DANIEL VAUGHAN: Eugenics is both the old and new front in the abortion culture war

May 27, 2019

What are you worth? What are your genes worth?

If we knew what your genetic makeup would be before you were born, would you have been allowed to join the human race? Should we screen embryos with low IQ genetic markers and prevent them from being born?

These are some of the questions being debated in light of recently released research by Stephen Hsu at Michigan State University.

“Accurate IQ predictors will be possible, if not the next five years, the next ten years certainly,” Hsu told The Guardian. “I predict certain countries will adopt them.”

When Hsu says that “countries will adopt them,” he’s saying that countries should adopt laws that screen away anyone who tests low on the IQ test. And the company he works with actively does that very thing, according to The Guardian’s report:

Genomic Prediction is the first company to take embryo screening into this grey area of risk forecasting, offering to alert couples if an embryo has an “outlier” score for risk of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, dwarfism or low IQ. Prediction for IQ is not good enough to give a reliable ranking, but Hsu said that knowing an embryo has a low score could still be desirable.

“Maybe the bottom 1% embryo will grow up to be a great person…even be a scientist, but the odds are against it,” he said. “I honestly feel if we can calculate that score and find a real negative outlier there’s an ethical responsibility for us to report that.”

This mindset is another form of eugenics returning to the limelight of the culture wars. We’ve seen this in the current abortion debate swirling around the country, with Alabama Democrats arguing that the poor should be aborted to avoid filling jail cells.

Hsu’s technological advances take the abortion question back to conception with the same basic argument: that we should, as a society, remove those we deem unworthy of being part of the human race.

The logic of Hsu matches that of abortion supporters in the U.S. today and the eugenics debate of the progressive era in the earth 20th century. Humans have no inherent, intrinsic value, and as such, governments can take any action, they desire. Or, as political scientist Hadley Arkes puts it: “Partisans of abortion have had to talk themselves out of the notion that the human being inside the womb has any intrinsic moral worth, the source in turn of rights of intrinsic worth. But if that is true for the child in the womb, it is true for the rest of us as well.”

In saying that embryos with low IQ markers don’t matter, or that children born into poverty don’t matter, or that any life does not matter for some reason conjured up by policymakers, they’re effectively saying that none of us matter.

When Americans like Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. proclaimed that “three generations of imbeciles is enough” and ordered the sterilization of anyone the state deemed unfit, he destroyed the rights of all. And we know he killed the rights of all because his eugenic thought was used by the Nazis to defend themselves during the Nuremberg trials.

As the Daily Mail noted in their coverage, the prospects of weeding out those with low IQs brought back memories of Charles Davenport, “a respected biologist in the late 1800s who taught eugenics at Cold Spring Harbor, believed we should encourage the procreation of Germans, who he saw as ‘thrifty, intelligent, and honest’ over Irish, who he deemed to have ‘considerable mental defectiveness.'”

Hsu and others see nothing wrong with screening away anyone with genetic markers that society considers to be unworthy because they’re working from a relativistic viewpoint. No one ultimately matters; humans are no different than any other lab rat.

The problem is that we’ve seen this exact mindset before, and it has formed the foundation for the very worst in humanity. Slave owners used that logic to buy and sell other humans for plantations, the eugenics movement used it to sterilize the “unfit,” and the Nazis used it to murder millions of Jews. And that’s just the beginning.

A viral piece went around among pro-life groups recently out of Symposia Magazine. In it, the anonymous author argues that they are not pro-life because it is more accurate to call the group “anti-abortion.” It’s a good piece, and I found myself agreeing with many points, but it misses one central point: Abortion is only one facet, albeit a large one, of the fight for life.

Eugenics has returned in full force to the United States. Planned Parenthood is currently fighting Indiana laws that ban abortion based on eugenic practices.

Standing against abortion is good — but it is only one part of the pro-life stance. Screening away anyone with any “genetic defect” devalues us all in the same way that abortion does. And being against abortion does not automatically make one against eugenics and all the evils it entails.

Pursuing a full pro-life stance is the only way to protect life in all its variety and diversity. Ending abortion is a critical aspect of the pro-life movement, but with the return of eugenics, the next battlefield is already shaping up.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.