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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Danger of Eugenics

At The Guardian, Ari Ne'eman writes:
Britain’s largest sperm bank has a policy of turning away autistic donors and those diagnosed with other neurological disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], dyslexia and obsessive compulsive disorder.
The London Sperm Bank’s policies are deeply concerning. But to those of us who have been monitoring the ways in which genetic knowledge is being misused across the globe, they are not surprising. In egg donations (as in sperm donations) similar genetic screening of a diagnosis and a family history of autism, dyslexia and and obsessive compulsive disorder is not uncommon. There is considerable evidence to support that these are all conditions with strong genetic components.
He points out that the effectiveness of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) sex selection to avoid autism is up for debate.
Nonetheless, the intent of IVF sex selection is clear: reproductive technologies are being used to remove autistic people from future generations, not just to create “designer babies”. Privately run sperm and egg donation programmes, IVF clinics and laboratories around the world are making decisions that could eventually change the human race.
Last month, I joined more than 180 progressive academics, scientists, activists and public intellectuals in an open letter expressing concern over how new gene editing techniques allow for heritable human genetic modification: changes to the human genome that could irrevocably alter the future generations of humanity. New technology is emerging that will allow for “designer generations”.
He concludes by calling for greater regulation to curb eugenic practices.

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
Consider the next possible step for in-vitro fertilization. Suppose that scientists refine pre-implantation screening so that they could tell whether a particular embryo’s genetic make-up entails a high probability of autism.  If so, then doctors would presumably discard it in favor of another embryo that they would implant in the mother’s womb.  Some say that we need to debate the use of such techniques to screen for autism.   Ethicist Wesley J. Smith disagrees: “That is like saying allowing eugenic cleansing for racial features is a debate we need have: Both are invidiously discriminatory and have no place in an enlightened, equality-believing society.”