The Return of Eugenics

Tuesday, October 04, 2005
A posting at Harrys Place discusses the statement of a Tory councillor who

... argues that severely disabled children are a massive drain on resources; that they soak up money that would be better used for “reducing NHS waiting lists” rather than on those who are labelled “unproductive”.

So, as some foresaw, Terri Schiavo may have been the harbinger of a growing movement brought on by excessive rationality and a monopoly of health care by the state. I recall reading recently that doctors in the Netherlands were thinking of expanding their own proposals along these lines, with similar reasoning and rationalization. See this article in Time Europe, Europe's Way of Death, for other examples. I can't help thinking that Europe falling away from Christianity has something to do with this. Whether superstition or not, I believe the Christian teachings about the sanctity of life and the bearing of life's trials had a value in itself that informed European civilization and accounted for much of its success. The loss of Christianity may have unintended consequences. Perhaps Pope Benedict will have the role of reconverting the barbarians -- if he can. This moral challenge and developing debate may even shed some light on Bush's recent choice of Miers to serve on the Supreme Court.


terrye said...


This is why I did not support the killing of Terri Schiavo.[yes I know it was a blissful and euphoric experience for her if in fact she was capable of a blissful and euphoric experience.]

It was not because I thought she would walk and talk again.

It was not because her husband was a prick..

It was because she was a human being.

And some of these people need little more than food and a warm bed and someone who cares about them.

What about people with Alzheimers or the elderly and infirm?

My grandmother was the most devout woman I ever knew and whenever we were unkind to someone smaller or weaker she would always "What you do to the least of mine, you do to me."

I think that instilled us a sense of responsibility for other people.

Once we decide to play God ourselves, where do we draw that line?

MeaninglessHotAir said...

What was that wonderful phrase thibaud was using today? Something about the intersection of biology, technology, and sexuality? There isn't any doubt in my mind that we've been playing God since at least the time of the French Revolution and we will continue to do so. Science gives us every day a little more power with which to play God, and we use it. And there may be a direct connection between our ability to play God and our loss of faith in God. I'm sure we'll see more and more of these cases. Eugenics never really ended. We've been trying to perfect both our own and other species for millenia (14 millenia, in the case of dogs). I don't think it will be too long before genetic engineering is applied directly to human beings to make better soldiers. And I think I have a a pretty good idea which country or countries will go down this path first.

chuck said...

Science gives us every day a little more power with which to play God, and we use it.

I am not so worried about genetic engineering and playing God in that way. I do think there is a lot of profound thought about social things to be found in religion, and this hard earned knowledge should not just be tossed aside in favor of cost/benefit analysis. Let's not forget McNamara and the rest of the best and brightest.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I do think there is a lot of profound thought about social things to be found in religion,

Which religion? When I was in first or second grade I read the whole Bible, cover to cover. Finding an account of incest right there surprised me; I kept my discovery to myself. I've not exposed my children to the Bible at all; I've done no more for my youngest son than to read him the Ten Commandments once. There's much to be learned in the Bible, true, but is it really better than the immense insight one gains from Greek mythology? And doesn't the very down-to-earth knowledge of humanity embodied in the Talmud have more to offer than either? What about the Bhagavad Gita? Shouldn't we be learning from it too?

terrye said...

Considering the fact that scientists can use genetically engineered spider webs for body armor, I believe anything.

No replicators yet though.

It is rather like the ancient Egyptians and the pyramids when one thinks of advanced technology in a world where signficant numbers of people do not have electricity.

The gap is stunning.

But I don't think chuck is talking about science. I think he is talking about morality.

terrye said...


To be truthful there are some people who say that Jesus and Buddha knew one another.

Many major religions have similar themes and it amazing how often caring for the poor and needy are among those themes.

And there is a lot more to the bible than incest.

I just read a book on the debunking of the DaVinci code that was written by an Oxford educated scholar who learned to read Greek, Hebrew and Latin just so he could read original manuscripts.

And I don't think he is a Christian himself.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


I have no particular bone to pick with Christianity and I think chuck's point about our European loss of faith is spot on. As you said on Roger's, there are worse things to be than a Christian. And many of those worse things are trying to blow us up even as we post.

terrye said...


Ain't that the truth...

but the history of different religions is interesting and I find it curious how people keep coming back to the same ideas.

Rick Ballard said...


It seems to me in choosing to not use a standard moral/ethical code for inculcating values in children you are running a fairly heavy risk in two areas. The first is that the system that you do use will be flawed by inconsistency in application due to its ad hoc nature. The second is that adolescents have a tendency to reject parental guidance at a certain point and such a rejection could have rather perilous consequences if no standard system exists to provide fallback guidance.

Another reason why ad hoc systems will have a tendency to fail is simply reversion to mean regarding children's intelligence. The fact that a mother or father can generate a satisfactory ad hoc system is no guarantee that a daughter or son will have the capacity to apprehend the system generated.

I don't see that your choice is significantly different than that proposed by Rousseau. It seems a rather poor bet on man's nature and abilities.

The argument concerning the development of a smorgasboard from a variety of belief structures must return to man's nature and intelligence. It might work for all those to the right of the mean point but a large portion of those to the left are barely trainable, let alone educable. Such a system would seem rather presumptuous on one hand and very cruel on the other. To offer someone a choice which they are intellectually incapable of making seems rather like having a blind man choose his favorite color.

chuck said...

Another reason why ad hoc systems will have a tendency to fail is simply reversion to mean regarding children's intelligence.

It is not clear to me that morality is a direct outcome of intelligence. So even for the intelligent I would suggest a good deal of training, nor should any child have to work it out for themselves. Later modifications, sure, basic morality, no.

I find myself still curious about the upbringing of John Walker, for instance.

flenser said...

When the state takes responsibility for providing health care for all, as it does in Britain, then inevitibly it has to make these kinds of decisions. There is a finite amount of health care resources and tough calls must be made as to who loses out. The same is true in the US, although our system permits more flexbility.

If our system of government is functioning as intended, none of this should be a concern of the courts.

Knucklehead said...

Here's some wonderful stuff re: euthanasia.

I presume you've all heard of Princeton Bio-ethics Professor Peter Singer. Deep thinker that one. Don't sneeze in public.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. We'd best start talking about this stuff before the likes of Prof. Singer get their opportunity to start making decisions for us. Someway, somehow, we need to come to grips with where we want to draw the lines and I, for one, do not want them drawn by deep thinkers like Singer.

flenser said...


"We'd best start talking about this stuff before the likes of Prof. Singer get their opportunity to start making decisions for us."

Yes? Well, that would entail having that "frank discussion" I was proposing, before the mob here started chanting "Down with the pointy-headed intellectuals." Led by Rick Ballard, of all people.

If you are actually interested in talking about it, let me know.

Rick Ballard said...

"Led by Rick Ballard, of all people."

You're right, I grabbed the wrong cliche. I don't believe that the intellectual punditry on the right is enhancing their reputation by demeaning the President's decision to make a public payment on the promises that the evangelicals relied upon when they came out to the polls. Sometimes its checkers and not chess.

flenser said...


Your assumption that the evangelicals are delighted with Miers is unproven at best. Your contention that Bush made some sort of promise to them is simply wrong.

I'd say that the evangelicals would like to see Roe overturned. Also that they would like to see the SC stop using the First Amdt as a battering ram against religion. In other words, they want judges who will read the constitution as written, like Thomas and Scalia. That is the type of person they were expecting from Bush. And the type of person they were promised.

To suggest that they want an "envangelical seat" on the court is to insult them.

Bush did not pick Miers because he wanted to place an evangelical on the court. He did it because he was given a list of people acceptable to the D's and the Seven Dwarves, and she was, presumably, the best on that list.

Nobody has offered a reason why this was a better move than his simply selecting another quality judge who would have given the evangelicals what they wanted. Except that it would cause a "fight", which is now apparently the correct term for what was formerly called a "vote".

Incidentally, you see this as an offering to the base, since evangelicals are assuredly the base. At the same time, many others, like terrye, are claiming that it is precisely the base which is in an uproar about Miers, and is urging them to sit out the next election.

It strikes me that the Miers supporters are a rather confused lot.

Watching the normally educated and intelligent people at Rogers talk like some Jacobin mob is frankly disgusting. Eveyones IQ seems to have dropped twenty points in the last few days. If people have cogent arguments to make then for heavens sake, make them. This type of identity and class politics makes me feel like I'm at DU.

Knucklehead said...


The discussion has to start with what the "mechanics" are for having a "frank discussion". The earlier conversation on the frank discussion topic was threaded into an exchange about the Miers nomination.

You seem to believe that the nomination and confirmation process are suitable for discussion of constitutional issues. I, on the other hand, think that would represent "litmus test" writ large.

To be honest I don't know where the sorts of frank discussion we, as a society, need to have rightfully belong. Given that we have no end of media, however, I wish some portion of the nightly news blathering would be dedicated to less blood and a bit more, "here are the sorts of issues facing the nation". The print media could also do a MUCH better job of this. Blogs clearly play a role.

Ultimately, however, I think this belongs in our schools. We need to begin thinking about the issues that technology is quickly forcing upon us with an urgency that "pointy headed philosophers" can't match (eugenics and euthanasia being among those, genetic research and drug research bringing others to the fore, as do communications technologies).

That's the real reason, IMO, we can't afford the current de-rigorizing and politicization of our public school system. We need more rigor and we need to introduce out children to the ethical discussion surrounding the technology issues.

But instead we're producing a generation of otherwise intelligent people who haven't even been exposed to enough science to provide the slimmest foundation for ethical discussions. One needn't be a PhD in biology to form an opinion about infanticide but it would help if one could grasp the basics of the general world of science and technology to form a basis on which to build an opinion.

The direction we're heading is toward increasing our cult-like slavishness to "experts". Increasing rigor in our schools would help build citizens who can investigate a topic sufficiently to do at least a scan of the arguments the experts are making.

It may well be that our society had taken all it can from "sanctity of life" basis for our "moral" codes. That is possible. I don't think so but it is certainly possible. Perhaps we need some additional utilitarian thinking. Either way we need to explore this stuff somehow and it can't be left to the pointy-headed PhDs. These are the near future's real life issues and our kids need to be aware of them. I'll be dead before some Singer comes for me with some legal writ explaining that getting rid of me would be in the best interests of maximizing the wellbeing of the largest number of people.

BTW, if anyone read my Singer diatribe over at Roger's Place - the one where I quoted his example argument of why it might be perfectly OK to perform infanticide on a hemophiliac - it just dawned on me how many of us are in mortal danger if view like that take hold.

I mean, really, what wife couldn't make a convincing case that ol' hubby was inferior and should be disposed of because, well, that would make room for a superior replacement.

I think I need to hop on over to Princeton and protest!

Rick Ballard said...


I may be wrong, that will be proven during the confirmation proceedings. The promise that I'm referring to is the same promise that the law profs and pundits are referring to.

If the pick was predicated upon the avoidance of a fight then it was a mistake because the fight cannot be avoided.