Human Genome: Hi-Tech Eugenics

I do not agree with all said here but worth a read for background.

The United States has committed billions to a controversial human genetic research project that could have tremendous international importance, but surprisingly little public debate has taken place.

The Human Genome Project, as it is known, was started about five years ago, winning a $31 million grant from Congress to the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Library of Medicine. In 1989, the project’s budget was increased to $53 million. The projected cost of the program over its 15-year life span is $3 billion, and it is expected to involve dozens of government agencies, university laboratories, and private data centers by completion.

The purpose of the project is to identify and “map” all of the individual human genes that make up the person, or, as a writer in Time magazine described it in 1989, to “decipher the complete instructions for making a human being.”

In fact, according to the Grolier Encyclopedia, the word “genome” means “the totality of genes making up [the] hereditary constitution,”

And what do scientists hope to accomplish with this ambitious project? “It’s going to tell us everything,” says George Cahill of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Evolution, disease, everything…”

Other advocates of the program insist that the research could lead to cures for genetic diseases or cancer, or that it might prove to be the first step toward developing the capability for “gene therapy,” a process in which the genetic code can be manipulated to eliminate defects.

The project “will revolutionize the way biology and medicine are done in the laboratory,” said Charles Cantor, director of the Human Genome Center at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, in a December 1990 article in the Washington Times.

But the research raises a wide range of ethical questions, too. It is asserted in a guest column appearing in the New York Times in February, for instance, that “the dangers of attributing too much power to the genes are profound.”

The writer of the column, Dorothy Nelkin, is a professor at New York University and co-author of a book on genetics and popular culture. “Faith in genetic testing on the part of both the public and scientists reflects the technocratic dream of controlling the accidental, anticipating the unpredictable, and eradicating the risk,” Nelkin writes. But no cure exists for most genetic problems, and Nelkin is doubtful that research will ever fully succeed in this respect. “Ultimately, the only way to eliminate genetic conditions is through controlling reproduction,” she concludes, “and here lies the risk.”

In other words, the $3 billion Human Genome Project may do little more than provide a new, high- tech basis for population control.

This is not a question of detecting and preventing the causes of congenital abnormalities like those that may occur when an expectant mother gets German measles, for instance. For that we don t need the Human Genome Project. Rather, “gene-mapping” research is intended to gather information about familial traits, hereditary human characteristics that are passed from one generation to another. The “cure” in this case — absent the equally frightening reality of genetic engineering — is to halt the reproduction of entire families so that persons likely to possess the unpopular trait are “bred out” of the society, leaving no nephews, no sisters, no offspring who might come back to haunt us.

Already, such intentions are suspect. A conference on the topic of “Genetic Factors in Crime: Findings, Uses and Implications,” was planned in the Washington, D.C. area for the fall of 1992 with the specific goal of exploring possible links between heredity and criminal conduct. The meeting, which had been assured a $78,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, was abruptly canceled when members of the academic and scientific community denounced its theme as racist. Indeed, there is little that such a proposed linkage between crime and “bad genes” could offer in terms of public policy except a rationale for curbing fertility among entire classes of people.

But while the “crime connection” proved too controversial — at least for now — other theories have met with less resistance. During the past few years alone, scientists have taken credit for “discovering” a genetic basis for a variety of human conditions ranging from the tendency toward alcoholism to homosexuality.

Potential applications for such theories provide the grounds for yet another controversy. A December 1992 report in the Washington Times described the case of an expectant couple who requested a diagnostic test to determine if their child would have a genetic abnormality. According to the report, they were told by officials of the health maintenance organization (HMO) to which they belonged that if they had the test done and a fetal defect was detected, they would be obligated to opt for abortion. If they refused, continues the report, “not only would the HMO not pay for the test or provide health care for the child, it would also cap the benefits for their already existing child.”

Theoretically, at least, the Human Genome Project holds the key that may one day enable scientists to identify every imaginable genetic trait, raising the question of how far such coercive medical policies could go in promoting abortion, sterilization or Norplant to prevent the continuation of certain genetic strains.

Indeed, who would define the point at which diversity becomes disability? And would it not be possible — perhaps even “reasonable” in the right political climate — to insist that all persons undergo some kind of genetic evaluation?

As Nelkin notes in her New York Times op- ed, knowledge itself tends to influence government policy, and such inevitable considerations as cost- cutting “can encourage policies that border on eugenics.”

The legal basis for “genetic cleansing” already exists. It has long been recognized in the United States, for instance, that the government has a legitimate interest in public health and welfare, and may regulate or even compel certain behaviour to protect it. Mandatory vaccinations are a case in point. Anti-smoking legislation is another.

As a general rule, population control advocates also base their public rhetoric on a vague perception of “the common good.” For the most part, they insist that individuals and couples are at least theoretically free to “choose when and if they will have any children,” to use the language of a draft plan of action prepared for the upcoming International Conference on Population and Development. But this freedom is far from unqualified. Adds the same population conference document: “The right to bear children implies responsibility to care for children and to consider their interests and the interests of the larger community.” And it might just as well imply that they take into consideration the “health” of future generations, when the means to do so become available.

It is not an excess of cynicism that leads people like Nelkin to express concern that the findings of a $3 billion research extravaganza will simply have to be put to some practical use. There is a human tendency to set aside qualms about discrimination and human rights when “new” social policies come packaged as progress, as absolute truth, and as the reward for awesome new medical discoveries. Worse yet, for government to fail to make use of such expensively- acquired knowledge would be to commit the unpardonable sin of squandering public funds.

The Human Genome Project was explicitly intended by Congress to be international in scope. The implications of the studies in a world in which population control can be inflicted on entire nations can be nothing less than terrifying. If the United States government — and the leaders of other wealthy, powerful nations — can ruthlessly impose fertility limits on persons far beyond their shores, they will almost certainly be willing to place new genetic technologies at the service of other, equally devious ends.

Still, one may argue that projections about the future are pure speculation. The past, on the other hand, is history. And history, too, has quite a bit to say about the inherent abuse potential in genetic manipulation.

Consider, for instance, this criticism of the health care system: “Modern medicine is responsible for the loss of appreciation of the power of heredity. It has had its attention too exclusively focussed [sic.] on germs and conditions of life. It has neglected the personal element that helps determine the course of every disease… It has forgotten the fundamental fact that all men are created bound by their protoplasmic makeup and unequal in their powers and responsibilities.”

This argument was made, not during legislative hearings on the Human Genome Project, but in the preface to a 1911 book titled Heredity in Relation to Eugenics by Charles Benedict Davenport.

But the connection to the contemporary issue is undeniable. Simply stated, applied genetics is the “scientific” belief in human inequality — exactly what the Davenport book says it is. And because such research affirms the idea that people are by their very nature unequal in their abilities and potential, it is effectual mainly in forging unjust and oppressive public policies.

The notion of “natural” inequality between groups appears even more dramatically in foreign relations, where the stereotype of dark-skinned natives unable to make advancements without the help of the benevolent developer — formerly the “white man s burden,” and now western-defined “sustainable development” — hangs over foreign “aid” operations from Asia and the Pacific across Africa and on to Latin America.

Enemies, too, are routinely subjected to charges of hereditary worthlessness on a national or regional scale. The concept of the biological menace of the Bolshevik entered the U.S. consciousness a generation before the official declaration of the cold war. Lothrop Stoddard, a prolific author and advocate of both strategic and eugenic birth control, wrote his influential critique of the Russian revolution only six years after the overthrow of the czars. The book, called Revolt of the Under-Man, explained that the “Under-man” (the revolutionary) “wreaks his destructive fury on individuals as well as on institutions. And the superior are always his special targets.”

To Stoddard, the overthrow of the czar was the triumph of a class of hereditary inferiors — and more. He called social equality nothing less than the domination of “the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements,” and wrote that this dangerous concept threatens both east and west: “No land is immune,” proclaims Stoddard s premature cold war manifesto. “Bolshevik Russia is merely the standard- bearer of a revolt against civilization which girdles the globe.”

Today, similar things are said about the developing world. The nations of the south, complains a report on world population trends prepared in 1991 for the U.S. Army Conference on Long-Range Planning, do not share America s “respect for individual rights and private property.” The imminent rise to power of new blocs, the inevitable result of high rates of population growth in the developing regions, could bring with it “a progressively weaker constraint on the exercise of force,” says the study, hinting both that the people of these areas are somehow ill-suited to peaceful civilization and that political pressures caused by their rapid increase might trigger increasing military actions on the part of the north.

An even more outrageous and explicitly genetic theory is examined in the Summer 1992 issue of Mankind Quarterly, a journal that deals with demographics and “social” biology.

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  1. 1 Politics » Human Genome: Hi-Tech Eugenics

    […] tjcoop3 wrote an interesting post today on Human Genome: Hi-Tech EugenicsHere’s a quick excerptThe notion of “natural” inequality between groups appears even more dramatically in foreign relations, where the stereotype of dark-skinned natives unable to make advancements without the help of the benevolent developer — formerly the … […]

  2. 2 Natural Therapy » Human Genome: Hi-Tech Eugenics

    […] tjcoop3 created an interesting post today on Human Genome: Hi-Tech EugenicsHere’s a short outlineOther advocates of the program insist that the research could lead to cures for genetic diseases or cancer, or that it might prove to be the first step toward developing the capability for “gene therapy,” a process in which the genetic … […]

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