Modern Eugenics and Genetic Engineering

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Beginning in the 1980s the history and concept of eugenics were widely discussed as knowledge about genetics advanced significantly. Endeavors such as the Human Genome Project made the effective modification of the human species seem possible again (as did Darwin's initial theory of evolution in the 1860s, along with the rediscovery of Mendel's laws in the early 20th century). The difference at the beginning of the 21st century was the guarded attitude towards eugenics, which had become a watchword to be feared rather than embraced.

Only a few scientific researchers (such as the controversial psychologist Richard Lynn) have openly called for eugenic policies using modern technology but they represent a minority opinion in current scientific and cultural circles. One attempted implementation of a form of eugenics was a "genius sperm bank" (1980-1999) created by Robert Klark Graham, from which nearly 230 children were conceived (the best known donor was Nobel Prize winner William Shockley). In the USA and Europe though, these attempts have frequently been criticized as in the same spirit of classist and racist forms of eugenics of the 1930s. Results, in any case, have been spotty at best.

Some conservative commentators have also proposed eugenics-like programs. Thomas Sowell advocated differential birth rates in his book Ethnic America:

The internal distribution of children among blacks has made the upward movement of the race as a whole more difficult. The general tendency of poor people to have more children than middle-class people has been accentuated among American Negroes. Better educated and higher income blacks have even fewer children than their white counterparts, while low-income blacks have even more children than equally low income whites. Much of the struggle that has brought some blacks up from poverty has had to be repeated in successive generations because successful blacks did not have enough children to reproduce themselves. (Sowell, 1981, p. 213)

Because of its association with compulsory sterilization and the racial ideals of the Nazi Party, the word eugenics is rarely used by the advocates of such programs.

Only a few governments in the world had anything resembling eugenic programs today. In 1994 China passed the "Maternal and Infant Health Care Law" which included mandatory pre-marital screenings for "genetic diseases of a serious nature" and "relevant mental disease." Those who were diagnosed with such diseases were required either to not marry, agree to "long term contraceptive measures" or to submit to sterilization. This law was repealed in 2004.

A similar screening policy (including pre-natal screening and abortion) intended to reduce the incidence of thalassemia exists on both sides of the island of Cyprus. Since the program's implementation in the 1970s, it has reduced the ratio of children born with the hereditary blood disease from 1 out of every 158 births to almost zero. Dor Yeshorim, a program which seeks to reduce the incidence of Tay-Sachs disease among certain Jewish communities, is another screening program which has drawn comparisons with eugenics. In Israel, at the expense of the state, the general public is advised to carry out genetic tests to diagnose the disease before the birth of a baby. If an unborn baby is diagnosed with Tay-Sachs the pregnancy may be terminated, subject to consent. Most other Ashkenazi Jewish communities also run screening programmes due to the higher incidence of the disease. In some Jewish communities, the ancient custom of matchmaking (shidduch) is still practised, and in order to attempt to prevent the tragedy of infant death which always results from being homozygous for Tay-Sachs, associations such as the strongly observant Dor Yeshorim (which was founded by a rabbi who lost four children to the condition in order to prevent others suffering the same tragedy) test young couples to check whether they carry a risk of passing on this...
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