Is Eugenics Happening Today?

As research continues to uncover new disease-causing mutations, it becomes increasingly possible to stop the transmission of certain heritable diseases.  In the long term, this may lead to complete eradication of diseases like Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia. However, some wonder if modern day attempts to eradicate hereditary disorders equate to eugenics.

One complication of genetic testing for the purpose of disease eradication is that, in practice, a particular ethnic group will likely be involved due to shared ancestry.  For instance, Tay-Sachs disease is significantly more common in certain Jewish communities.  Tay-Sachs is a genetic disease that causes a deterioration of mental and physical abilities and results in death by age four. Eradicating Tay-Sachs will require screening all individuals in the affected population. However, a public campaign to test all individuals of Jewish descent for Tay-Sachs carrier status may for some recall the racist motivations of eugenicists in the early 20th century, particularly those associated with Nazi Germany. Also, racial stereotypes or biases may be reinforced if genetic testing performed on individuals of an ethnic group reveals a predisposition to a particular disease or condition.

Using modern genetic technology, prospective parents can be prescreened to determine their carrier status for certain diseases. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis following in vitro fertilization allows parents to select embryos that are free of disease. Additionally, prenatal genetic testing can provide a lot of information to parents about their unborn child.  These technologies make more informed decision-making possible, but some are concerned about a shift in the way we view family and parenting.  Parents who want to have a child without pursuing genetic testing may feel guilty if the child is born with any health problems. Additionally, some are concerned about what an overemphasis on eliminating disabilities in unborn children will mean for people who already have the disability.

The most significant difference between modern genetic technologies, that some view as eugenic, and the historical use of eugenics is consent.  Today, individuals pursue genetic testing by choice.  An individual can never be forced into testing or be required to take action, such as sterilization, based on the results of a genetic test.  Individuals differ in their views on genetic testing in relation to reproductive decision-making and possible eugenic motivations, but at least today parents have the choice to use the technology or not.


CLICK HERE for an introduction to eugenics
CLICK HERE to view a case study that asks if certain prenatal procedures can be considered eugenic