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Fr. Paul Schenck: The New Eugenics, 'Better Babies' and the Dangers of Biotechnology

By Fr. Paul Schenck
3/10/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For the past three years I've pursued post-graduate studies and completed professional certification in bioethics in order to take head-on the growing ethical and moral questions being raised in biotechnologies. The conflicts over birth-control, abortion and so-called

The impulse to try to make 'better babies', 'eliminate' persons with undesirable traits, and to 'perfect' the human race, threatens to degrade some persons while exalting others. It is too often the case that standards of desirability, whether physical, racial or genetic, are arbitrarily set by those who hold power and influence in a society. One man's desirable trait becomes another's undesirable condition. But human value and dignity is absolute, never relative.

HARRISBURG,PA (Catholic online) - For the past three years I've pursued post-graduate studies and completed professional certification in bioethics in order to take head-on the growing ethical and moral questions being raised in biotechnologies. The conflicts over birth-control, abortion and so-called "reproductive technologies" have expanded exponentially.

Now, not all intrauterine therapies are immoral or unethical. There are wonderful surgical, medicinal and even genetic therapies that are compatible with the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the person and doing great good for children with congenital abnormalities. But technologies that disrupt natural human development, distort personal identity and block or substitute for intercourse, the natural marital expression of love between spouses, rob children of their dignity and essential human rights.

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration announced it will consider approving a drastic IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) process that will use the DNA of three donors: the mother, the father and a third person unrelated to them. The technique is being used to try to eliminate inherited diseases that are passed through the mitochondria.

Ethicists are debating the morality of such a process. Some say it is the humane thing to do and others that it is the beginning of a technological eugenics (the proposed improvement of the human species by permitting the reproduction only of people with desirable genetic characteristics).

Eugenics has been around for about a hundred years. It is the idea that science and scientific technique can lead to perfect people, and if practiced for generations, an improved human race. A notorious series of books entitled "The Eugenic Marriage: A Personal Guide to the New Science of Better Living and Better Babies" was published in 1914 by the Review of Reviews, a publishing concern representing the trans-Atlantic culture of progressive reform.

The concern was founded by Albert Shaw, a contemporary of Woodrow Wilson who was a progressive reformer, academic, newspaper editor and publisher. The series was written by W. Grant Hague, a medical doctor, professor in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and trustee of the American Medical Association. Here is what Hague wrote -

Eugenics, simply defined, means "better babies". It is the art of being well born. It implies consideration of everything that has to do with the well-being of the race: motherhood, marriage, heredity, environment, disease, hygiene, sanitation, vice, education, culture - in short, everything upon which the health of people depends.

This seems well enough intended, until you read on. Just a few pages later, Hague reveals the underlying motivation of the eugenicist -

We are beginning to learn that we can modify characteristics by proper selection, by environment, and by education. This process will, to an eminent degree, redound to the permanent advantage of mankind. We may reasonably aspire to a system of race-culture which will eliminate the undesirable and unfit, and conserve all effort for the propagation of the desirable or fit.

Perhaps the most notorious eugenicist of this period is Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who called the "undesirable and unfit" human weeds, and urged their being weeded out of the human race.

A hundred years later, the US FDA is considering approving an IVF procedure designed to do just this: weed out babies with genetic diseases by eviscerating their DNA and replacing it with a stranger's. This way, the child inherits the traits of three parents. But more insidious is the motivation: to perfect human children. This begs the question: what is an "imperfect" child? Who decides?

The impulse to try to make "better babies", "eliminate" persons with undesirable traits, and to "perfect" the human race, threatens to degrade some persons while exalting others. It is too often the case that standards of desirability, whether physical, racial or genetic, are arbitrarily set by those who hold power and influence in a society. One man's desirable trait becomes another's undesirable condition. But human value and dignity is absolute, never relative.

In our efforts to properly treat and eradicate disease, we must be careful never to confuse the person with the illness or condition. The disabilities community has rightly placed the emphasis on the person and not the disability. So one is "a person with a disability", not a "disabled person".

This is the right way of understanding every person. Treating a person with an inherited trait or disease is one thing, replacing that person or an essential part of their identity, is quite another. As Pope Francis has said, "Human beings are ends in themselves, and never a means of resolving other problems."    

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Fr. Paul Schenck, a Priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA., is the founding Director of the National Pro-Life Center (NPLC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Center gives the Justices of the Supreme Court, their high level staff, members of the federal judiciary, members of the US Senate and other public policy makers the information, education and inspiration they need to better form their consciences so they will make better decisions. He is a Champion of the Pro-Life movement.

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