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About Eugenics & Human Biotechnology

Eugenics entails using science and/or breeding techniques to produce individuals with preferred or "better" characteristics.

In the early twentieth century, eugenic ideologies and practices drew on genetic theories of the day in efforts to control human reproduction. This provided scientific cover for policy decisions about who should and shouldn't reproduce—decisions largely informed by discriminatory attitudes toward marginalized groups. In the United States, a widespread eugenics movement led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people considered "unfit," to stringent immigration restrictions on undesired populations, and to public policies that encouraged "fitter families" to produce more children.

Eugenic ideas and rhetoric pioneered in the United States were taken up by the Nazis, who used them to justify their extermination of Jews, people with disabilities, and other groups. The Nazi genocides led to an almost complete rejection of eugenic ideas immediately after World War II.

In recent years, a small but disturbing number of scientists, scholars, and others have begun calling for "reconsideration." Some urge the development of inheritable genetic modification (changing the genes passed on to children) and the expanded use of selection technologies such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Some support these technologies as a way to "seize control of human evolution." Others see them as an efficient, rapid means to produce "enhanced" children.

There are still some traditional eugenicists who focus on purported racial and group differences in intelligence and behavior. But many transhumanists and other eugenicists seek to differentiate their high-tech visions from earlier programs. They say that they reject the racism and government coercion that characterized various twentieth century eugenicists, and argue that market dynamics and individual choice will drive twenty-first century eugenics.

Scientists Find Gene Editing with CRISPR Hard to Resist[quotes Marcy Darnovsky and Pete Shanks]by Cameron ScottHealthlineSeptember 29th, 2015CRISPR, a new technique for editing DNA, is so cheap and easy to use, we may be genetically engineering human embryos before we have time to decide if we should.
Born that way? ‘Scientific’ racism is creeping back into our thinking. Here’s what to watch out for.by W. Carson Byrd & Matthew W. HugheyWashington PostSeptember 28th, 2015Two recent studies and a review of current events show the media and white communities embracing the idea of racial genetic differences in order to avoid confronting the history of systemic oppression of racialized groups.
Forgotten Stories of the Eugenic Age #4, Part 1: The Short Life and Eugenic Death of Baby John Bollingerby Natalie OveyssiBiopolitical TimesSeptember 24th, 2015In 1915, Dr. Harry Haiselden refused to operate to save the life of John Bollinger, a baby with disabilities, whom he believed would be a burden on society.
Stem Cell Experts Support Using CRISPR In Human Embryosby Steph YinPopular ScienceSeptember 10th, 2015Bioethicist Art Caplan responds that "human embryo work is interesting, but to me it should be completely theoretical. We don’t know what we’re doing yet."
Disability and the Politics of Abortion by Judith LevineSeven Days [Vermont]September 9th, 2015We must not use technology to cull fetuses that might have differently abled bodies. We cannot allow abortion law to rescue them at the cost of their mothers' freedom.
Pinker's Damn: A Naive Rejection of Controls Over Genetic Engineeringby Stuart Newman, Biopolitical Times guest contributorSeptember 4th, 2015Steven Pinker's credulous optimism concerning human germline modification ignores a record of complicity by some scientists, and appropriation of the work of others, in abuses by industry and government.
Calls for IVF laws to be changed to take advantage of gene editing technique by Steve ConnorThe IndependentSeptember 2nd, 2015A statement by medical research funders in the UK suggests that benefits of modifying the human germ-line could outweigh the ethical objections.
Coerced Sterilization of Canadian Indigenous Women in 70s Widespread: Researcherby Chris ArsenaultReutersSeptember 1st, 2015The Canadian government was often aware of the problem, but did not act to stop it.
Banning Abortion for Down Syndrome: Legal or Ethical Justification? by Bonnie SteinbockHastings Center Bioethics ForumAugust 26th, 2015Instead of passing an unenforceable and unconstitutional law, Ohio should devote its time to ensuring that all people with disabilities, Down syndrome or otherwise, get the resources and services they need.
Court: $50M verdict in Seattle-area ‘wrongful birth’ doesn't shock the conscienceby Levi PulkkinenSeattlePIAugust 26th, 2015A Washington appeals court upheld a $50 million verdict in favor of a couple whose son was born with severe birth defects that should have been spotted by genetic testing.
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