In modern society, eugenics lingers in the absence of ethical reflection

If there is one common theme that ties all of humanity together, from the earliest Neanderthals to modern (or post-modern) times, it is humanity’s desire to control its own destiny.   Consider that the earliest story of sin from Genesis consisted of two individuals, Adam and Eve, who ate from the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil.”

Knowledge and self-determination have always played a part in our human story, but not always for the best.  One of the darkest events that came about in American history (and world history, for that matter) was the study and implementation of eugenics.

Eugenics was the scientific process whereby humans sought to manipulate fertility and genetics in order to weed out “undesirable” traits or people.  The earliest studies in eugenics, for instance, assumed that if those who were impoverished or mentally challenged could get sterilized, then eventually, after so many generations, these two groups would die out and cease to exist.

In fact, several states in the Union—the first being Indiana—passed a series of sterility laws that forced the doctrine of eugenics upon certain people groups from “lower” classes.  In other places, politicians and scientists applied eugenics to immigration and population laws.

The consequences of this immoral practice reached its apex in Nazi Germany, when scientists sought to rid the nation of Jews, minorities, and the ill.  Holocaust ensued.

The basis for eugenics was simple: The goal was to advance evolution and manipulate “natural selection” by limiting the ability of the “weakest” in society to procreate.   With a tip of our hat to Darwin, we humans wanted to control who would reproduce and, in the meantime, help evolution find a more efficient way forward.

We moved from “natural” to “unnatural” selection.  It comes down to control.

Eugenics and the search for control are still around in many forms today, most clearly in bioengineering and abortion policy.  Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was an outspoken advocate for eugenics; and the results from the Human Genome Project can insure that if you want a baby with blue eyes instead of brown in the near future, there may be a way for you to manipulate your fetus’ genes to produce a so-called “designer baby.”

What is most troubling is that eugenics has set the stage for genetic infiltration of a different type:  A pregnant woman can test the genetics of a fetus in order to see if there is a chance that the fetus has a disability.  If there is a high degree of probability that the baby will be born with a “defect,” then the mother can choose to get an abortion.

I have heard more than one story in which a doctor told a mother that her child will be born with a defect, only to find out that the child was born healthy.   Control has its limits, does it not?

The continuing practice of eugenics has been masked behind the political, philosophical movement that argues on behalf of humanity’s self-determination.   Having a right to self-determination, however, does not mean we can control every aspect of our biological future with little attention to ethical consequences.

Humanity’s constant power-struggle against God to control humanity’s future puts us on a very dangerous path indeed.

Our biggest failures, upsets, and frustrations result from situations in which we feel utterly powerless and out-of-control; but the Bible reminds us that we are not our own—we are God’s children, temples of the Holy Spirit, saints purchased at a price.   If left unchecked, the side-effects of eugenics in our current bio-marketplace will not bode well for God’s creation.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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