Eugenics, the darling of elite, educated progressives 100 years ago in their quest to create Utopia, has been out of favor since those crazy Germans took it too far in the late 1930s, but there is one sound reason it found favor; why wouldn't we eliminate serious diseases beforehand instead of treating them after?
Obviously there is a difference between voluntary and involuntary solutions to diseases and mental illnesses - Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes spoke for America's highest court that a rape victim should be sterilized because he believed she was a whore and she would be the “probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring, likewise afflicted”. It's not very tolerant, but progressives never claimed to be liberals, they were social authoritarians then just like they are now. It isn't liberals claiming you are too stupid to be able to buy a Big Gulp, it is elite progressives.
Yet while progressive eugenicists got it all wrong by using legislative and judicial fiat to create their leftist Utopia, a voluntary genetic test for genetic issues is a good thing - we are just on the razor's edge culturally and therefore ethically. If we turn over more and more choice to government, like in health care, the potential for social authoritarianism similar to a century ago creeps back in. If we all have to pay for your medical care, maybe you shouldn't be allowed to smoke or eat Happy Meals or get vaccines - the majority can become tyrannical toward minorities, as witches in Salem and Republicans in the humanities surely learned when they were driven to extinction.
Social authoritarianism under the guise of compassion already happens. For my last two children the hospital ran tests to see if the babies had Down's Syndrome, the obvious reason being to tell you to abort the child if it was there. Yet since society will pay for medical care in 2014, what if parents chose not to have an abortion if the potential - or reality - of a serious illness were there? Would that be child abuse? Irresponsible? Could society, with the full, unstoppable might of law, force an abortion or sterilization?
Don't count on ethicists to get us out of this issue intact. Modern ethicists don't subscribe to any notion of morality or even logical formalism. If you can abort a baby before birth, they contend, you can abort them after too. Modern ethics is more like ancient sophistry so they are no help.
As odd as it sounds, society may have to fall back on religion to help figure out where the line is. The NHS kills off 130,000 people a year, a doctor there claims, so even doctors, traditionally the last line of defense, are being trained to obey protocols and government rules in defiance of their instincts and oaths.
The advantage we have regarding genetic testing today is a historical one; we have seen the horrors of eugenics and people are more skeptical of 'experts' than they were in the past as a result. A hundred years ago if H.G. Wells or John Maynard Keynes endorsed a policy that led to 60,000 forced sterilizations, their popularity meant something to the public. They were experts, even though out of their fields. People are a lot less trusting of expertise today because of past mistakes.
In the "I, human" session at the Euroscience Open Forum 2012, Professor Armand Leroi of Imperial College London said 21st century eugenics is already here. Genetic testing is cheap and partners will request scans of each other, the way they hopefully get HIV tests now(1). And aborting over Down's syndrome is just eugenics framed in a nicer way, further proof that framing is an intellectual cesspool that needs to be banished where it belongs, in the muck of the early 2000s. Eugenics will increase, even if it is under the guise of positive improvements.
Religious people are the ones resisting this creepy "Gattaca" future. “Our priorities should be to develop treatments and supportive measures for those with genetic disease; not to search them out,” said Philippa Taylor of the Christian Medical Fellowship to the Daily Mail.
It would be wonderfully idealistic to believe eugenics will be used to just wipe out diseases, but as we have seen in the countries with the least freedom and most social authoritarianism, it is routinely used to select for genders and various other factors.
You can't have both government control and freedom, though it would be nice to have been able to select kids that would be both prettier and smarter than me. I love the mystery too much to have ever gone through with that, though.
(1) It will even change romantic comedies. Here is "Gattaca", except about love, in a 2010 movie called "TiMER":
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