Shades of Meaning pt 1: Eugenics

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How many positive associations with Eugenics do you have?  yeah, me neither.  There really aren’t any positive associations that one can have with eugenics and there have been some outright horrific associations in the past.  For one thing, Nazis come to mind.  But so do friends of mine who’ve chosen to adopt rather than risk having a child with Tay-Sachs.  The odds of this happening are only 1 in 4 and even if the child is born perfectly healthy he/she would have a 50% have chance of being a carrier and only a 25% chance that the child would not be a carrier.  To say this is an intense decision doesn’t belie my fledgling skills as an author but merely the insufficiency of the human language.  Are my friends wrong? No they’re not but they are practicing eugenics. I had a teacher whose daughter had a severe form of Down’s syndrome. She was incapable of providing consent or taking care of a child but perfectly capable of providing a viable egg for any one foul enough to take advantage. She has every human right to bear a child but that is a right she must proactively exercise as all rights must be and she may or not be able. But not taking advantage is another form of eugenics. Every parent who seeks the best possible genetic background for their children is a secret eugeneticist. There’s not, as a practical matter, much that we can really do really but one day that might change.

There are sorta two sort of overlapping perspectives when it comes to eugenics. My friends who are choosing to adopt are going with one branch. By working rid the world of genetic defects by being aware of genetic disorders and acting accordingly.

The other branch works to create a genetically superior human. Usually with selective pairings. It’s a bit dodgy since we don’t really know what a genetically superior person looks like. In fact, the only thing we do know is that a genetically superior race won’t be genetically homogeneous. If the Nazis had been allowed to continue their breeding programs, they would have found to their enormous embarrassment that they were now genetically inferior.

We do know how to build a better human and a better life. One of the greatest advancements in human life was our ability to control our reproductive cycle. To make sure every child born had access to the best available resources and at the right time is an unparalleled achievement. It’s a new thing in history. There have been plenty of people justly branded eugenicists as unjustly treated like Nazis.

Nazis and their like were truly horrific. They slaughtered millions along misguided notions of purity. It is a complete misunderstanding of how biology works. But you hear the word eugenics and those horrors come to mind. We pass along those horrors to ever shade and nuanced meaning of the term.


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