Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Good Eugenics

Critics of Darwinian conservatism--John West, for example--often argue that the history of eugenics illustrates the morally repugnant consequences of Darwinian thinking. In my chapter on "Social Darwinism" in Darwinian Conservatism and in various posts on this blog responding to West, I have suggested that for Darwin, eugenics--the management of human breeding to promote the physical and mental health of the offspring--can be either good or bad. Eugenics is good when it is based on a realistic understanding of our limited knowledge of biological inheritance, and when it is guided by a moral sympathy for the weaker members of society. Eugenics is bad when it is motivated by a utopian vision of human perfectibility through the breeding of superior races, and when it is unchecked by humanitarian sympathy. Darwin promoted good eugenics, as in his concern about the consequences of incest and cousin marriage. Francis Galton promoted bad eugenics rooted in a tradition of utopian eugenics that began with Plato's Republic. Like Plato, Galton described his eugenics as directed to producing "a race of gifted men," so that "the utopias in the dreamland of philanthropists may become practical possibilities."

Good eugenics would allow parents to exercise prudence in making informed decisions about reproduction to satisfy their natural desire for parental care. We need prudence to decide particular cases where no absolute rule would work because of the contingencies and uncertainties in each decision. And we need to rely on parental care (as one of the 20 natural desires) to guide such decisions as conforming to our human nature.

As an illustration of such good eugenics, consider the recent article by Wesley Smith in The Weekly Standard. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute who campaigns against abortion and what he calls "politically correct eugenics." But in this article, he implicitly supports what I would call good eugenics by supporting some legislation proposed by Senators Edward Kennedy and Sam Brownback. The legislation would require that parents making decisions about pre- and postnatal disabilities be given full information about "life expectancy, development potential, and quality of life" for children born with genetic disabilities such as Down syndrome. Smith hopes this would persuade many parents to care for Down children once they learn that such children can live good lives. He quotes from one parent of a Down child who decided that "Down's syndrome is not an insupportable horror for either the sufferer or the parents." Smith cites this parent's report as showing "the joy that many parents of Down children discover." He supports the Kennedy/Brownback legislation because it would allow parents to make a "fully informed decision," which might be a decision to care for a Down child as a joyful experience.

We allow parents to make such reproductive decisions because we assume that most parents will be motivated by a desire for parental care that considers the best interests of their children. Using governmental coercion to force a decision on them would be bad eugenics. Allowing them to make their own decisions based on the best available information and their natural desire for a healthy family life is good eugenics.


Anonymous said...

Hey dude,
Thanks for this info. because it really helped me understand the good and the bad about eugenic engeneering. It also helped me with the project that I'm doing and I will make sure I give you credit for the info. your blog gave me. And hopefully it will give other people a understanding about eugenic engeneering.

Thx so much,

bub said...

Darwinism is not really a "liberal" or "conservation" idea in general--so this is a "straw man" argument dude