Contemporary Echoes of a Eugenic Past The Genetic Screen

Genetic screening is one of the outgrowths of health screening for a number of public health problems, most notably tuberculosis. But unlike tuberculosis, genetic disorders tend to cluster in populations in which there have been centuries of in-breeding, because of cultural endogamy rules (who can marry whom), and/or because of long-term geographical residence of a population in which there has not been much physical mobility. In both circumstances, genes that cause diseases cluster in these populations, making those who are part of those populations at greater risk. Examples include cystic fibrosis, a disease affecting the lung's ability to accumulate liquids, primarily affecting persons of North-European descent; beta-thalassemia, a blood disease affecting persons living in the Mediterranean area; and sickle-cell anemia, a blood disorder primarily affecting persons with ancestors from West Africa, and in some areas of the Mediterranean.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, many states began to offer postnatal genetic screening of all newborns. If the screen detects a high level of a particular chemical (alpha-feta protein) on the first go-round, the woman is offered a second test to determine if the fetus is likely to have anencephaly, which can produce a serious neural tube defect. In the most literal sense, to screen something means to prevent that something from getting past the screen. Thus, whether explicitly or implicitly, the institutionalization of genetic screening programs contains a strong residue of the old image of cleaning or purifying the gene pool. The social aspect of the eugenic implication is disguised by its being offered to individual women, or individual families. Thus the specter of state-sponsored screening of a particular group is diffused and obscured. However, as noted above, since genetic diseases tend to cluster in certain ethnic and racial groupings, individual decision-making (imposed or presumed) cannot mitigate the fact of systematically different outcomes for different groups.

Getting rid of bad babies with genetic defects is only half of the eugenic equation. There is also the idea of a positive eugenics, in which there is the active recruitment of some to procreate and selectively breed to increase some human trait or characteristic that is considered positive. Singapore actively encourages and rewards its wealthy and middle-class citizens to have more children. That is the group-approach to positive eugenics. On the individual level, contemporary residues of eugenic thinking can be seen in the emergence and increasing use of sperm banks with sperm donated by medical students, athletes, and Nobel laureates; the much higher cost of ova from young women from exclusive private colleges; and the exorbitant pricing of the ova from supermodels, which are offered on a website. Given a choice, there is evidence that some people will try to add a bit of height to their offspring with a growth hormone. Each of these developments indicates a lingering of a eugenic past.

100 Health Tips

100 Health Tips

Breakfast is the most vital meal. It should not be missed in order to refuel your body from functional metabolic changes during long hours of sleep. It is best to include carbohydrates, fats and proteins for an ideal nutrition such as combinations of fresh fruits, bread toast and breakfast cereals with milk. Learn even more tips like these within this health tips guide.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment