Monash Bioethics Review 19 (4):9-33 (2000)
AbstractMany are worried that the Human Genome Project will lead to a revival of eugenics. In this essay I examine the troublesome history of the ‘old eugenics’ which included the Nazi program of ‘Racial Hygiene’ and the sterilization of the ‘feebleminded’ in the United States of America. A ‘new eugenics’, involving prenatal diagnosis and the selective abortion of fetuses likely to develop into severely disabled infants, on the other hand, is claimed by many to be morally acceptable. If this is correct, then eugenics per se might not necessarily be an altogether bad thing. I therefore examine what was wrong with the old eugenics and what is often claimed to be different and better about the new eugenics. I argue that the morally relevant differences between the bad old eugenics and a potentially acceptable new eugenics are not accurately captured by a family of contrasts often thought to distinguish the two. I conclude that, in any case, the worry that the Human Genome Project will lead to a revival of eugenics is a red herring. The important thing is to realize that emerging genetic science and technology confronts both individuals and society as a whole with new kinds of reproductive decisions worthy of careful consideration.
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