Neugenics: Genetically Informed Reproductive Decision Making

Dissertation, University of California, San Diego (2001)

Michael Selgelid
Monash University
People are worried that advances in genetics will lead to a revival of eugenics. Such worries are often associated with eugenic practices carried out early in the 20th century---the forcible sterilization of feebleminded persons in the United States and the Nazi program of Racial Hygiene. A "new eugenics" involving prenatal genetic testing and the selective abortion of fetuses diagnosed with severe genetic disorders might, nonetheless, be acceptable. In chapter one I examine the history of eugenics and discuss what might make a new eugenics more tolerable. ;Chapters two and three discuss reproductive decision making by individuals . Chapter 2 investigates the morality of abortion. I conclude that the moral status of the fetus is ultimately uncertain. In exceptional circumstances, such as the case where a fetus would develop into a severely disabled infant, there are good reasons for thinking that abortion is morally permissible. It is plausible, for example, that the value of a fetal life is a function of its future quality of life. ;In chapter three I discuss what quality of life consists in. I develop a pluralistic perspective according to which quality of life is a function of multiple independent components. When deciding to bring a child into existence parents should consider the quality of life expected for the child and also take into account the likely impact on their own lives, the lives of other family members, and society as a whole. ;Chapter four asks whether or not governmental restrictions should be placed on the kinds of genetic interventions which will be permitted. A worry is that interventions aimed at enhancement would only be available to the financially fortunate and thus promote unjust social inequalities. Another worry is that the development and use of such interventions would drain medical resources away from more fruitful purposes and thus have a negative impact on aggregate utility. The social aim to promote liberty, on the other hand, speaks against the imposition of restrictions. Faced with conflicting social values, we need to think more about how to make trade-offs between liberty, equality, and aggregate utility
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