I agree with Christine Rosen’s 2005 op-ed that the stem-cell debate and the eugenics debate are parrallel issues. Of course, I disagree with Rosen about the conslusions of this. In the debate between health and sentimentalities, and support the former. She goes for the latter.
Christine Rosen on Eugenics and Stem-Cell Research on National Review Online
Praise for the forward march of science; progressive and liberal leaders championing new scientific techniques that promise to cure disease, eradicate illness and suffering, and advance the progress of the human race; elite institutions of higher education embarking on their own initiatives, training students, and supporting researchers in the new science; Californiaâ€™s self-described progressive citizenry passing a law granting state funding and support to the cause, with other states preparing to follow suit; the intellectual elite of the country decrying the obstructionist, anti-modern views of the people who oppose or publicly challenge the underlying ethical rationale of the new science.
Â Â This might sound like our contemporary debate over embryonic stem cells, but itâ€™s actually an apt description of the eugenics movement in the United States in the early 20th century. Eugenics, a term coined by British scientist Francis Galton in 1883, was the movement to â€œimprove the human race through better breeding,â€ and in the first few decades of the early 20th century in the United States it found a ready and eager audience. California and many other states passed compulsory eugenic sterilization laws that led to the sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans. Congress passed an Immigration Restriction Act in 1924 based on the testimony of eugenicists and fears about the fitness of new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. And the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1927, upheld the sterilization of a supposedly â€œfeeblemindedâ€ woman as constitutional, with progressive Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declaring, â€œthree generations of imbeciles are enough.â€ Underwritten by the wealth of some of the countryâ€™s most prestigious families, such as the Carnegies and the Harrimans, eugenics was something every enlightened American believed in, since the movement promised to end needless suffering, increase economic prospects by alleviating the burden placed on the state by the feebleminded and their many illnesses, and generally improve health and well-being for all citizens. Eugenics was the future.
Although there are vast differences between the eugenics movement of the past and the stem-cell research of the present, there is an eerie similarity to their rhetoric and tactics. Like eugenics, promoters of embryonic-stem-cell research talk of its endless promise, declaring it the scientific â€œpath to the future,â€ as two state senators from Massachusetts wrote in a recent opinion piece. Embryonic-stem-cell promoters claim that their science will lead to cures for a range of diseases and the alleviation of much human suffering. And they denounce those who question the ethics of their pursuit as backward or blindly religious. But as we continue to debate the ethics of embryonic-stem-cell research, it is worth recalling that movements waged in the name of scientific progress often leave a troubled legacy.
Three recent stories can be connected, I think, to look ahead a few years to the future…
- Madoff’s pyramid scheme takes another life
- Financial risk-taking heritable, linked to genes that regulate dopamine and serotonin neurotransmission (5-TTTLPR and DRD4)
- AIDS infected bone marrow replaced, patient possibly cured
Imagine if we could knock out genes that regulate the body in such a way that it would reduce a criminal’s propensity to rape, murder, theft, burglary, financial embezzlement, or other anti-social behaviors. It would be merciful, and (if such therapy was heritable) would pay off for future generations, as well.
Thankfully, our current President is doing more to usher in an age of eugenetical therapies than any other American, in at least a century.