who agreed to arrange illegal abortions based on the sex of an unborn baby.

Mr Starmer warns that current guidance for doctors needs to be urgently updated amid widespread concern over practices in clinics which do not appear to fall foul of the letter of the law.

The two doctors at the centre of the controversy were exposed by the Telegraph after being secretly filmed offering to abort baby girls, even though this is widely thought to be illegal.

The CPS decided it would not be in “the public interest” to prosecute the two doctors.

It has today emerged that in guidance published after The Daily Telegraph carried out the investigation, the BMA issued guidance for doctors.

It stated: “It is normally unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of fetal sex alone.”

However, it then continues: “The pregnant woman’s views about the effect of the sex of the fetus on her situation and on her existing children should nevertheless be carefully considered.”

“In some circumstances doctors may come to the conclusion that the effects are so severe as to provide legal and ethical justification for a termination,” concludes the guidance.

Letter from DPP

“…… The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination. …..

….. The discretion afforded to doctors under the current law in assessing the risk to the mental or physical health of a patient is wide and, having consulted an experienced consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, it appears that there is no generally accepted approach among the medical profession.”

David Attenborough is my hero but humans are not “a plague on earth”

September 10, 2013

David Attenborough is reported in the Guardian as being rather pessimistic about the future of humans.

Sir David Attenborough warns things will only get worse

People should be persuaded against having large families, says the broadcaster and naturalist

Much of what he is reported to have said is perfectly sound but many of the conclusions then present a pessimistic and apocryphal – a very Guardianesque – view. In fact I suspect that the spin is entirely due to the Guardian’s reporter and the Guardian’s remarkable ability to see a looming catastrophe in every advance.

That with falling fertility rates, world population will continue to rise at a decreasing rate and stabilise by 2100 is just a matter of arithmetic. But a 100 years from now we will face the challenges of a slowly declining population. That natural selection is “defeated” when even weak individuals are cared for and are not allowed to die is not something to regret. We are in the process of artificial selection over-riding natural selection and at a quite different pace, but it is just another challenge for humans – not something to wring our hands over. In fact we are already practicing a sort of eugenics by default.

Sir David Attenborough has said that he is not optimistic about the future and that people should be persuaded against having large families.

The broadcaster and naturalist, who earlier this year described humans as a plague on Earth”, also said he believed humans have stopped evolving physically and genetically because of birth control and abortion, but that cultural evolution is proceeding “with extraordinary swiftness”.

“We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 90-95% of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were,” he tells this week’s Radio Times.

“Stopping natural selection is not as important, or depressing, as it might sound – because our evolution is now cultural … We can inherit a knowledge of computers or television, electronics, aeroplanes and so on.”

Attenborough said he was not optimistic about the future and “things are going to get worse”.

“I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

“We may reduce in numbers; that would actually be a help, though the chances of it happening within the next century is very small. I should think it’s impossible, in fact.”

… he also appeared to express qualified support for the one-child policy in China.

He said: “It’s the degree to which it has been enforced which is terrible, and there’s no question it’s produced all kinds of personal tragedies. There’s no question about that. On the other hand, the Chinese themselves recognise that had they not done so there would be several million more mouths in the world today than there are now.”

He added: “If you were able to persuade people that it is irresponsible to have large families in this day and age, and if material wealth and material conditions are such that people value their materialistic life and don’t suffer as a consequence, then that’s all to the good. But I’m not particularly optimistic about the future. I think we’re lucky to be living when we are, because things are going to get worse.”

“Worse” is a matter of judgement.

We will feed and house more people than ever before. We will take care of more of the elderly than ever before. We will each have more and affordable energy available to us than ever before. We will educate and empower more people than ever before. More of us will see more of this world than ever before. We will face more challenges than ever before.  That’s not “worse”.

On birth rates, abortions and “eugenics by default”

July 20, 2013

Selective breeding works.

Humans have applied it – and very successfully – for plants and animals since antiquity.

There is nothing “wrong” conceptually with eugenics for the selective breeding of humans. But the Nazis – and not only the Nazis – brought all of eugenics into disrepute by the manner in which they tried to apply the concept.  Because of the Nazis and the coercive treatment of some minorities in Europe and of the Aborigines in Australia where forced sterilisation, forced abortions, genocide, euthanasia and mass murder were used to try and control the traits of future generations, eugenics has come to be inextricably associated with the methods used. Even in more recent times genocide, mass rapes and mass murder have been evident even if not openly for the purpose of controlling the genetic characteristics of the survivors.

I note that evolution by “natural selection” does not intentionally select for any particular traits. Surviving traits are due to the deselection of individuals who have not the wherewithal to survive until reproduction. Natural Selection in that sense is not pro-active and evolution is merely the result of changing environments which causes individuals of a species who cannot cope with the change to perish. Evolution has no direction of its own and is just the result of who survives an environmental change. It is not not some great force which “selects” or  leads a species into a desired future. Species fail when the available spread of traits and characteristics among the existing individuals of that species is not sufficient to generate some individuals who can survive the environmental change. Natural Selection is therefore not an intentional selection process but represents the survivors of change. Of course, not all traits have a direct influence on survival. All “collateral” traits are carried along – coincidentally and unintentionally –  with those traits which do actually help survival in any particular environment. But as conditions change what was once a collateral trait may become one which assists in survival.

(more…)

The return of Eugenics

March 30, 2013

It is the association of the practice of Eugenics with Adolf Hitler and his Nazis and the stigma which that brings which makes it – at least overtly – politically incorrect and tabu. But it was formally practiced by many governments through the 1900’s and as late as 1975 in Sweden.  But Hitler was also a vegetarian, a teetotaler and a non-smoker. So something more than a “Hitler connection” is needed when discussing eugenics. This recent tweet from Richard Dawkins  together with all the recent developments in genetics and IVF and pre-natal screening got me to wondering as to why there is a perception in some quarters that eugenics is “evil”.

Richard Dawkins@RichardDawkins  “Eugenics”: What’s wrong with a nonrandom choice of a gene your child COULD have got from you at random, anyway, by normal genetic lottery? 9:18 AM – 17 Mar 13

Definition oeugenicsnoun [treated as singular]

the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.

The application of eugenics included genetic screening, birth control, promoting differential birth rates, marriage restrictions, segregation, compulsory sterilization, forced abortions or forced pregnancies and genocide. But the history of the practice of eugenics goes back to infanticide in pre-historic times and we apply it every day without any objections in the management of domestic and wild animals. In the days when we were hunter gatherers – it is thought – infanticide was commonly prevalent:

Joseph Birdsell believed that infanticide rates in prehistoric times were between 15% and 50% of the total number of births, while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%. Both anthropologists believed that these high rates of infanticide persisted until the development of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution. Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era. Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism.

The Hitler and the Nazi connotation is certainly part of it but is it primarily the application of coercive measures which today gives eugenics its unsavoury reputation? As practiced in the early 20th century eugenics was applied to humans pretty much as it was for animals – effectively by promoting certain types of matings, preventing others and culling unwanted individuals. I suspect that it is not just the Hitler connection and the coercive treatment of humans which is so objectionable but also that groups of humans were treated en masse as animals for the sake of improvement of the herd.

In today’s world it is perfectly acceptable for couples using IVF to choose – so far as is possible – desirable genetic characteristics of the sperm or egg donor or both. Genetic pre-natal screening can and does lead to abortions if certain criteria are met or others are found wanting. It is effectively culling before birth. Potential surrogate mothers are genetically screened before selection. Genocide and mass rape still take place in conflict situations (Kosovo, Rwanda…) but are universally condemned. We find it perfectly acceptable however that these choices be made by individuals or couples about “their” child. It is taken to be a proper expression of individual rights – though the consequences are mainly borne by the child yet to be born (or not born). But we would find it quite unacceptable today if any government or society would impose these choices on any individual.

It would seem therefore that eugenics is here to stay. As a preventative health measure it is already acceptable if practiced voluntarily by the individuals involved. Selective breeding practiced voluntarily by individuals is also acceptable but is unacceptable if imposed by coercive decree. Enforced sterilisation of those considered mentally or physically defective was a major part of the Eugenics programs in Europe and the US and Australia but the sterilisation of the mentally ill is much rarer now. It seems inevitable that as physical or behavioural or mental characteristics can be connected to specific genes or groups of genes that these characteristics will become part of the criteria for selecting sperm or eggs or for continuing with a pregnancy or not. And even if “voluntary” individual eugenics is already in place today, I am afraid that it is not unthinkable that governments and societies will once again insist on specifying the criteria to be used to improve the common condition. I conclude therefore that it cannot be eugenics which is evil but it is the manner in which it is practiced which can.


%d bloggers like this: