Posts Tagged ‘IVF’

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.



IVF with multiple births leads to small increased risk of mental retardation

July 3, 2013

A new paper describing a Swedish study:

Sandin S et al. Autism and mental retardation among offspring born after in vitro fertilization. JAMA 2013 Jul 3; 310:75. (

NewswiseIn a study that included more than 2.5 million children born in Sweden, compared with spontaneous conception, any in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment was not associated with autistic disorder but was associated with a small but statistically significantly increased risk of mental retardation, according to a study in the July 3 issue of JAMA. The authors note that the prevalence of these disorders was low, and the increase in absolute risk associated with IVF was small. …..

…… A total of 2,541,125 children were alive at 1.5 years of age and had complete data on all the covariates; 30,959 (1.2 percent) were born following an IVF procedure. Autistic disorder was diagnosed in 103 of 6,959 children (1.5 percent) and mental retardation in 180 of 15,830 children (1.1 percent) who were born after an IVF procedure. Cases had an average follow-up time of 10 years, median (midpoint) 14 years.

Analysis of the data indicated that compared with spontaneous conception, any IVF treatment was not associated with autistic disorder but was associated with a small but statistically significantly increased risk of mental retardation, although when restricted to singletons (single births), the risk for mental retardation was no longer statistically significant. “However, the results demonstrated an association between autistic disorder and mental retardation and specific IVF procedures with ICSI related to paternal origin of infertility compared with IVF without ICSI,” the authors write.

“The prevalence of these disorders was low, and the increase in absolute risk associated with IVF was small. These associations should be assessed in other populations.”



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.

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