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Government-Enforced Eugenics Is Always Wrong

Parents, not bureaucrats, have the moral authority to decide whether to gene-edit prospective progeny.

TestTubeBabiesTest Tube BabiesLet's take it as a bedrock moral principle: Government-enforced eugenics is always wrong. State agencies should never be allowed to tell parents what sorts of children they may or may not bear.

The Arizona State bioethicist J. Benjamin Hurlbut violates this principle in "Human genome editing: ask whether, not how," an essay in the current issue of Nature. Hurlbut notes that the Chinese researcher He Jiankui recently announced the birth of two babies he had gene-edited as embryos with the goal of resisting infection by HIV. This announcement provoked a storm of condemnation from most other researchers in the field, largely because He's CRISPR editing has not yet been shown to be safe. Thus his editing may have introduced unanticipated genetic damage that will affect the future health the two infant girls. Furthermore, did the infants' parents understand the procedure? If they didn't, they couldn't give true informed consent to the genome-editing.

But neither safety nor consent was Hurlbut's chief concern. Instead, he claims that the "crucial and as-yet-unanswered question" is "whether it is (or can ever be) acceptable to genetically engineer children by introducing changes that they will pass on to their own offspring. That question belongs not to science, but to all of humanity."

Hurlbut asserts the alleged need for determining a "broad social consensus" about "a decision that belongs to all of us." At stake, he declares, "are the ways in which we as a human community guide and govern our technological futures." He also eschews leaving human genome-editing to national (as opposed to global) regulation, let alone to markets. Doing that, he claims, "denies humanity a role in judging what futures should be brought into being."

By "humanity," Hurlbut means "government." He makes that clear when he favorably cites the fact that 29 European countries have ratified the 1997 Oviedo Convention, which declares that "making heritable genetic modifications to people violates human rights and dignity." In other words, these governments are telling parents that even after genome editing has been shown to be safe, they will not be allowed to use it to benefit their prospective children. Governments have decided for parents that they should remain at risk for passing on such genetic diseases to their children as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, fragile X syndrome, and Huntington's disease.

Decisions about having children do not and should not "belong to all of us." As I have earlier argued:

Twentieth-century eugenicists used government power to forcibly prevent parents from passing on traits they deemed deleterious. Now 21st-century eugenicists contend the government should require parents to risk passing along genes that the parents think are deleterious to their children, whether they want to or not. Individuals may not always make the right decisions with regard to reproduction, but, as history has shown, parents are more trustworthy guardians of the human gene pool than any government agency.

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  • A Lady of Reason||

    Any government physical/genetic engineering of such a kind is always creepy and especially without true informed consent! I'm all for making genetic advances to combat diseases and birth defects, but obviously it also then opens the door for social engineering! This can be seen though, as in a long line of the attitude that the government can create a nanny state and take away the rights of parents to raise their own kids! You see this in schools and the corrupt CPS industry all the time!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If only they could splice in vaccination genes so humanity wouldn't have to force them on future generations of parents.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    I have seen the future and it is autistic.

  • Mithrandir||

    Why are so many scientists reflexively left-wing? I don't really understand it.

    At stake, he declares, "are the ways in which we as a human community guide and govern our technological futures." He also eschews leaving human genome-editing to national (as opposed to global) regulation, let alone to markets. Doing that, he claims, "denies humanity a role in judging what futures should be brought into being."

    As Ron insinuates here, the best way to make sure "humanity has a role" is via markets. Government can make all the recommendations they want, and do all the studies they want, but the decisions need to be left to individuals, i.e. markets, and spontaneous order.

  • Serial Microaggressor||

    Why are so many scientists reflexively left-wing? I don't really understand it

    When you are the recipient of stolen money it's in your interest to advocate for more taxes.

  • Rossami||

    A degree in bioethics does not make you a scientist. You'd have a stronger case with evidence that professional physicists or chemists (or practicing biologists) were reflexively left-wing. I am aware of no such evidence of the political tendencies of actual scientists.

  • ||

    Bioethicists: Nurse Ratchet in drag.

  • Sevo||

    You misspelled Ratshit.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    I saw the title in Nature and didn't even bother reading it. Science reporting has gotten way political the last few years, and I blame it on climate alarmists. Seems like half the news stories and peer-reviewed articles try to tie in with alarmist fads of every stripe: "Island lizards could be at risk from global warming", "Hubble telescope is broken and government shutdown may delay repairs", "Conservative takeover threatens science budgets" and so on.

    Nature itself has gotten really annoying. It was bad enough with their aperiodic editorial rants about gun violence; I sort of expect that from any British publication which has to virtue signal to keep the censors at bay and funding coming in. But it's been intruding into the science news and the science reports, and all that really does is water down their brand and the science brand in general.

  • Serial Microaggressor||

    Wasn't it Nature that declared sex differences are not a thing scientifically? Stick a fork in them, they're done.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Wouldn't surprise me. I find I get through issues sooner and sooner. Used to subscribe to Science but their politically correct agenda was much more blatant much sooner. Every time Nature comes up for renewal, I debate longer and longer. It won't be long before they have nothing to offset the political attitude.

  • Vernon Depner||

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    A call for worldwide enforcement of reproductive law was proposed by a Sun Devil. Coincidence?

    No, everything that comes from ASU (A school that I have repeatedly asserted is a diploma mill) is of low character and quality.

  • Serial Microaggressor||

    Hey, my wife went to ASU. Jerk.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm sorry she didn't have the opportunity to go to the far superior state school, The University of Arizona (founded, 1885). It's not too late. UA is open to all, and we are always willing to make a new Wildcat, not matter the person's past.

  • Vernon Depner||

    If government enforced EUgenics is intolerable, what about government enforced DYSgenics? Our social welfare and public educations systems are effectively that, subsidizing the reproduction of the least capable and least intelligent among us.

  • Spookk||

    This is a stupid premise. Humans will be culled and changed one way or another, and it should be by our own hand.

    People shouldn't have a right to have defective kids any more than they should have a right to litter or pollute rivers.

    If humans are too stupid and shortsighted to control their rate of reproduction, then of course laws should be imposed to force them to do so.

  • Robert||

    Could this have resulted from the mistransl'n from some language of "each" as "all"?

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