Eugenics Some Broad Moral and Political Issues

Who should be the we that would have the moral authority to determine eugenic goals? Should this be part of the authority and responsibility of the state, or should such decisions be left to autonomous individuals? If people chose to invest that authority in a liberal democratic state, would careful adherence to legitimate democratic processes be sufficient to guarantee the moral legitimacy of the eugenic policies that emerged from those processes? If conscientious adherence to such democratic processes were insufficient, what extrapolitical norms could justifiably be invoked for purposes of assessing those processes and policies critically? What would be the source of the moral authority of those norms?

Alternatively, if the coercive powers of the state were judged to be problematic, especially with regard to intimate and personal matters such as the genetic endowment of children, eugenic goals could be left to the choices of individuals and the private organizations that would provide the means necessary for achieving those goals, such as genetic testing and alternative means of reproduction. This would be what Philip Kitcher refers to critically as "laissez faire eugenics." If such eugenic outcomes were both privatized and uncoerced, would that guarantee the moral and political legitimacy of those outcomes? Troy Duster thinks not. Or would a state be correctly judged to be irresponsible for allowing any and all voluntary eugenic decisions to happen in an entirely unregulated fashion primarily because the best interests of future children would be at risk?

These questions are raised in the context of a liberal, pluralistic, secular, tolerant democratic state that seeks to maximize the scope of individual liberty as long as that liberty is not used to threaten the equally valuable rights and liberties of others or undermine important public interests. This type of state recognizes that there are many reasonable visions of what it means to live a good life and that consequently a state must refrain from using its coercive powers to impose a preferred vision of a good life on those who would not choose it for themselves (Rawls). It is a state that will not allow sectarian religious preferences to shape public policy, especially if a policy is needed to guide intimate life decisions. Thus, critical religious appeals to the language of "playing God" will have little legitimacy as rational support for public policies that might be aimed at outlawing "private eugenic efforts" by parents to shape the genetic endowment of their children (Peters; Evans).

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