Project Prevention

While my last post was perhaps a more extreme example of a contemporary eugenics program, it can be said that modern eugenics has taken on a much more low profile role than it has in the past (at least in the United States). Modern eugenics now reflects more modern sentiments, and is for the most part less extreme than as proposed in the past. With the introduction of birth control and advancements in genetic testing, it could be said that eugenics has in fact been more successful in recent times than it has ever been. When I think of eugenics, I often can’t help but imagine an extreme program in which those deemed “unfit” are ruthlessly culled from the population. However, it is easy to overlook that a couple choosing not to have a child after learning that it would be at risk for a disease after genetic analysis is also eugenics at work. Eugenics does not necessarily mean ending the lives of unfit babies or sterilising those with “bad” genes.On the subject of less invasive eugenics efforts, I happened upon Project Prevention, a program which offers incentives to those addicted to drugs or alcohol to use birth control. The reasoning behind this is is to keep these addicts from having children when they are not capable of taking care of them responsibly. They give the addicts cash in exchange for signing up for long-term birth control (up to sterilisation). This interestingly enough brings about the same results desired by eugenics in the past: that drug addicts do not reproduce and introduce “drug-addict genes” into society (operating under the assumption that the tendency to become addiction to drugs is a genetically linked factor) despite the fact that this is not their direct objective. It is interesting to consider that there is a program offering cash for drug addicts to sterilize themselves, and it shines a new light on alternative possibilities to eugenics apart from state-sponsored, mandatory guidelines.

Here is the link to Project Prevention’s website:

http://www.projectprevention.org/

And here is a link to a book which explains why one should not marry an alcoholic (written in 1917):

http://books.google.com/books?id=fQZQAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=eugenics+alcoholics+birth+control&source=bl&ots=r9DpmL4lgC&sig=XpL7Fxd96yiMFSxpwRljdA52V0Q&hl=en&ei=G1fmTrlKxd_RAbXUsdcF&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Genetic Roots to Behavior

To follow-up on my first post in which I questioned our ability to definitively link a behavior or trait to a specific genetic factor, I looked into research which sought to correlate  different tendencies with certain genes. Much to my surprise, I found that there has been much progress in this are of study. A far cry from the speculative facial profiling techniques of the past, researchers have looked long and hard for any genetic risk factors which they could tie to specific diseases and conditions. Although the search has not been necessarily fruitful, it is also not without success.

Researchers in Berlin have managed to isolate 50 causes for intellectual disability at the genetic level, some of which may be responsible for such mental disorders as autism and schizophrenia. By studying specific recessive defects which have occurred in families in which the defects are more prevalent, they were able to further isolate the specific genes which cause the defect.

In Helinski, psychiatric researchers have been looking into the genetic roots of psychopathy, among other mental tendencies. Through careful study of over 100 psychopathic prisoners for seven years after their release, the scientists were able to determine a correlation between a gene called monaamine oxidase and a repeat offense of violent crime. To be specific, those with “high activity” monoamine oxidase were reported to be almost seven percent more likely to commit another offense after release.

Even your political leanings have been correlated to a single specific gene. A dopamine receptor gene, DRD4, in combination with certain childhood experiences, has been shown to be linked to increased liberalism later in life. The explanation for this being that those with DRD4 would seek to learn more from their friends lifestyles. This in combination with a large number of friends would mean the individual would have more experience with other people’s beliefs and cultures, thus leading to a more liberal personality.

This goes to show that although not exactly 100% definitive, we are indeed making leaps and bounds in terms of scientifically identifying the roots of certain behaviors. With respect to eugenics, this means an increased ability to categorize and select for offspring by taking account more traits on the genetic level.

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Health/20101029/liberal-gene-101030/

http://www.swedishwire.com/science/6334-researcher-wants-dna-on-convicted-psychopaths

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-09-monogenic-defects-responsible-intellectual-disability.html

Tay-Sachs Disease and Modern Eugenics in Action

Tay-Sachs disease is a hereditary defect which, although rare, causes a child born with the genetic defect to suffer from deteriorating nerve cells, which usually causes death by age four. It is an autosomal recessive condition, requiring both parents to provide a copy of the gene to the child. Not only this, but the specific gene mutation is strongly linked to the Ashkenazi Jewish population. However, in recent years, there has not been a single child born with Tay-Sachs in the Jewish population. There are those in Isreal who claim that Tay-Sachs has been almost eradicated completely, as a result of a rigorous eugenics program intituted by Othrodox Jewish circles. In Isreal, at least, the general public is advised by the state to preform the genetic tests necessary to identify the defect before the pregnancy is carried out, thus preventing a number of children born with Tay-Sachs. This, combined with the fact that through education about the disease and it’s prevalence in the Ashekenazi Jewish bloodline, many couples choose to be tested before having children as well.

In Orthodox Jewish circles, where terminating the birth would be undesirable, a mate selection program has been in place. The organization Dor Yeshorim or Committee for Prevention of Genetic Diseases offers and encourages genetic screening for the Jewish community across the world. Using an anonymous system of PIN numbers, they test for multiple autosomal recessive disorders, not only Tay-Sachs. When two potential partners wish to have a child or get married, they enter their PIN numbers and the system will inform them if they both carry a recessive gene, thus discouraging the match.

While this may indicate and more extreme implementation of eugenics today, it is difficult to deny that their program has not yielded positive results. Through modern science and an anonymous testing process, Dor Yeshorim has been successful in preventing further births with such debilitating diseases such as Tay-Sachs, albiet only in the Jewish community which chooses to participate. However, it does bring up yet more ethical questions, such as the desirability of arranged marriages based on genetic factors. Not only this, but this could be interpreted as a specific and unique scenario- the genetic mutation responsible for Tay-Sachs is distinctly more prevalent in a certain population, not to mention a population that is more open to the concept of arranging marriages based on fitness; if such a program could be implemented on a larger scale with respect to other diseases is yet to be known.

Here are some links about Dor Yoreshim, their program, and the Jewish initiative to wipe out Tay-Sachs:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/eugenics-sacred-and-profane

http://www.galtoninstitute.org.uk/Newsletters/GINL9912/jewish.htm

http://righteousrasha.blogspot.com/2011/07/jewish-eugenics.html

Choosing our Children

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This series of videos is a very interesting discussion on our ability to select for traits in children. With the advent of genetic engineering and rigorous guidelines for sperm and egg donation, it is more and more possible to “build” a more perfect offspring. As the seen in the video, the majority of people would not object to selecting for a child with regards to good looks and a high SAT score, but when asked the same question about selecting for a deaf child, only one third felt that this was acceptable. The speaker then brings up the very important point that the distinction between the two situations was that the audience felt as if being deaf was a significant disability and the child was being harmed in this way.

The speakers go on to discuss the way genetic selection is symbolic of an increasing commercialization in the way children are being conceived as well as the ethical implications of selecting for a so-called “designer baby”. With respect to eugenics, one can say that it is in the spirit of eugenics for parents to be able to choose only the best traits for their children, but this brings up the issue of the idea that in doing so potential parents are now treating their children as commodities; objects to tailor to their own preferences, as opposed to offspring to love unconditionally.

It is doubtful that many would oppose the idea of selecting against a child having a disability, and less would oppose selecting for a perhaps a taller or more physically fit child, but where should the line be drawn? With regards to traits like eye color or facial features, how can it said objectively which traits are “good” or “bad” for the gene pool?

The Georgia Guidestones

Given that eugenics does not receive the widespread public attention that it did in the 1900s, it is often easy to feel as if the eugenics movement is long dead. Contrary to popular  belief, there still exist a large number of proponents of eugenics across the country, despite the fact that they are not receiving recognition on a large scale.

One such example of the under-the-radar eugenics progress in more recent times is the Georgia Guidestones- a huge granite monument erected in Elbert County, Georgia. Commissioned in 1979 by a man under the pseudonym R.C. Christian, the tablets list ten guidelines for a “New World Order.” Specifically, it is commandment number two which deals with eugenics most directly: “Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.” Although a favorite topic of discussion for conspiracy theorists who claim that the Guidestones are the work of some variety of Masonic secret society, it cannot be denied that there is a group at work which support very heavily the principles of eugenics, and consider it a necessity in their ideal world order.

Further research into R.C. Christian’s work shows that he is the author of “Common Sense Renewed” a work which echoes the same basic ideals as those etched into the Guidestones. Most notably, he dedicates an entire chapter to “Guiding Human Reproduction.” His specific plan outlines a method such that the State will control human breeding in a way that human stock is improved and behavior can be selected for which is beneficial for the State itself.  This goes to show that eugenics is far from dead- it may not be at the forefront of politics today, but it is still very much a relevant topic in our society. Although the culture has changed since the heyday of the eugenics movement, it’s long-reaching principles are still fresh in the minds and hearts of those who support it today; these individuals are still striving to bring about the installation of a modern eugenics policy, and they believe that it is vital to the progression of the human race.

Some information about R.C. Christian and the Georgia Guidestones below:

http://vanshardware.com/2011/02/a-georgia-guidestones-update/

http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message171020/pg1

http://eugenicsanddepopulation.blogspot.com/2008/01/georgia-guidestones.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Guidestones

Keep in mind that some of these links are opinion pieces and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Is There a Potential Cost to Eugenics?

At the University of Florida the student body is extremely diverse, and this is apparent through simple observation. When I look around on campus, I can see that there are students from all walks of life; handicapped students being no exception. Considering that the University of Florida is a fairly reputable institution, it is safe to say that the students here have a lot of potential and will contribute significantly to society. With this in mind, I cannot help but wonder if some of these students would still be here if the eugenics movement of the 1900’s took place today- it is impossible to say that these students are not intelligent and extremely capable, yet by the standards of eugenics they technically are labeled “unfit”. It also brings up the debate of what constitutes “fitness” with regards to “survival of the fittest”. While we may see their so-called disabilities to be a major inconvenience, clearly they are just as capable as the rest of society despite their “handicap”. In the case of the deaf community, many do not consider themselves to have lost anything at all- rather they are 100% as capable as anybody else, simply differing in their primary mode of communication.

In our modern society, we are able to detect and even select for certain traits before a child is even born. Through many available tests and analytical equipment, it is exceedingly easy for a parent to become aware of their child’s potential disability, whether it be Downs Syndrome or deafness. As such, modern eugenics is far more powerful and effective in that we have the hard science to provide legitimacy to the idea of preventing an undesirable trait from being passed down. When it can be said with high accuracy that a child born will have an undesirable trait it is easier to, for example, decide to not follow through with the birth; compared to in the past, in which the traits of a child were more of a guessing game with regards to the traits of the parents.

With this ability however, lies the question of ethics. How can we determine which traits reduce fitness to an extent where they should be selected out of the population? Who are we to determine if a trait is a disability? The “handicapped” population remains able to make significant contributions to society despite their perceived limitations- the handicapped students, CEOs, and entrepreneurs across are proof of this. Imagine if these people were terminated before they were born on the basis of fitness. Today, it is important to weigh the ideals of eugenics against the potential cost of following them blindly, the line between fit and unfit is increasingly less obvious making decisions regarding genetic selection more and more difficult.

Scientific Improvements and Eugenics Today

In our most recent class, we discussed ideas about population ecology and the way that different species interact in an ecosystem. One part of the discussion which stood out to me was the fact that even among ecologists, there are shifts in schools of thought with regards to what factors are considered most important in studying species interactions. We learned that for a time, competition seemed to be the defining type of interaction, but as time went on and ecologists gained more insight, they came to believe that predation was the most important.

With regards to eugenics, it led me to question the validity of older principles of eugenics as well as to look into the way that eugenics has developed up until today. Without a doubt the climate regarding eugenics has changed drastically since its origin- after World War II the ideas presented by eugenics are seen in a far more negative light. The thought of putting those who are “unfit” down would largely be seen as offensive and politically incorrect in our times. However, it is also important to look into the way science has changed and it’s effects on eugenics, not just the way our culture has changed in it’s thoughts on eugenics.

One of the most significant changes in scientific understanding since the beginning of eugenics is our new found grasp of genetics and of how traits are passed down between generations. In the case of the eugenics movement in the 1900’s, the limited science of the time led proponents of eugenics to cite the need to “breed out” those who were predisposed to become thieves and murderers as well as mentally disturbed. Of course now with our current understanding of DNA and heritable traits, it appears clear that the quality of “being a criminal” is impossible to predict solely through one’s lineage. Not only this, but it seems laughable that they sought to predict such broad characteristics using only the shapes of people’s heads and faces. Even some mental diseases have been determined to be not completely determined by heredity. For example, although developing schizophrenia is correlated to whether or not one’s parent’s have it, there is also a distinct external environmental component to developing it. These sort of discoveries demonstrate how difficult it is to pinpoint a single root cause for any human behavior and simply remove it from the gene pool with selective breeding.

In a scientifically advanced society such as today, it appears that it is increasingly more difficult to apply eugenics practically. How can we be completely sure that a certain behavior is genetically linked? How likely must it be that a person with a certain gene will express this behavior before one can safely say they should not pass on their genetic material? Regardless, the leaps and bounds science has made also has innumerable benefits for eugenics as a whole; as the potential for rigorous testing and experimentation make for an atmosphere that is dominated by science and reason as opposed to speculation and pseudoscience.