Imagine that you are sitting in class on your result day and suddenly, the principal comes in and announces: if you got a 90% or higher in your examinations, only then will you be allowed to marry and have kids in the future. Sounds crazy, right? Well, don’t be too surprised. Because this is how eugenics started out in the 1880s. Let’s learn ‘Is Eugenics Ethical?’.
Francis Galton, who was a renowned psychologist, conjectured that if only intelligent people were to breed, then the overall genius of the world would increase.
In other words, Galton insisted that selective breeding between intelligent populations was for the ‘greater good of the world.
Modern eugenics is markedly different, though the concept remains the same. Modern eugenics refers to genetic engineering. This is a process through which the genetic makeup of the expected child can be altered in order to produce desirable traits in them.
While modern eugenics does not impose any restrictions on the ‘less’ intelligent populations, questions are still raised over its ethical value.
For example, who defines desirable and undesirable traits?
And what are the social implications of the new eugenics?
Is Eugenics Ethical?
Proponents of eugenics argue that the new eugenics is based on individual choice. In a world where personal freedom is greatly valued, this argument makes sense.
However, others still raise objections over its moral value. Here is a short summary of their arguments:
- Since the foundation of eugenics is based on the idea that some human traits are undesirable (and should be eliminated), this places a social stigma on the population who does possess these traits.
- The new eugenics is not available to the poorer population. In other words, only the rich can produce children who have these perceived ‘desirable’ traits. Upward mobility will become even more difficult for the lower classes as these children will lay claim to power on the basis of their traits.
- It’s very dehumanizing to define people in terms of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ traits.
- And anyway, how do you decide which traits are desirable and which aren’t? So far, intelligence and beauty have been genetically altered, while no attention has been paid to more emotional traits such as empathy, kindness, etc.
The Difficulty of defining intelligence
Since eugenics has had a peculiar focus on intelligence, let’s discuss what intelligence really is.
Can your intelligence be measured by your grades?
Or is an IQ test a reliable measure of intelligence?
In other words, is intelligence just about logic, reasoning, and memory? What about creativity?
Are artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh unimportant because they have a different kinds of intelligence?
That’s the key word right there. A different kind of intelligence.
For ages, psychologists have struggled to define what intelligence is. When Galton was administering mental tests, he defined intelligence through sensorimotor skills and reaction time. Some years later, the IQ test, which was based on logic, reasoning, and so on, was developed. And then years later, once again, a different theory was introduced: the multiple intelligence theory.
This theory, proposed by Gardner, extends the definition of intelligence to linguistic-verbal, musical, and naturalistic skills. In other words, Gardner created enough room in the definition of intelligence to include all talented people.
The main idea to take away from here is that even the definitions of desirable traits will always be subjective.
And if the definition itself is subjective, then the whole foundation of eugenics is shaky. How can we argue for eugenics if we can’t even argue for its foundation?
Remember World war II?
How could anyone forget? The bloodshed and the genocide of the Holocaust is unmatchable. But have you ever wondered how Hitler conceived the idea of creating a ‘pure’ race?
That’s right. Eugenics.
Hitler was inspired by the ideology first proposed by Galton. According to him, being Jewish and being disabled were both undesirable traits. And so began the world war and the widespread ethnic cleansing that haunts history till today.
The history of eugenics is stained with blood. World War Two was the culmination of that bloodshed but other oppressive laws were also introduced before the war. In the USA, blacks were considered to possess undesirable traits. And laws were introduced as well which prevented ‘unintelligent’ people from breeding. It was a hard blow to the ideas of individual freedom.
Today’s eugenics is careful not to hinder freedom of choice. But it is still a result of the bloody history that preceded it. Genetic engineering might seem harmless but the basic ideology that supports it is the same:
That the people who possess undesirable traits are in fact a hindrance to the creation of a perfect human race.
When you put it like that, it sounds twisted, right?
So, is the new eugenics ethical?
Well, it’s certainly legal. And you can opt, as an individual, to pursue genetic engineering.
However, it would do us well to remember the bloody history of eugenics. And to remember that if we aren’t careful, then there might be a bloody future.