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Eugenics: Definition and Peculiarities

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Eugenics is a term commonly associated with the dreadful moment in history regarding World War 2. It is defined as “the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations to improve the population’s genetic composition” (Merriam Webster). Many people of the United States are unaware that we had similar, though not as extreme, actions towards the eugenics movement. In the past, we had promoted eugenics through the sterilization movement. Now, with up and coming technologies, we once again promote eugenics. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (The Fertility Institutes), combined with in vitro fertilization allows couples to conceive a baby without certain genetic diseases, which promotes eugenics. But, although eugenics is upon us, it will never get to the point of “designer babies” such as in the movie Gattaca.

There are many ways that the eugenics movement is upon us today. Even simply choosing a partner because of certain qualities promotes certain genes. The new technology that allows us to manually select for the most promising embryos is preimplantation genetic diagnosis combined with in vitro fertilization. This new technology was looked as a way to help people have children, but when you look closer into what the technology is really doing, it is actually promoting eugenics. In preimplantation genetic diagnosis, clinicians vacuum one of eight cells in a 3-day old embryo created through in vitro fertilization, and then tests the DNA from those embryos to analyze. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis allows clinicians to test and identify the likelihood of certain embryos that could develop genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs, Huntington’s, and Down syndrome (Jabr, 2013). Although this technology has been used to help parents conceive a child who might have a genetic disorder, parents can also use this technology to predetermine characteristics of what they want their child to have. In 2006, 58 U.S. fertility clinics allowed parents to choose sex as a matter of preference, and recently, “sex selection is more prevalent now than ever” (Jabr, 2013). This itself is unethical by not letting biology work its course and forcing a child to have a certain sex. Some other reasons for choosing the sex of a child is so that there is a lower chance of developing a genetic disease since females have two “X” chromosomes, and therefore cannot obtain “Y-linked” genetic disorders. But, selecting the sex of a baby to prevent genetic diseases is clearly promoting eugenics because partners are selectively breeding an embryo that will improve the population’s genetic composition.

When looking at the legal considerations for PGD, it shows that the idea of “designer babies” will not be upon us. “PGD should be limited to the detection of specific and serious conditions” (Boyle, R et al., 2001). Although legally, it is hard to determine what a serious condition might include, it shows that individuals using PGD will not be able to choose characteristic preferences. These legal considerations are trying to enforce that PGD is used for life-threatening conditions or severe disabilities that the embryos could have or develop. This is still promoting eugenics, but also trying to prevent any biological mistakes that are more likely to happen with certain embryos. Although this promotes eugenics, couples at least aren’t selecting preferences for characteristics of that embryo, unless that embryo could obtain a serious medical condition or disability. In the recommendations of Human Genetics Commission, another point stated was that PGD should not be used for trait selection or such that it could give rise to eugenic outcomes. As a society, we are still aware of the possible negative impacts of eugenics, so we are taking precautions to avoid severe eugenic promotion. “In 1993, the authority made it clear that PGD for sex selection for social reasons would not be licensed” (Boyle, R, et al., 2001). This shows that there are already licenses in place so that fertility clinics are less likely to allow couples to choose characteristics that they prefer. Even though there are no clear professional guidelines specifically related to using PGD for the benefit of an existing person, there are still ethical issues being debated as well as the legal considerations being developed.

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“You want to give your child the best possible start” the doctor states in the movie, Gattaca. One thing many wonder is if we will end up in a society such as the movie, Gattaca. It is not likely that society will change to the division of “valids and in-valids” (Gattaca). This is because society has a huge role in deciding laws and can implement regulations regarding PGD. The public supports using PGD for detecting disabling conditions before birth but does not support the selection of sex or selecting mental and physical characteristics of children (Boyle, R, et al. 2001). Because most of the public agrees that we should not use PGD to change characteristics but to detect disabling conditions, we can tell that in the future we will not have to worry about a society like Gattaca. We will have a society that may choose to analyze their DNA before conceiving, and that may test their embryos for any life-threatening conditions. There could be a reduction in the number of genetic disabilities, but they will still be out there. “Eugenics also risks creating a genetically homogenous population that is far more vulnerable to disease and freak deleterious mutations than a diverse one” (Jabr, 2013). Because of poverty, not everyone will have the ability to test for genetic disorders so we will still have a diverse gene pool. As a society, we will still want to give our children the best possible start by eliminating possible genetic defects, but we will want to allow our children to grow and be who they want to be and not who we want them to be.

Even if we wanted to edit genes like in the movie Gattaca, we don’t have the kind of technology that could change genes the way we want. In the times of editing human embryos, CRISPR editing has been imprecise. In China, the first Chinese team was only able to successfully edit a disease gene in 4 out of 86 embryos, and the second team even worse (Yong, 2017). Even in the successful cases each embryo still had a mix of the modified and unmodified cells, called mosaicism. This could be severe because if doctors implanted an embryo that they thought was free of disease but in reality was only partially free of disease, the child born could have organs and tissues that carry those mutations and can develop symptoms (Yong, 2017). Even in America the processes were not completely successful. Before fertilization, Oregon researchers delivered CRISPR components which eliminated the issue of mosaicism. But, after doing this to 54 embryos, they only found that 72 percent of the embryos successfully edited the specific gene. There was still a 28 percent failure rate which is a very high rate of failure. The process of editing genes is way more complex than it may seem. There are more than several genes that can impact a trait, and CRISPR can only target traits that are linked to just one gene. In addition, there are a lot of extra steps that clinics have to take, which involve a lot more risks. So, for the most part, CRISPR cannot be used, so we do not have to worry about “designer babies” with the technology we have. It is a long, complicated process with a lot of risks that many couples would not be willing to take for how expensive it could be.

Overall, eugenics will always be upon us, just not as drastic as we know it to be. Simply by choosing a partner that is tall so that their children could possibly also be tall promotes eugenics. Or choosing a partner who is wealthy, intelligent, and with blue eyes promotes eugenics. When same-sex couples want to have a child, they choose from the “best” sperm donor from their opinion. Each of these still promotes certain characteristics or traits, but it is not as drastic as specifically testing DNA and changing certain genes to have a boy with brown eyes and curly brown hair, or a tall intelligent blonde girl. We will not turn into a society like Gattaca because we do not have the precise and accurate technology available to detect the multiple genes that impact a specific trait. It is a long and complicated process that involves many risks in which most couples would not be willing to take since it would also be an expensive process that might not even work. In addition, as a society we are already aware of the negative impacts of eugenics when using PGD, so the public already does not support that kind of PGD. There are already commissions discussing recommendations for how PGD should and should not be used, we just have to abide by these recommendations no matter how bad we prefer certain characteristics for their future child.

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Eugenics: Definition and Peculiarities. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/eugenics-definition-and-peculiarities/
“Eugenics: Definition and Peculiarities.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/eugenics-definition-and-peculiarities/
Eugenics: Definition and Peculiarities. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/eugenics-definition-and-peculiarities/> [Accessed 27 Nov. 2022].
Eugenics: Definition and Peculiarities [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/eugenics-definition-and-peculiarities/
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