|A survey of Chinese scientists working in the field of genetics suggests they overwhelmingly support eugenics to improve public health.
Eugenics From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Eugenics (from the Greek for “well-born”) is a social philosophy (sometimes labeled a “science”) which advocates the manipulation of human reproduction for the purposes of attempting to improve the human species over generations in regards to hereditary features. The idea was first formulated by Sir Francis Galton in 1865 (though the term was not coined until 1883), and eventually came to encompass the idea of using social policies which fell into the categories of “positive” eugenics (encouraging the “most fit” to reproduce more often) and “negative” eugenics (discouraging or preventing the “less fit” from reproducing). In the first half of the twentieth century, numerous countries enacted eugenics policies and programs of many types. After World War II, however, the invocation of eugenics by the government of Nazi Germany as a justification for its racial policies caused the philosophy to become almost universally reviled. Modern inquiries into the potential use of genetic engineering have led to an increased invocation of the history of eugenics in the discourse of bioethics, usually as a cautionary tale, though some ethicists have questioned whether non-coercive eugenics programs would be inherently unethical.
The theory of eugenics – which is considered highly controversial in the West – suggests that the human race can be improved by selective breeding.
The survey, which was conducted in 1993 among 255 geneticists throughout China, was reported in the British magazine New Scientist.
Almost unanimously – by 91% – the scientists said that couples who carried the same disease-causing genetic mutation should not be allowed to have children.
More than three-quarters believed that governments should require pre-marital tests to detect carriers of hereditary disease.
They also supported the routine genetic testing of job applicants by employers.
There was also strong backing for the genetic testing of children to see if they are susceptible to problems such as alcoholism.
The survey was carried out by Xin Mao, a scientist from West China University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu.
Xin Mao, who now works at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, in south-west London, defended Chinese attitudes, saying cultural differences should be taken into account.
“The Chinese culture is quite different, and things are focused on the good of society, not the good of the individual. It would shock people in the West, but my survey reflects cultural common sense,” the researcher said.
The scientists’ attitudes were reflected in action later taken by the Chinese authorities.
The year after the survey was held, China introduced the controversial Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, which makes pre-marital check-ups compulsory and allows doctors to order abortions of foetuses with serious defects.
|Progressing from Eugenics to Human Genetics
The first Chinese draft of a eugenics law was made in 1993. With considerable negative response internationally, the name of the law was then changed to Maternal and Infant Health Care . As a Chinese proverb says: ‘Change the water, but don’t change the herb medicine.’ The eugenics law became effective on June 1, 1995. It is not the purpose of this communication to discuss the law in any detail. We shall merely mention its most important feature and its consequences in light of the decision errors mentioned in the previous section.
The law requires a premarital medical examination for both the man and the woman who intend to marry. The medical examination is compulsory and you must have it before marriage. The purpose of the medical examination is to see if the potential partners have serious genetic diseases, some serious infectious disease (e.g. AIDS), and ‘relevant’ mental disorders. When any of these diseases is present, then long-term contraception or tubal ligation will be used to enforce childlessness; otherwise, the couple will not be allowed to marry. During pregnancy prenatal testing is also compulsory. If the fetus has a serious genetic or somatic disorder, the defective fetus must be aborted.
Now, let us use a very simple example to illustrate how this eugenics law works. Let (A,a) be the normal and the defective recessive gene, respectively. Suppose a premarital examination reveals that both the man and woman are phenotypically normal but heterozygous for the defective recessive gene (both Aa). In order to prevent the possible birth of a defective child (aa), the couple is ordered to be childless (for life, of course) by whatever means they choose. They say this is good for the State, but we say this is very sad news for normal couples.
What kinds of children are to be expected by two heterozygous normal parents (Aa × Aa)? When the number of children is fixed by law at one (the one-child family law), Mendel’s laws of heredity predicts that on average, there will be one family with a diseased child for every three families with a normal child (upper portion of table 2).
The compulsory premarital medical examination will reveal that both prospective parents have a recessive harmful gene and, therefore, there is the possibility that they will have a child with a recessive genetic disease. Then, the couple is ordered to be childless, by whatever means (long-term contraception, or tubal ligation, etc.). The results of this decision (verdict) are shown in table 2.
The premarital tests can only tell us about the two prospective parents and certainly tell us nothing about the future child. Only 1/4 of such families will give birth to a diseased child; the other 3/4 will produce a normal child. Now, we see that for every diseased child we have prevented, we have wrongly forced three other families that would have a normal child to be childless. This is a type II error which is, in essence, the case of an innocent person receiving a guilty verdict.
For those encountering the term type II error for the first time, I don’t mind sparing an extra minute to offer another example which can be understood by school children. Suppose we want to catch a horse thief. We get the information that the horse thief is now in a bar drinking. When our men get to the bar, however, we find there are four men there, drinking. We arrest all four, although only one of them has stolen a horse. But the court decides to hang all four! It is indeed a horrible thing to do; hanging three innocent men. A type II error is a much greater crime than the original crime we wish to punish. Some people want to justify type II errors on the basis of unique culture or unique population size or unique something. But, no culture cherishes the punishment of innocents.
In the foregoing section we have used only one-child families in accordance with the law of the land. This law is much older than the current eugenics law. One law is directed at the population size; the other law is directed at the population’s genetic quality. Now both laws are effective simultaneously, so we need to know some history of the one-child law.
When the Chinese Communist Party took over Beijing in 1949, the Chinese population was between five and six hundred million. It was large, but not unmanageable. So, early in the 1950s, President Ma Yen-tzu (surname Ma) of the National Peking University (Beijing University later), a well-known economist, suggested a population control program. He argued that we cannot let the population increase without restrictions; it will eat up all our resources. It is much easier to have the population controlled at this early stage, keeping it at the present level, rather than wait until it is out of control. His reasoning angered Chairman Mao Ze-tung who felt that Ma was reactionary and a capitalistic economist. Chairman Mao had his own population theory that went briefly like this: a man has not only one mouth to eat; he also has two hands to work. His work will produce more than he can eat. So, there is no such thing as overpopulation. Mao’s famous slogan was ‘with more people, things more easily get done’. Ma was removed from his presidency of the university and was put in cold storage for the rest of his life. In the meantime, the Chinese population grew, grew, and grew until it reached 1.20 to 1.30 billion. This was so, despite the greatest starvation death toll in human history. More than 40 million people were starved to death during the great leap-forward movement (1959-1961). All of the dead bodies had two arms and two hands and they were not supposed to starve to death according to Mao’s population theory, but they did. Officially, they merely refer to this tragedy as something that happened during the ‘three difficult years’. When Stalin forced the farmers of the Ukraine to collective farms, the starvation death toll was about 2 million. A big country does things the big way!
There were dissidents in China even in Mao’s day, although it was extremely rare. Lu Chin-fan (surname Lu), a classmate of mine as well as a roommate in the dormitory at the University of Nanking during our undergraduate days, was one of them. He supported Ma’s policy of having a population control program. His concrete suggestion was that each family be limited to two children. In the long run, this restriction would make the population size decrease a little bit, because not all of these children would live to have children. He was promptly arrested and exiled to New Territory (Hsin-Jiang) in the far west of China (also known as Chinese Turkestan). He stayed in the wilderness of the far west for 26 years. His wife did not survive the ordeal. He came back to Nanking early in the 1980s. He died suddenly of an accident in Nanking.
The official population policies vary from one extreme (no birth control at all) to the other (one-child only). The contradictory policies could not both be right, but they could easily both be wrong.
In the case of birth control there does exist a very effective method to reduce the birth rate, but the party never paid any attention to it. The effective method is to enforce the national compulsory basic 9-year education for both boys and girls. The Chinese government has neglected the universal basic education so completely that the Chinese people have the following observations to make: ‘School children (are) of today, school furnishings (are) of the Nationalist Party, school buildings (are) of the Ching Dynasty.’ The Chinese budget for elementary education is among the lowest in the world.
The effect of education on birthrate may be seen everywhere and has been known for many years. Since the present Chinese regime always argues on the basis of being unique – unique culture, unique value system, unique history, unique genetic composition, etc., maybe we should cite an example from another country also populated essentially by Chinese. The effect of education on the birth rate in Singapore is so dramatic that no one could possibly miss it. This is so especially for women with higher education. The higher the education, the lower the birth rate. The Singapore government has to offer a special tax reduction or a special subsidy for pregnant women to encourage more births. This is the eugenics program of Singapore. In one country, a potential mother has to bribe the government officials for permission to have a baby. In another, it is the government official who ‘bribes’ the potential mother for the same purpose. If China had taken education more seriously in the beginning (1949), China would be in a vastly different situation 50 years later (1999).
One of the simplest problems in eugenics is the elimination of a recessive genetic disease caused by the genotype aa, where as before, a is the recessive gene. Assuming random mating in a large population and only two alleles for the disease locus, we have the population (AA, Aa, aa) with genotype frequencies (p2, 2pq, q2), respectively, where (p,q) are the frequencies of the genes (A,a) in the population. This is known as the Hardy-Weinberg law. We shall use this law without proof, as it is proven in detail in almost all elementary textbooks on genetics. Our purpose here is to show how the frequency (q) of the harmful gene (a) decreases from generation to generation under complete elimination of the diseased individuals (aa) by eugenic laws. We shall not strive for generality here. On the contrary, we shall use the simplest case to illustrate the properties that are important for us to know [Li, 1976, chapt. 21].
The model of selection (complete elimination of aa individuals from the population) in a large random mating population is outlined in table 3 which consists of five columns. The first two columns merely show the Hardy-Weinberg distribution of the three genotypes. The third column shows the composition of the population when all aa individuals are eliminated from the population. Superficially, the population shown in the third column seems ‘smaller’ on account of the loss of aa individuals. Actually, since we are dealing with large populations, the remaining population is still very large. We shall ‘normalize’ the frequencies later so that the total of the entries of the population becomes unity again.
|Eugenic Theory In Contemporary Mainland China;
By SUN DONG-SHENG jinan Army Institute, People Republic of China
Translated by MAX DESILETS with the assistance of DANIEL VINING University of Pennsylvania
Introductory Remarks by Translators
Over the last four years, there have been several reports of a growing interest in eugenics on the part of’ Chinese demographers and policy-makers (Tien 1981, p. 696, 1983, p. 25; Population and Development Review 1982, pp. 633, 635; intercom 1980, p. 2.). The brevity of these reports, however, makes it difficult for the reader to get any clear idea of’ what the nature of this interest is. To the end of deepening our knowledge of this development in Chinese demography, the following translation of a recent article by Sun Dong-Sheng (1981) in the Chinese demographic journal, Renkou Yanjiu (population Research), is offered. Of the articles on eugenics recently published in China (see, for a partial listing, Tien 1981) and available to us, the one here translated is, in our opinion, the most illuminating on the subject.
In brief, the author of this article has two purposes. The first is to describe the history and principles of the subject of eugenics. The second is to show how eugenics might be applied to the current situation in China. Though the author discusses both positive (progressive) and negative (preventive) eugenics, most of’ his emphasis is on the latter, i.e., on the elimination of’ hereditary disease and handicaps through the prevention of’ marriages (or, more precisely, matings) between persons likely to transmit to their progeny such diseases and handicaps. The author presents concrete statistics on the incidence of hereditary diseases in China and discusses specific eugenic measures either being contemplated or being taken (it is not always clear which) to reduce their incidence. He devotes much less space to the subject of positive eugenics, i.e., the promotion of marriages likely to lead to superior (as opposed to merely normal) offspring, and neither discusses the promotion of such policies nor attempts to present any statistics regarding the incidence of such marriages.
It may be of interest to the reader that discussions of eugenics, and of population quality more generally, have recently quickened throughout the East Asian rim. For example, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, devoted his annual National Day Speech in 1983 entirely to the imbalance in birth rates across women of different educational attainments in that city state (see, for an excerpt, Lee 1983; for a flavor of the reactions to that speech, see Kulkarni 1983, Adelaide .,Advertiser 1983). Lee argued that low birth rates among the more intelligent and better educated are not compatible with the planned shift of the Singaporean economy from low-wage, labor intensive industries, such as textiles, to high-wage, knowledge-intensive industries, such as computers and robotics, a shift to which virtually all Singaporeans aspire. These latter industries, according to Lee, require a highly intelligent labor force, which the highly intelligent, in the main, themselves produce. Thus, to effect, or, better, to sustain, the kind of economic transformation that Singaporeans desire, higher birth rates among the more intelligent should be encouraged, though Lee was not specific about what kinds of provisions should be made to this end.
In Japan, according to Kondo (1983), a significant faction in the Diet supports a revision of Japan’s Eugenic Protection Act, so as to drastically restrict the grounds for abortion in that country. They remind their fellow legislators that Japan’s most important resource by far is its human capital and go on to argue that all efforts should be made to expand this resource, which can be done most efficaciously through higher birth rates. The average number of children per woman (total fertility rate) in Japan is well below the replacement level – in 1981 it was 1.72. The number of abortions in Japan, on the other hand, is estimated to exceed the number of live births (Kondo 1983). Japan’s problem, then, is one of aggregate, rather than differential, fertility.
These two recent developments in Japan and Singapore, when laid aside the evidently growing interest in China itself in eugenic measures to improve its human capital, suggest that the taboo on this subject is not as strong in East Asia as in the West. One might hypothesize that Asians, and more particularly the populations of the Han cultural zone (Japan, North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and possibly Vietnam), take a more pragmatic, less structured and ideological, and more far-seeing approach (eugenics, after all, is, by definition, a long-run program) to the development of human capital, than do Westerners. We should quickly add that, in our opinion, eugenic research in East Asia, such as it is, remains both shallow and uninspired. It will be of particular interest to see if scientific research keeps pace with the growing interest by Asian political leaders and policy-makers in the subject of eugenics. At the least, some of the obscurity into which the subject had fallen has now been lifted, and we may anticipate further developments in both the politics and the science of eugenics from this region of the world.
|A Translation Of: “Popularizing the Knowledge of Eugenics and Advocating Optimal Births Vigorously” by Sun Dong-Sheng
Jinan Army Institute, People’s Republic of China
While striving to control the growth of population in China, our nation’s family planners have simultaneously taken serious note of the importance eugenics represents as a field of inquiry. Eugenics is currently being promoted in China. Although literally it means “superior births,” the essence of eugenics can be found in the expression, “the birth of that which is better,” that is to say, the birth of children whose prenatal characteristics are excellent. Naturally, if one wishes to see that every family is able to produce healthy, intelligent children, then it is necessary to study eugenics, to popularize the knowledge of this field and to master its principles.
1. Eugenics is the science of the ways in which the genetic constitution of man can be improved. Eugenics is divided into two branches. The first of these is that which is preventive in nature. This “subdivision” of eugenics seeks to carry out research with the view of determining ways by which the birth of unhealthy offspring in generations to come can be avoided. Its point of departure is “disease” prevention. The second subdivision of eugenics is that which is progressive in nature. In essence, its research efforts are undertaken in an attempt to determine the means by which the birth of future generations composed of outstanding genetic make-up can be brought about. Both subdivisions of eugenics are devoted to the improvement of man’s hereditary nature. The field of eugenics is therefore the science of improving the inherited character of man.
A. Eugenics, its origins and development. Eugenics was first brought into being by the English biologist and anthropologist, Francis Galton. Some 100 years have now passed since its inception. While observing the phenomena of biological inheritance during the 1870’s, Galton discovered that many of man’s diseases were transmitted to later generations. At the same time, he noted that the positive physical and mental attributes of husband and wife would be inherited by their offspring, male or female. In view of this observation, Galton advanced the doctrine which postulated that selective marriages could improve the human species by weeding out those marriages characterized by the poor qualities of their participants and fostering the increase of those having excellent characteristics. In 1883, he christened this doctrine eugenics. The American, Curt Stem, brought eugenics into its modem form by subdividing its general field of inquiry into the aforementioned branches in 1960.(1)
Historically, the development of eugenics has passed through a circuitous route indeed. In the 1930’s, eugenics provided proponents of both fascism and racism with a splendid opportunity. Unabashedly, eugenics was co-opted to promote racism. Hitler openly proclaimed that the Aryan race possessed the finest genetic qualities. while encouraging marriages between members of the Aryan race, the Nazi leader oversaw the condemnation of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Gypsies to the concentration camps where mass exterminations were carried out. These genocidal acts gave rise to worldwide opposition and condemnation. Misunderstandings arose and eugenics was, perforce, viewed as a science which at heart served only the goals of racial discrimination. Eugenics thus became a forbidden field in the minds of many people and remained so for a long time. In addition to the above-described social history of eugenics, specialists in the field came to look at questions from a purely biological standpoint; undue emphasis was placed on the biological nature of man, and factors pertaining to his social nature were generally overlooked. This was particularly true with regard to questions concerning the inheritance of intelligence. Eugenics was to fall into a quagmire because I.Q. was taken as the only standard of intelligence. In actuality, the intelligence of man is the result of the interaction of prenatal-genetic and postnatalsocial factors. By relying solely on intelligence tests, it is exceedingly difficult to determine the extent to which both genetic and social influences, as well as the role of the individual, contribute to the aggregate result we call intelligence.(2) Due to the above noted reasons, not an inconsiderable number of people came to lose confidence in the scientific nature of eugenics, and as a result much time was to pass without further questions being raised about it in China.
In recent years, however, the requirements of modem science, technology and production and the speed with which their development has taken place have resulted in increasing societal demands for a population with attributes of a high quality. Moreover, at the same time both the number and kinds of genetic diseases have been multiplying. This situation has led to eugenics being placed more distinctly in front of peoples from diverse nations. China is in this respect no exception, and the PRC has once again begun to regard this field with serious concern. Our country is increasing its research efforts in this field and popularizing its findings.
B. The theoretical basis for eugenics is genetics. So as to form a clear and definite picture of this theoretical basis, it is necessary, first, to examine briefly genetics as a separate field. To begin, we can divide genetics into two general parts. a) Heredity. For example, the daughter of the Zhang family resembles her mother. The son of the Li family looks like his father, while the grandson of this family resembles his paternal grandfather and a nephew looks like his uncle, etc. All of these are examples of genetic phenomena. The philosopher Wang Ting-Xiang of the Sung dynasty once noted that if an individual did not resemble his father, then he would look like his mother. Subsequent generations would surely have both the physique as well as the facial appearance of their ancestors. The father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, also noted that children inevitably display certain characteristics derived from both parents and their ancestors further back. The process of transmitting this kind of biological constitution and physiological function among organisms from generation to generation is thus what is known as heredity.
b) Variation. Whether we speak of the daughter of the Zhang family or the son of the Li family, there will always be characteristics which do not resemble either those of the mother or those of the father. A colloquial expression holds that “a woman who gives birth to 9 children, the 10 of them will still all be different.” Even if the birth of twins comes to pass, there will also be differences between them.(3) This phenomenon is what is called variation.
Genetics is thus a science which studies the laws of heredity and variation. Yet one might ask why eugenics would take genetics as its theoretical foundation. The answer to this question lies in the fact that the multiplicity of man has been brought about by the processes of heredity and variation. From the gibbon, 0 ‘tailless ape, to contemporary man, variation has been a condition of evolution; without variation in living organisms, evolution and the rise of modern man would not have come to pass.
The human species has traversed one hundred centuries and one thousand generations.(4) That man is still man is the consequence of heredity. Had there been no heredity, but only variation, mankind early onwards would have evolved into a very different form. However it is necessary to come to terms with the fact that the genes transmit both beneficial and harmful qualities to subsequent generations. Variation can eliminate the undesirable aspects of man’s natural constitution, and it can likewise cause an increase in harmful qualities experienced generations later. In light of this, we must learn the laws of both heredity and variation. In so doing, we will be able to develop those factors which are beneficial to mankind. By fostering the growth of those attributes which are inherently good, and eliminating those features which are decidedly bad, populations could thus increase gradually in number and quality, and the consequences of eugenics could see fruition. From this overall standpoint, it is not difficult to see that genetics serves as the theoretical foundation of eugenics.
Some claim, however, that the co-option of genetics as the research foundation from which to conduct studies in eugenics implies a strictly hereditarian view of man. This view is erroneous. Eugenics in fact emphasizes the cardinal functions which both the objective environment and subjective forces play in man’s health and development. It must be borne in mind, furthermore, that our genetic foundation underpins intelligence, physical strength, life span, and other aspects of human health.
The outstanding gifts of talented individuals are a joint function of both constitutional and post-natal factors. Our genetic foundation determines the possibility of becoming gifted, while the social environment and subjective forces inherent in one’s post-natal conditions are the subsequent decisive factors which determine whether or not the potential for such a gift can be realized. With the view of increasing the possibilities for man to become more gifted, the results of eugenic research are directed toward more fully providing for that end. With genetics as its basis, the field of eugenics is established on an objective, materialistic foundation. In view of this, eugenics can hardly be considered as strictly hereditarian and should be viewed simply in a materialistic vein.
At the present time, genetics has established that the material foundation of both heredity and variation is the gene. It is well known that the cell constitutes the most basic unit of the human body. The basic structure of the cell includes the membrane, the cytoplasm, and the nucleus. The nucleus of the cell is itself composed of various structures and component parts. Among these are the chromosomes, which control heredity and variation. The chromosomes are a group of clava of various sizes. Only at the time when the cell divides can we observe chromosomes under a powerful microscope. Their most important component is a kind of molecular substance, deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Heredity’s smallest, most basic unit is the gene. While the messengers of inheritance are genes, the chromosome is the storehouse of the gene.
The gene is the smallest molecular component of DNA. Within its internal alkali lies the sequential order which contains the genetic code. The messages of inheritance are passed through these genetic codes on to later generations. This system is somewhat similar to the messages sent by coded telegrams from one party to another. Actually, without the gene, inheritance of traits would be impossible. In sum, the material foundation for both heredity and variation lies in the gene.
Because every chromosome has countless numbers of genes, the impact of a chromosome abnormality on descendants is significantly greater than that of a gene abnormality. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in the normal cell. Twenty-two pairs are regular chromosomes common to both males and females. However, one pair is that which determines the sex of the individual. For males and females they are. different. We use symbols to express the nature of the sex chromosome. The male sex chromosome is labeled Y, while that of the female is known as X. The number of chromosomes in the human cell nucleus is permanently fixed. If it were otherwise, an abnormality would appear. For example, if a human being were to have more than two #21 chromosomes, a deformity would occur. Congenital dementia would be one manifestation, for instance. A woman having one less X chromosome would suffer from glandular hypoplasia, manifesting itself as dwarfism, insufficient development, etc. Hereditary diseases which result from changes in the number and construction of chromosomes are called chromosome abnormalities. Such abnormalities can come from either side, male or female, and can also originate from both sides at the same time.
With regard to marriage and reproduction, we must carefully consider genetic factors; this is because genetic diseases transmitted to offspring are intimately related to the heredity of their mother and father, and to that of their forefathers as well. With respect to mental disorders, for example, one per cent of a population develops schizophrenia. Should either parent be so afflicted, the rate of schizophrenic illness for later generations reaches some 12%. Should both parents be diagnosed as schizophrenic, the rate of illness for subsequent generations climbs to a high of 39%.(5) According to an investigation of one clan where a certain individual suffered from a mental disorder, out of 6 generations of directly related and collaterally related individuals comprising 73 members, 25 were afflicted with mental disease, or 34.2%. The closer the tie of blood, the greater the possibility of affliction. This makes it abundantly clear that the factors of heredity must be carefully considered when questions of marriage and reproduction are under consideration. One must know, for example, whether either of the marriage partners has genetic ailments or a family history of hereditary disease. Those suffering from such critical illnesses as, for example, leprosy or nervous disorders, should not marry. Individuals afflicted with, for example, acute infectious diseases, tuberculosis, and serious heart, liver, or kidney ailments, should refrain from marriage pending treatment and cure. Still other individuals with ailments may marry but should not procreate. Those allowed to have children should pay special attention to the physician’s instructions during pregnancy. They should undergo a prenatal diagnosis to prevent an abnormal birth.
It is especially important to point out how inappropriate marriages are which take place between relatives, i.e., marriages between siblings – brothers and sisters – as well as marriages between collateral relatives within the third degree of consanguinity (that is, marriages between first cousins and between uncles and nieces).(6) According to statistics, the incidence of congenital and genetic disease among the issue of marriages consummated between relatives was some 150 times that among offspring of unrelated individuals. The death rate of the offspring of closely related parents was more than three times that of offspring of unrelated parents. What accounts for such statistics? Genetics has shown that the chromosomes within the nucleus of the cell are the sites of the genes of heredity. Half of these are passed down from the father, with the remaining half from the mother. When both mother and father possess the same harmful genes, and these genes are mixed together, an unhealthy infant will be the result. Within the normal cell exists at least 50,000 genes; there are already some 2,600 kinds of genetic diseases and some 300 types of chromosome diseases known to man. Every person has individual genes which are harmful. However, under conditions where marriage partners are not closely related, it is exceedingly unlikely for both sides to have the same pernicious genes. Should one side possess one or many destructive genes, it is not necessarily the case that the corresponding gene of the other side shares the same defect. If they marry, the defective gene of the one side will be subsumed by the normal gene of the other side, and the infant will still be healthy. Marriages between close relatives are quite different, however. As they share a common ancestry, the opportunities for receiving similar defective genes are significantly greater. For example, surprisingly 1/8 of the genes in first cousins are the same; 1/32 of the genes in second Cousins are held in common. Should these individuals marry each other, it would be much easier for a match of defective genes to take place than would be the case normal; the birth of an unhealthy or abnormal child would be the likely result.
A popular saying during China’s “Warring States Period” held that the child of a man and woman having the same last name would not thrive. In recent years, genetic specialists have calculated that the complete prohibition of cousin marriages would result in a 20% drop in the rate of births of infants who are congenitally deaf mutes. It would also cause a decline of some 15% in the rate of infants born afflicted with adolescent amaurotic idiocy. As can readily be seen, the prohibition against marriages between close relatives is in keeping with the tenets of eugenics.
The above makes obvious that eugenics possesses considerable significance for mankind. In striving to produce better offspring, a significant number of countries are promulgating eugenic rules and regulations explicitly prohibiting marriages between close relatives as well as marriages between and reproduction by people suffering from genetic and other disorders.(7) China’s new marriage law also includes eugenic provisions. Marriages between people directly or collaterally related within three generations are expressly prohibited. Persons who are afflicted with leprosy and who have not received treatment and been cured, as well as with other illnesses the nature of which is deemed by medical professors to make marriage inadvisable for those so afflicted, will be prohibited from wedlock. But these measures are still inadequate. As eugenic research becomes widespread and acquires depth, the legal code of China will include more regulations concerning the ways by which the idea of healthier offspring can be given reality.
II. Eugenics: preventive and progressive methods by which healthier offspring can be achieved. A. Measures which are preventive in character.
Genetic consultation. Physicians or specialists who advise persons suffering from hereditary illness, as well as their family members, are providing what is called genetic consultation. Individuals with normal health do not ordinarily seek genetic consultation. however, where any of the following 8 conditions obtain, they should do so: (1) persons who have given birth to children with genetic diseases or congenital malformation, e.g., infants diagnosed as having congenital dementia, cerebrum hypoplasia, congenital heart disease, and ailments of the spinal column; (2) a history of hereditary illness in one’s family, or the birth of abnormal children among persons directly or collaterally related; (3) marriages between close relatives; (4) pregnancies after the age of 35; (5) exposure to chemical or radioactive substances, or having had a viral infection, during the period between the first four and seven weeks of pregnancy; (6) pregnant women with hyperthyroidism, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, or related medical syndromes; (7) pregnant women suffering from excess amniotic fluid; (8) indications of amenorrhoea or repeated miscarriages.
On the basis of a detailed history of illnesses experienced by both male and female sides, and after considering the genealogy of the subject, his or her physical examination and the results of laboratory tests, the physician may determine whether the offspring could suffer from hereditary illness and make a final judgment on the probability of its occurrence. If the danger is relatively small, then, on the basis of the overall situation, the physician can determine if the pregnancy should be allowed to continue to term. On the other hand, should the danger be comparatively great, it would be better to have an abortion. This will prevent the birth of a defective child.
Prenatal Diagnosis. Diagnoses carried out with respect to the existence of genetic illness or congenital abnormality in the fetus is called prenatal diagnosis. There are many specific procedures. For example, laboratory tests of the mother’s blood or urine may determine whether or not the fetus has infant haemolysis or prenatal metabolic illness; by carrying out an amnion puncture, that is, by extracting a small amount of amniotic fluid from the mother’s uterus, an examination can indicate whether the fetus suffers from chromosome variation or some other genetic and congenital disease.
Prenatal diagnosis is not needed for all pregnant women. What is important is that women undergo the aforementioned genetic inquiry and consultation.. Should the physician feel that this kind of examination is in the best interests of everyone involved, then a prenatal diagnosis will be made. Prenatal diagnosis and genetic consultation are, as a consequence, often done at the same time.
Precautionary measures against the effects of harmful environmental agents. Many genetic illnesses as well as deformed children are not the result of hereditary factors. Instead, they are the consequences of parental exposure to harmful environmental agents. Among the most harmful of influences in the environment are radiation, pathogenic bacteria, and chemical products. Individually these agents are able to induce abnormalities; they can introduce into the human body, offspring, and the genes themselves, carcinogens; they can cause mutations. It has been discovered that among all the persons born with congenital defects, some 20% have resulted from exposure to various kinds of environmental substances capable of inducing change. Approximately 60% of all cases are due to both genetic factors and exposure to a damaging environment. High blood pressure and malignant tumors are examples of the latter. In light of the above, we should take preventive measures so as to guard against the danger of such substances. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, we must endeavor to take extra precautionary measures in this regard. For instance, one must not come into contact with poisons or be exposed to radiation. One must guard against such infectious diseases as urticaria and influenza. One must not abuse medicines. Hormones, sulphanilamide (SN), tetracyclines and streptomycin all can cause damage to the cranial nerve or other abnormalities in the fetus. The physician’s directions concerning the use of medicines must be strictly followed. Furthermore, both smoking and drinking should be avoided. For the pregnant woman who smokes and drinks, a miscarriage, an abnormal fetus, or the development of congenital heart disease, is not unlikely. Lest we should forget, both the mother and the fetus are affected similarly by the smoking of the husband. Drinking can lead to poor growth and development of the offspring. Excessive drinking by a pregnant woman can give rise to fetus alcoholism syndrome manifesting itself in the formation of obstructions in the central nervous system and the emergence of many kinds of abnormalities. In the past few decades, the incidence of congenital illnesses and abnormal births has increased steadily )-ear by year.(8) One of the principal reasons for this trend is the growing seriousness of environmental pollution. Many of the mutations in the genes resulting from polluted substances are recessive or latent in nature. They require generations to accumulate before becoming manifest. Because of this, in light of the long-term benefits to be derived by all of the peoples and all of mankind, the work of maintaining an ecological balance and safeguarding the environment is absolutely imperative.(9)
B. Measures to enhance the birth of healthier offspring. Controlling individual development. The process by which the fertilized egg develops from the embryonic state to an infant is known as individual, or specific, development. Controlling individual development means being able to improve the living environment during the course of embryonic and infant development in order that those factors making for better health can have a fuller, more complete impact on the development of the fetus and infant. For example, during the period of embryonic growth, if one were to employ such means as were available to cause a spurt in brain cell multiplication and reproduction, or if within six months of a birth, when the cells of the brain are still multiplying and reproducing, one were to furnish substances containing great amounts of proteins and nucleic acid, the intellectual development of infants might be further enhanced.
Genetic Engineering. Genetic engineering refers to the artificial techniques of assembling genes; it is also known as a technique for reorganizing DNA. At the present time there are many methods with which to prevent and treat genetic illnesses. However, none of- these procedures is able to root out a hereditary illness at its source; they are only able to effect cures for the individual afflicted. ‘These diseases thus reappear in later generations. If one desires to eradicate a genetic defect, the ideal method would be to repair or replace either the gene or the chromosome. The use of such procedures effects a permanent cure, and this is what is known as genetic engineering.
While still at the exploratory stage, genetic engineering has created a tempest of controversy. However it should be borne in mind that the prospects for genetic engineering to effect a final cure for hereditary illness as well as to make possible the birth of healthier infants are very bright indeed.
III. Promoting the births of superior children, pushing family planning, and quickening the pace of socialist modernization. At the present time, over 3000 types of genetic diseases are known in the world. Between one and three per cent of human kind suffer from various kinds of hereditary illnesses, while between four and five per cent of newborns are afflicted with genetic diseases. Many of these genetic illnesses are congenital or hereditary in nature, and are extremely dangerous to mankind. On the basis of incomplete statistics, it has been estimated that there are at least 1,200,000 Chinese in the PRC who suffer from congenital dementia. Their number could be more than 3 million. The living and medical expenses incurred for each person in the course of growing up are at least 5,000 yuan. When this figure is multiplied by 1.2 million, the expenditures made on behalf of these individuals add up to at least 5.5 billion yuan. Assuming a monthly grain ration of 25 catties (10), they consume some 360 million catties of food grains a year. China is a poor country. Having to make so large an expenditure to feed and provide medical care for those who suffer from the above disease and who, as a result, can contribute nothing to society, is an extra burden for our socialist construction to bear. To cite examples of genetic diseases which are area specific, there are mountainous regions and even individual flatland areas in China where a great many of the occupants suffer from cretinism. Though they consume food and produce children, these deaf mutes are unable to engage in any productive labor at all. According to one estimate, some 2 million people suffer from this illness in China. . In some areas, the incidence reaches as high as 2-4% of the population, while in specific production brigades the rate can exceed 10%. In these areas, it is exceedingly difficult to increase production and to implement birth control. Taken together, these problems represent a significant burden on our country. Currently, the incidence of schizophrenia is approximately 0.2%.(l 1) There are currently about 2 million schizophrenics in our country, and their number is increasing. On the basis of statistics obtained in 1979, there are no less than 4 to 5 million retarded children in China. However, among the newborn, the proportion of abnormal children is still greater, accounting for roughly 2% of all births. If one were to group together all of the children who suffer from various kinds of birth defects, a figure of more than 10 million would be obtained. This number does not include children who will develop these kinds of problems later in life. Much parental anguish is caused by these children; they are unable to do anything useful; they are a financial and mental burden on their parents; and they pose an increasing burden on our country. It can be seen that socialist modernization urgently needs a reduction or elimination of genetic diseases and hereditary defects. Only by promoting the births of better offspring can we improve the genetic quality of our population, reduce or eliminate a variety of genetic diseases, and thereby lessen the burdens imposed on both family and nation. Therefore, to promote eugenics is to secure immeasurable advantages with no harmful consequences. Such a course of action would carry much significance for the speed at which socialist modernization can proceed.
Eugenics can also play a considerable role in controlling population growth. If a couple gives birth to a disabled or retarded child, they will invariably want to have a second child. As a result, the proportion of our population which is of poor quality increases as does the overall birth rate. Naturally, this does nothing for the quality of our people and lies at cross-purposes with our will to decrease the population of the PRC. If we promote eugenics and make it possible for every couple to have a child with superior physical and intellectual attributes, there will be no need for the mother and father to worry about the health of their descendants. This would also facilitate the control of population growth. In a word, to promote eugenics is to advance family planning. It is also to hasten the realization of the four modernization’s. It is in accord with the fundamental interests of all levels of our society: nation, collective, family and individual. It is our earnest hope that eugenics should not be construed as a purely expedient measure, but rather as a long-term mission, which concerns the long-term prosperity of the Chinese race in the centuries ahead. Each one of us, especially the members of the CCP (I 2) and the Communist Youth League, must bravely endeavor to destroy and eliminate outdated concepts, actively study and propagate the knowledge of eugenics, and bring about the birth of healthier, superior children. By so doing, we will be able to furnish the high quality builders required for the realization of the four modernizations.
(End of translation of an article by Sun Dong-Sheng, Jinan Army Institute, People’s Republic of China)
(1) Translators’ note: See Curt Stem, Principles of Human Genetics, 2nd edition, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1960.
(2) Translators’ note: It is obvious from these remarks that the author considers I.Q. to measure only the genotypic component of phenotypic intelligence. This view would find no support among psychologists in the West.
(3) Translators’ note: The author here obviously refers to fraternal rather than identical twins. The latter, of course, are genetically identical.
(4) Translators’ note: Literally, of course, this is in error, as anthropological evidence indicates that the species, Homo sapiens, emerged 250,000 – I 00,000 years ago. It is possible that the author refers here to the Neolithic period forward, which began circa 10,000 BC and during which the Chinese nation itself emerged.
(5) Translators’ note: These seem to be the standard statistics for the incidence of schizophrenia for the human population as a whole (see Eugene Garfield, “What do we know about the group of mental disorders called schizophrenia? Part 1: Etiology,” Current Contents 15 (25) 1983:5-13). The author, however, reports a substantially lower incidence for the Chinese population alone (see note I below).
(6) Translators’ note: The 1980 Marriage Law in China prohibits marriages between collateral relatives within three generations (see below and also Y. Tien, “China: Demographic billionaire,” Population Bulletin 38 (2), p. 25). Such marriages would be, in the main, first cousin marriages, which are naturally more common in a village-based economy, such as China’s, than in urban-ba3ed economies, such as those in the West. This, and the following paragraph, make the now standard argument for forbidding first cousin marriages, which is essentially to point to the statistics on inbreeding depression. But one should note here, as the author does not, that while it is. true that defective phenotypes in the next generation will decrease if inbreeding is prohibited, it is also true that the frequency of deleterious recessive genes will increase. “As population structure changes from small isolated villages to large panmictic nations there will be a considerable increase in deleterious recessives.” (p. 318, F. Livingston, “Cultural causes of genetic change,” in G. Barlow and J. Silverberg, Eds., Sociobiology: Beyond Nature/Nurture?, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1980, pp. 307-329). inbreeding, in effect, makC3 possible the identification and elimination of deleterious recessive mutants and thereby acts to check the increase in the “genetic load” of a population. It is not without irony here that Charles Darwin himself married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.
(7) Translators’ note: These countries are not named by the author.
(8) Translators’ note: There are reports of a similar phenomenon in the United States. See Richard Lyons, “Physical and Mental Disabilities in Newborns Doubled in 25 Years,” New York Times, July 18, 1983, pp. 1, IO.
(9) Translators’ note: Some idea of how far environmental pollution has gone in China may be gotten from Vaclar Smil, “Environmental degradation in China,” Asian Survey 20 1980:777-788.
(10) Translators’ note: One catty @ .60 kilogram.
(11) Translators’ note: This is apparently the incidence for the Chinese population alone (see note 5 above).
(12) Translators’ note: CCP – The Chinese Communist Party.
Source: Mankind Quarterly
|A call for a new definition of eugenics
Yanguang Wang, Ph.D. The Center for Applied Ethics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Email: Ameliaw@ihw.com.cn Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9 (1999), 73-74.
As we will see, eugenics has always been a protean concept. Almost from the start of debate, eugenics has meant different things to different people. Eugenics comes from the Greek word eugenes meaning “good in birth”. In 1883 Francis Galton started using the word” eugenics” defining it as the “science of improving stock-not only by judicious mating, but whatever tends to give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had.” Galton later experimented with a variety of different formulations such as “the study of agencies under social control which may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations”, and “the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race: also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage” In all of these definitions, eugenics sounds rather innocuous. Most medical genetics would fall within its domain (1).
Nearly five decades ago, both the United States and Germany, a number of leading figures moved the right direction of the first eugenics definition. They combined eugenic interests with a focus on the “unfit”. In the heyday of eugenics, sterilization, infanticide, murder, euthanasia, or a variety of “final solutions” were tools for the prevention or elimination of the “unfit”. The eugenics is same as Nazism and a major weapon for discrimination against minorities. From those eugenic programs, eugenics is generally regarded as a pseudoscience in modern world. Also most contemporary definition of eugenics is labeled a country’s policies that are coercive.
The contemporary geneticists warned the above eugenics movement’s amount to cautions over the Nazism and racism, the untenable claims in behavioral genetics, in particular the heritability of personality traits, and both genetic essentialism and determinism. Some has warned of eugenics as the unintended result of individual choices (2).
However the social policy intervention, along with genetics measures exists in many countries. These policies do not aim to coerce or mandatory who will be conceived and born, they emphasise the elimination of hereditary disease and handicaps through the prevention of marriages or conception between persons likely to transmit to their progeny such diseases and handicaps. This eugenics thinking can be justified if it is not a science based on Nazism, racism, discrimination to minorities and genetic determinism, it is a science which inherent in the core eugenic doctrine of improving the stock of humankind by application of the science of human heredity. Such aa social policy intervention is based on the individual’ informed consent. This science can be called “negative eugenics.”
There are some eugenics practices that can be justified in the modern world. The Chinese Encyclopedia of Medicine defines eugenics as: “a science for the improvement of human heredity, prevention of birth defects and raising the quality of the population by research and applying genetics theories and approaches.” In fact, most of such eugenic practices pay attention to the prevention the defect of the births (3).
The intention of the Chinese government in the “law of the people’s Republic of China on maternal and infant health care” is merely that people in China should be warned of the risks of inheriting heritable genetic diseases, and helped to avoid them among their children. The Minister of Public Health, Chen Minzhang has said: “the cost of looking after those with hereditary handicaps was enormous, imposing a heavy burden both on the state and on millions of families. There was therefore wide popular support for the rapid enactment of a eugenics law containing effective measures to reduce inferior-quality births.” The Chinese government is concerned with the avoidance of avoidable genetic handicap among future generations. They have no discrimination on the present handicap population (4).
The law is not be very different in its effect from the services provided elsewhere, where public health services offer genetic counseling, on occasion, abortion if there is proof that the outcome of a pregnancy will be a seriously handicapped child. The chief beneficiaries of the law, which is of necessity voluntary, are parents and their children. To the extent that seriously handicapped children may be an expense on public finances, there may also be some benefit to nation. The eugenics thinking in the law belongs to negative eugenics and may be justified ethically (5).
In this sense, the Chinese word “Yousheng” is same as the Greek word eugenics meaning “good in birth”, also it is belong to the Galton’s eugenics’ core doctrine of improving the stock of humankind by application of the science of human heredity. In this sense, the Chinese word “Yousheng” can be translated as eugenic. But it is different from the US and the German “eugenics” in history.
Some (e.g. Bajema, 1976) have said a new eugenics consists of genetic counseling, the examination before the birth and the selective abortion (6).
There are the laws that prohibit the marriage between close relatives in many countries. This can also be called eugenics. Even though involuntary is included in such eugenics, almost no person objects to it, for the birth quality is quite low.
There are so many definitions of eugenics and relative practices. We can also find differences in the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. In the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, someone defined eugenics as a major scientific and pseudoscientific weapon for discrimination against minorities, a political, economic, and social policy that espouses the reproduction of the “fit” over the “unfit” and discourages the birth of the “unfit”. But others defined eugenics differently following the history developing steps in the same important book (7).
All definitions show a close relationship between eugenics and medical genetics. Following the development of genetics and the growing amount of genetics technology applied in the genetics practice, we must justify how to use them, and what are the ethical reasons to use them. It is important to have a contemporary definition of eugenics for the genetics in debate. We need only one definition or a new one of it. It can make the concept of thinking clear and justify the practice involved in contemporary genetic medicine. What is right depends not just on the facts but on what is meant by eugenics.
In my opinion, we should recover the core doctrine of eugenics – good in birth and prevention the defect of the birth voluntarily. We can focus our attention on negative eugenics. Genetic medicine which has found some defective genes or some certain proof of what causes inherited diseases can make it possible. We can do something for positive eugenics, but the eugenics programs could limit its focus to those human characters on whose desirability there is universal or widespread agreement (8). Anyway, few of us are entirely free of the eugenic thinking” good in birth” in some aspect of our daily lives. A parent’s decision to delay having a child until he or she was financially and emotionally ready to be a good provider and parent. Most modern governments hope that their people will be energetic, ingenious and enterprising. But the eugenic thinking and practice should balance the interest of all sides.
How to define eugenics remains to be seen. But it is true that the eugenics cannot and should not be understood without an analysis of the moral, political, and social implications of advances in science and technology at particular times and in particular places and for particular individuals or groups of individuals within a society.
1. Diane B. Paul, Controlling Human Heredity-1865 to Present, Humanities Press, 1995, pp.3-9. 2. Martin S. Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.25-29. 3. Encyclopedia of Chinese, v. Medicine, Press of Chinese Encyclopedia, 1994, pp.1727-1730. 4. Tim Beardsley, Scientific American: Analysis: China Syndrom: 03/97,p.3. 5. Opinion, China’ misconception of eugenics, Nature, 367, 6 January 1994, p.1-3. 6. Renying Yen, Applied Eugenics, Ren Min Medicine Press, 1986, p.4. 7. Simon & Schuster Macmillan, Encyclopedia of Bioethics, Revised Edition, Volume 2, Macmillan Library Reference Press, 1995 p.978. Pp. 955-959. Pp.970-972. 8. Daniel Wikler, Eugenic Values, December 1997.
Eugenics arms race?
The threat or promise of Chinese eugenics could well be the biggest transhumanist development in the next generation. Questions to ponder?
1. Are the Chinese creating a master race?
2. Will Chinese eugenics trigger off a eugenics arms race?
3. Will these arms races be directed by central governments?
4. Since it will take a generation for eugenics to have an effect, is there any government that can plan ahead that long? Autarchies are prone to being overthrown and politicians in democracies face the electorate several times a generation. Both of these militate against long-range planning.
5. Will autarchies select for conformity toward national objectives or will they realize that what is required for national goals to be achieved is a population that is creative, cantankerous, rebellious, as well as intelligent? These prospective populations put existing governments at a severe risk.
6. Will parents in nations that allow for individual eugenic choice risk having children that will be pointlessly rebellious for the sake of a very few that will be recognized as true pioneers only by posterity? How thick is the line between genius and madness?
7. How will a Chinese-dominated world differ from the world we know?
8. How far will one nation have to get ahead to dominate the world?
9. How can the world be made safe for pluralism?
10. Are these prospects so wicked that a preventive nuclear war be launched against RED China, as some neocons seem to wish?
|From Third World to Brave New World
China’s embrace of state-driven eugenics should be of concern to bioconservatives and bioliberals alike
By George P. Dvorsky
China took a great leap forward on October 15 by becoming only the third nation in history to put a man in space. On top of a Long March rocket, China’s first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou 5, soared into the heavens along with taikonaut Yang Liwei and a profound sense of inevitability.
While the feat lagged the US and the former USSR by 40 years, anyone who doubted the inexorable nature of technological progress even among the developing nations had their doubts put to rest. The Chinese success story revealed that, given enough time and patience, high-tech makes its way into even the most unlikeliest of places—including former third world countries. While once the exclusive domain of the Cold War superpowers, space is now accessible by such countries as India, Japan and various nations of the European community.
However, one unfortunate reality of the great catch-up game being played by the former have-not countries is that for many of them social modernization has not caught up with technological modernization. Yes, it’s a positive sign that China is catching up technologically, but the communist country currently resembles an infant who has stumbled upon his father’s toolbox.
Nowhere is this more so than with biotechnology. The authoritarian Chinese government is using advances in the health sciences to further entrench and realize its eugenic agenda. Beyond the “one child, one family” policy, Chinese eugenics is startlingly reminiscent of 20th century social experiments—including the forced sterilization of citizens deemed unsuitable for procreation—conducted not just by the Nazis, but by many nations.
This is exactly the kind of Brave New World scenario that keeps bioconservatives up at night. But it’s also the kind of state-driven eugenic imposition that even the techno-utopian and biolibertarian transhumanists worry about. The vision of a centralized, ideological and hyper-bureaucratized politburo hammering out design schematics for its future citizens is abhorrent, representing everything to which ideals of democracy and self-actualization are opposed.
Consequently, liberal democracies should continue to pressure China to embark upon a path of increasing democratization in hopes that its citizens will eventually demand procreative, cognitive and morphological freedoms. At the very least, the Chinese example should act as a continual reminder of where we do not wish to go.
Primed for reproductive restrictions
Historically, the Chinese have operated with the understanding that citizens are obligated with personal duties to the state, and it is partly due to this tendency that Western ideas of individual autonomy are lost. The Confucian tradition, along with its early agnostic and humanist character, placed emphasis on the orderly arrangement of society and stressed appropriate personal relationships.
In conjunction with ancient customs in medicine, Chinese tradition holds that every aspect of an expectant mother’s life must be controlled. It was commonly held that maintaining a balance in cosmic forces, in essential bodily fluids and in lifestyle both before and after conception was paramount if you hoped to have a healthy baby.
The Chinese also subscribed to the patrilineal model of descent, in which a person is viewed as the culmination of his or her ancestors and is held responsible for the health of all future generations. Thus, an expectant mother’s behavior and attitude is believed to directly influence the well-being of her future baby, and a deformed or developmentally disabled child reflects a moral failing on the part of the parents. As historian Frank Dikötter has noted, “Herein lies the basic eugenic belief that human intervention—in the form of behavior and morality—can shape heredity.”
It was not until after World War I that modern science was introduced to China. It was during the Republican Era (1911 to 1948) that elites called for increased intervention of medical professionals and the state into the sexual lives of its citizens. It was also during this time that Western eugenics was imported and combined with existing fears of cultural, racial and biological degeneration in Chinese society, leading to government regulation of sexual reproduction. Compounding these impulses were the Chinese cultural currents that feared anything deviant and the urge to draw clear boundaries between the normal and the abnormal.
Moreover, it is this emphasis on the collective good that has driven modern eugenics in China since the late 19th Century, when, as Dikötter explains, “Chinese intellectuals, the well-to-do gentry, and government officials explored how to improve the Chinese race after the arrival of the stronger Western imperialist nations.” Indeed, as Dikötter has aptly observed, nationalism in its many forms remains an important force in eugenics today. And without question, the Confucian ethic, which emphasized the individual’s responsibility to the collective, is still felt across China today, and has hybridized itself quite effortlessly with Marxist notions of communalism and self-sacrifice.
A dubious leap forward
The introduction of communism in China did not do much to change these historical notions or tendencies. In fact, Marxist notions of the blank slate and the creation of the “new man” have inspired Chinese thinkers to mesh Marxist ideals into their already eugenic-primed view of population management.
While scientific and technological advancements were stunted during the Maoist era, recent decades have witnessed the revitalization of health-based issues. Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of the late 1970s emphasized the rapid development of scientific knowledge and technological innovation, along with the acknowledgement that Western-style capitalism was necessary to both increase economic efficiency and state power.
While these reforms have led many to conclude that China has finally embarked on the path towards democracy, the truth of the matter is that the totalitarian infrastructure has remained intact; the Chinese political regime has shown no willingness to abandon Marxism anytime soon. This has been made painfully apparent by China’s ongoing poor human rights track record, including 1989’s Tiananmen massacre, its suppression of religious and cultural freedoms, its stringent control of information (including its own internal Internet) and, of course, its devotion to eugenics.
As a result of Xiaoping’s reforms, the standard of living has steadily improved, as has Chinese proficiency with technology, causing a number of thinkers to push for a renewed commitment for eugenic measures. In 1995, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care went into effect. The move was greeted with near unanimous international uproar.
The law primarily seeks to ensure the “health of mothers and infants and [to improve] the quality of the newborn population” while reducing the burden of disabilities. Among the many provisions of the legislation was the requirement that all couples seeking to marry submit to a physical examination by a physician to “see whether they suffer from any disease that may have an adverse effect on marriage and child-bearing.” The diseases include “genetic diseases of a serious nature.that may totally or partially deprive the victim of the ability to live independently, that are highly possible to recur in generations to come.” Also covered by the law are infectious diseases, such as AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis and leprosy, and relevant mental diseases, including “schizophrenia, manic-depressive psychosis and other mental diseases of a serious nature.”
Physicians who perform these premarital checkups “explain and give medical advice to both the male and the female who have been diagnosed with certain genetic disease[s] of a serious nature which [are] considered to be inappropriate for child-bearing from a medical point of view.” The couple can marry “only if both sides agree to take long-term contraceptive measures” or to undergo permanent sterilization.
Couples not satisfied with the results of the check-up may apply for an appeal mechanism. When applying for marriage registration couples “shall produce their pre-marital physical check-up certificates or medical technical appraisement certificates.” Diagnosis will be verified prenatally if an abnormality is “detected or suspected,” such as by ultrasound or because of family history, after an antenatal examination. If a serious disease or defect is found, physicians will offer the couple “medical advice for a termination of pregnancy.”
Applications to terminate a pregnancy or to undergo sterilization must “be agreed [to] and signed by the person concerned.” Couples that are identified by this process “shall take measures in accordance with the physician’s medical advice.” In other words, they will be compelled to do what their doctor tells them to do.
Even though this law came into effect in 1995, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have been sterilized against their will since 1986. Clinic-based and mobile birth control teams, dubiously known as the “womb police,” have been known to travel across the countryside enforcing both the number of births and the “quality” of the newborn population, assessing such things as feeble-mindedness and mental illness.
There is little doubt that the Maternal and Infant Health Care law is a throwback to 20th century style eugenics. During the first half of the previous century, it was fashionable for the politicians of many countries to implement sterilization schemes that targeted questionable deficiencies while greatly diminishing the reproductive freedoms of their citizens. Two primary factors that led to these policies—two factors that still exist in the Chinese worldview today—are nationally and racially fed conceptions of social Darwinism and an immature understanding of medicine, genetics and science—not to mention unenlightened and socially primitive stances on democracy and the moral and practical efficacy of individual autonomy.
And typically, the law went into effect in China without any real discussion by bioethicists proper. In fact, it is arguable as to whether China even has a bioethics discipline by Western standards. China doesn’t even have the same conception of eugenics; in Mandarin, “yousheng” is the closest word that corresponds to “eugenics,” and it simply means “healthy birth.” (This is interesting, because “eugenics” is a Greek term meaning “good origin,” but has gone on to mean a centralized, preconceived and imposed vision of heredity.)
Moreover, legislators in China don’t have to face the political hurdles, scrutiny and heated discourse that tend to greet new biolegislation in other countries. Simply put, the communist Chinese government is not held to the same ethical standards as are governments in the more developed and socially mature nations of the world.
Marching into the 21st century
Of course, in my condemnation of Chinese eugenics I could be accused of both cultural and social relativism. As medical doctor Patrick MacLeod has observed, China is struggling with issues of population health beyond our comprehension in the West.
For example, the UK has five percent of the population of China but 20 times the number of medical geneticists and counselors to serve that population. Compounding the problem, China is largely rural, with health insurance programs that do not cover medical genetic assessments. Some estimates place the disabled population of China at more than 50 million. “It is from this perspective,” says McLeod, “that one can understand why social planners might adopt eugenic solutions without any knowledge or understanding of the long-term consequences for the gene pool.”
And while the work of many health scientists in the West is stunted by debates about whether or not a microscopic clump of embryonic cells is a person or not, China marches on in terms of important medical research and development. Eric Brown, in his provocative but ultimately technophobic article “Brave New China,” notes, “China has made some brave leaps beyond the rest of the scientifically advanced nations in crucial areas of biogenetic research.”
Chinese researchers, for example, recently created 30 cloned human embryos and allowed them to develop to unprecedented stages. This work could eventually allow people to grow their own organs to replace failing ones. In Tianjin, a stem cell engineering institute is being constructed that will have its labs filled with half a million cloned embryonic cells. As Brown observes, “In the near future, China may well emerge as a major global dealer in human genomic expertise. Recognizing the opportunity China has to leap ahead of a comparatively reluctant West in the world biotechnology market, investors from both China and abroad may provide the capital necessary to drive China’s genetic revolution to a much larger scale.”
Thus, over the next few decades, as the Chinese continue to develop innovative biotechnologies, and as they continue to impose their eugenic policies, they will have greater and greater control over how they actively re-engineer their citizens.
A democratic transhumanist’s nightmare
From a democratic transhumanist perspective, these prospects are both exciting and troublesome. Transhumanists agree that stronger, smarter and healthier people are a good thing, as are reductions in suffering and various psychological and physical disabilities. But while progress in health sciences is a value unto itself, it shouldn’t come without proper public debate or the proper bioethical infrastructure to gauge the impact of technologies on individuals, societies and the human condition as a whole.
Worst of all, in China these technologies are being used as tools by the communist government to impose its idea of a healthy and evolving populace onto its “subjects.” This idea, that of totalitarian transhumanism, is anathema to democratic transhumanism, which insists that choices about whether and how to use these biotechnologies must be left to individuals. While some of the goals of transhumanists and Chinese politicians run in parallel, the manner and spirit in which they are applied makes all the difference, both from ethical and sociopolitical standpoints.
It is understood by most transhumanists that parents, when empowered to make informed procreative decisions for themselves and their families, will make responsible choices that will result in the improved health of their offspring. How the human family evolves and develops as a result of these individual choices is anyone’s guess, but it must be the role of future governments to help their citizens prosper along chosen paths, not to dictate preconceived and group-think notions of what it means to be normal or healthy, and certainly not to do so from a rigid ideological agenda.
I can only hope that as China modernizes itself technologically, social and cultural modernization will quickly follow. The impact of the information revolution has only recently been felt in China, and has been greeted with great caution, resulting in the Great Firewall of China.
Fortunately, technology often acts as the great equalizer, and as mobile phones, computers and other information technologies make their way into China, the Chinese will surely start to take advantage of these tools as they begin to democratize themselves at the grassroots level. The push for better science and technology, I can only hope, will be the ultimate undoing of the current communist regime, rather than further its state-driven eugenic goals.
|The Persistence of Eugenics
From GenEthics News issue 22,
With the International Genetics Federation congress in Beijing looming, the issue of China’s eugenics law is likely to be in the news again. A particularly sensitive issue is the relationship between genetics and eugenics. This article takes a look at the history of the relationship between genetics and eugenics, and in particular at the concept and practice of ‘non-directive’ genetic counselling.
What is eugenics? In discussions about the ethical and social consequences of human genetics, there is much confusion about eugenics. The association of the subject with full-scale genocide seems to produce an inability to think clearly on both sides of the debate. It is true, as geneticists often complain, that the word is sometimes used as a blunt instrument to silence those who argue for the benefits of genetic research. On the other hand, there is a converse tendency to avoid any discussion of the subject. The widely-praised House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on human genetics, for example, does not mention the word once. When challenged on this, Anne Campbell MP argued that the omission was made in order to avoid provoking ‘hysteria’.
The dominant tendency is to view eugenics as a purely historical phenomenon, and to minimise its relevance to current debates. Within the discourse of scientists, which is dominant in Britain, eugenics is seen as causing public fear of genetics, but this fear is generally seen by scientists and ethicists as due to ignorance or misunderstanding. The conventional view is that the eugenics movement of the first four decades of this century was based on ‘bad science’, or misunderstandings of genetics. The implication of this view is that now we know so much more about genes, and have witnessed the horrific consequences of eugenics, we will not make that mistake again.
In the conventional definition, the key aspect of eugenics is coercion of people’s reproductive choices, for social ends, which may include ‘improving the quality of the population’, ‘preventing suffering of future generations’ or reducing financial costs to the state. The crucial importance of coercion is the story that after the Second World War, interference in reproductive choice was abolished and replaced with ‘non-directive’ genetic counselling. (Of course, as the recent scandals in Sweden and elsewhere have shown, this was far from true.) Making coercion central to the definition of eugenics suits geneticists’ interests, because it allows them to make a clear distinction between current medical genetics and eugenics. However, examination of the history of eugenics reveals that coercion is certainly not one of its defining characteristics. From its very beginnings, many eugenicists, including the founder of the eugenics movement, Francis Galton, were opposed to coercion. As the historian of eugenics, Diane Paul, notes, definitions of eugenics which exclude Galton can hardly be taken seriously.
Another common supposition is that eugenics was a right-wing movement. But as Paul and many others have pointed out, from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, eugenics enjoyed huge popular support amongst all sections of society. Eugenics was also supported by many socialists, feminists and anti-feminists, militarists and pacificists, as well, of course, as the majority of geneticists. In different countries eugenics took different forms, from the paternalistic social democratic eugenics of Sweden and Norway to the fascist eugenics of Germany. At present there is a eugenics law in the still officially communist China. Eugenics is a broad church that can embrace many different philosophies.
Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that discussions of eugenics that try to label some things as ‘eugenic’ and others as not, tend to founder on issues of definition. It may be impossible to produce a definition that everyone agrees with. Nonetheless, reflection on the history and social basis of eugenics can allow us to understand ‘what it is about’, and so help to assess the threat of its resurgence.
A form of technocracy The massive popular support for eugenic ideas, even if not, necessarily, for official eugenics societies or laws, indicates that eugenics was not, as many geneticists would like us to believe, an ‘aberration’. Rather, it was a movement very much in tune with the spirit of the times. One reason for this was precisely its foundation in science. The late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century was not only the period of high modernism in the arts, but of modernism as a popular social ideology. And modernism’s dream of progress and social order is founded upon the belief in science and technology. In fact, modernism simply made more explicit ideas about the role of science that had been central since the Scientific Revolution.
Since the 17th century, the key to the economic basis and vision of Western societies has been the use of science and technology to control nature. But as poets and romantics like Blake and Shelley, and later sociologists such as Weber and Foucault have noticed, parallel to the creation of new knowledge has been a gradual process of rationalisation and increasing control over society in the form of scientific management, or bureaucracy. An example from the early twentieth century is Taylorism, the attempt to apply scientific management to industrial processes. Taylor captured something crucial to scientific modernism when he argued that, ‘In the past, the man has been first. In the future, the System must be first.’ It is no accident that Henry Ford was a key devotee of eugenics. Harry Laughlin, the lynchpin of the US eugenics movement, stated in the Birmingham Mail in 1913 that, ‘Eugenics is simply the application of big business methods in human reproduction.’
The purpose of this discussion on the role of science in modernity is to emphasise that, in our society, an important aspect of science is to enhance control and order. In the case of genetics, the managerial tendency is expressed through eugenics, which, at its root, is the urge to tidy up the accidents and mess that arise from human reproduction. What really appalls eugenicists is that the whole business of human reproduction is out of rational control, and is left to chance. The eugenicists of the early twentieth century often pointed out the care we take over the breeding of our crops and domestic animals: how can we be so careless about human reproduction, they asked. The desire to bring human reproduction under rational control is the common factor underlying the many different forms of eugenics. For most people, eugenics was a progressive and humane aspect of modernisation.
Under particular political circumstances, eugenicists’ efforts will be targeted at particular groups: for example in the US in the early 20th century, a major focus was demonstrating the supposed genetic inferiority of people from Eastern and Southern Europe, in order to restrict their immigration. Arguably, eugenics always targets the working classes, particularly the poor. But in its essence, eugenics is a form of technocracy, an attempt at social management based on the knowledge of a scientifically qualified elite.
Genetics and eugenics What then of geneticists’ claim that eugenics is merely an abuse of genetics, or an aberration? At one level, the answer to this question is already clear: genetics and eugenics are inseparably linked. Some form of eugenics is an inevitable consequence of the advance of the science of genetics, although the popularity of overt eugenics programmes will vary according to social and political circumstances.
It is, however, important to note the truth in geneticists’ argument that advances in the science of genetics have done much to discredit eugenics. Mainstream eugenics in the USA and Britain was based on the belief that abilities and personality traits were determined by single genes, as was ‘feeblemindedness’. Socialist geneticists such as JBS Haldane and Hermann Muller succeeded by the 1930s in demonstrating the falseness of such ideas. However, this did not diminish their eugenic enthusiasm, but merely led to a more moderate reformulation, shorn of its more outrageous class and racial prejudice. Muller, later to receive the Nobel Prize for his discoveries in genetics, persisted into the 1950s in his eugenic efforts. Historians are still debating the degree to which scientists influenced the unpopularity of eugenics after the Second World War.
For our understanding of the present, what is more important is the consequence of the discrediting of simplistic Mendelian eugenics in the 1920s and 30s. Amongst the funders of eugenics research in the US, such as the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations, dissatisfaction with eugenics was growing, while ideological commitment on the part of the trustees persisted. According to Kay1, this was at least part of the impetus behind the Rockefeller Foundation’s strategic move into supporting the development of what became known as molecular biology: dissatisfied with the woolly science of the eugenicists, the Foundation decided that the cause of eugenics would be better served by applying mathematical and physical methods, in order to make biology into a ‘hard’ science. It has been molecular biology, which led, via Crick and Watson, to genetic engineering in the 1970s. Kay suggests that the Rockefeller Foundation’s strategic investment finally paid off in the late 1980s and 90s, with the launch of the Human Genome Project.
What this illustrates is the way that the history of eugenics is intertwined with that of eugenics. Problems in eugenics stimulated research in genetics, whilst developments in genetics informed the evolution of eugenics. This is a typical pattern in the development of any science and its practical application.
Viewed in this perspective, the popular eugenics movement of the early twentieth century was a highly damaging false start for eugenics. An particular set of political circumstances propelled it prematurely into the light, with disastrous consequences for its reputation. After the Second World War, eugenics did not disappear: it merely went underground. In Britain, the Eugenics Society continues to exist, and only changed its name to the Galton Institute in the late 1980s. Key figures, such as Francis Crick and Victor McKusick, the doyen of medical genetics, have continued to make eugenic pronouncements, but most of the efforts of eugenics activists have shifted to the issue of Third World population control.
Genetic counselling According to the received view, the key distinction between current medical genetics and the former eugenics is in the practice of genetic counselling. In English-speaking countries and Northern Europe, genetic counsellors say that they aim to not tell their clients what to decide, and to support whatever decisions they take. This supposed non-directiveness is the cornerstone of geneticists’ argument that they are not promoting eugenics. Of course, this ignores the social pressures which influence people’s decisions, such as negative images of disability, lack of support for families with disabled children, cultural factors, etc., all of which tend to produce eugenic outcomes (see GEN 12, pp6-9). It might be argued that it is geneticists’ duty to actively counter such pressures, but to be fair, they cannot be held directly responsible for their existence.
The standard rationale for offering genetic testing is that it allows parents to exercise informed reproductive choice, and not to ‘improve’ the quality of the population. But how do the attitudes and actual practice of genetic counselling measure up to the professional ideal? The most important research in this area was carried by the American sociologist and ethicist, Dorothy Wertz, and her colleague, John Fletcher2,3. In 1994-5, they conducted a survey of the attitudes and practices of nearly 3,000 geneticists and genetic counsellors in 37 countries. Taken at a global level, their results comprehensively demolish the idea that geneticists have abandoned their eugenic philosophies. Wertz often titles her talks, ‘Eugenics is alive and well’.
The most consistent result from Wertz and Fletcher’s survey is that only geneticists in English-speaking countries and Northern Europe (ENE) can make any claim to non-directiveness and abandonment of eugenic thinking. In Eastern and Southern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America (Rest Of the World, ROW), geneticists not only hold eugenic ideas, but see no problem in directing their clients in accordance with those ideas. Here are a few examples:
In response to the clearly eugenic suggestion that ‘An important goal of genetic counselling is to reduce the number of deleterious genes in the population’, 13% of UK geneticists agreed. In E. and S. Europe this rises to an average of 50%, and in China and India to nearly 100%.
An average of 20% of ENE geneticists feel that, given the availability of pre-natal testing, it is not fair to society to knowingly have a child with a serious genetic disorder. (The survey also revealed huge discrepancies between geneticists about what counts as ‘serious’.) In the rest of the world, majorities of geneticists supported this view, rising to nearly 100% in some countries.
Substantial minorities of both ENE and ROW geneticists would advise voluntary sterilisation for women with fragile-X syndrome (mental handicap of varying severity) living in an institution.
Approximately 15% of ENE and majorities of ROW geneticists admit that they would provide biased pre-natal counselling (emphasising negative aspects of a condition without actually suggesting termination) for a variety of child- and adult-onset genetic diseases. For conditions judged more serious, nearly 30% of US genetics professionals would provide negatively-slanted counselling. Conversely, where the condition is viewed as less serious, more positive counselling would be given. Wertz says that giving clients biased information is worse than being directive, because it does not offer the client an opportunity to disagree with the counsellor. None of the geneticists said that they thought that giving biased information was dishonest.
Wertz and Fletcher’s research details what geneticists say they think and do, in response to a questionnaire. Figures derived from such answers almost certainly underestimate the degree to which counsellors contravene their professional norms in practice. Research by Therese Marteau and her colleagues, in which genetic counselling sessions were videotaped, revealed a high level of directiveness by genetic counsellors. Most disturbingly, the level was highest when clients were from lower socio-economic groups. The same effect was seen in Wertz’s survey.
A new eugenics? This examination of the history of eugenics and genetics and the current practice of genetic counselling shows that the claim that eugenics is simply a bogeyman from the past, which we can easily avoid, is at best naive, and at worst disingenuous. Geneticists need to learn something of the real history of genetics and eugenics and examine their actions and motives a little more carefully. Eugenics is certainly alive, but what is the chance that it will become a real threat in the future?
We cannot answer this question in the abstract, but only by looking at the economic and social contexts within which overt eugenics policies become attractive. The biologist and historian, Garland Allen, has shown how the eugenics movement became popular in the US in response to fear of chaos caused by social and economic changes4. In the late 19th century, the US was undergoing major industrial expansion and restructuring of its economy, together with an influx of refugees from Europe. These conditions created major social unrest, including strikes, which often led to violence. Similar factors were also at work in Germany. The response was calls for more planning and regulation of the economy, and of society. Like Taylorism, eugenics was appealing as a modern, progressive and purportedly scientifically-based system for creating more order in society.
In the 1990s, we may be experiencing something similar. Economic globalisation is eroding people’s standard of living and job security, leading to a ‘New World Disorder’, in which resource shortages and environmental crisis, as well as the emergence of new diseases, is leading to widespread fear and uncertainty. A crucial similarity with the early part of the century is a perceived shortage of resources for health and welfare: the widespread current discussion of healthcare rationing may fuel pressures to introduce genetic screening programmes as cost-saving public health measures.
Of course the 1990s are not the 1920s and 30s, and we have seen what eugenics and fascism can do. If there is to be a new popular eugenics in industrialised countries, it will have to come in disguise. On the other hand, the scientific basis of eugenics is a lot more plausible now. The success of genetics is also fuelling popular genetic determinist attitudes about personality and behaviour that are very similar to those common in the first part of this century.
At least initially, a new eugenics will most likely be a laissez faire eugenics. The dominant concept now is consumer choice in reproduction, an idea unheard of in the 1930s. Although we are unlikely to see a new generation of eugenic activists publicly arguing for such policies, the outcome will tend to be the same. It is rather pointless to debate definitions and whether or not we call this eugenics. The point is that the underlying drive towards control of reproductive mess is still very much alive, and scientific and social conditions are right for this drive to be expressed.
The danger we will need to guard against is the development of a kind of eugenic common sense, that it is irresponsible to refuse to undergo tests, and that every child has the ‘right’ to a healthy genetic endowment. It may soon become common sense that sex is for fun, but having a baby is a serious matter, not to be left to chance. We will need to be vigilant for eugenics disguised as public health measures.
It is vital that we have an informed public debate about eugenics and where we are going with the new genetics. The debate must move beyond sensationalism and self-defensive posturing by geneticists. It is equally vital that the debate begins now, while there is still time to act.
References 1. Kay, L. 1993. The molecular vision of life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the rise of the new biology New York: Oxford University Press.
2. Wertz, D. 1997 Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy 13, 299-346.
3. Wertz D. 1997 ‘Eugenics Around the World’, talk given at the International Symposium on Eugenics at the End of the 20th Century, Israel.
4. Allen, G. 1989. Eugenics and American social history 1880-1950 Genome 31, 885-889.