On a Monday in November 1905, a “little deaf and dumb … 10-year old Eurasian girl” called Mooktie Wood arrived in the US on the steamship Canopic. An orphan with no known relatives, Mooktie had been “picked up” by an American Pentecostal missionary, Lillian Sprague, in the wake of one of the many devastating famines… Read more →
Every so often, some viral article or other will declare that science “proves” or “confirms” that intelligence is inherited from mothers. (I know, because my own mother will promptly share it on Facebook.) Swiftly, of course, revisionary articles will appear correcting or debunking this claim, chastising armchair geneticists for their overly-simplistic understandings of the X-chromosome…. Read more →
Eugenics is still a dirty word. It makes us think about science gone horribly wrong. It reminds us of the ghosts of Nazis past. The specter of eugenics is invoked when discussing new genetic technologies, often serving as a warning that engineering humanity can go too far. It wasn’t always like this. For much of… Read more →
by Lara Freidenfelds
Recently, a Canadian fertility clinic made the news because it refused to allow a white client to be impregnated with sperm from a donor of color. The clinic director told the media, “I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants.”
When I first read this, I felt offended. Personally. My husband and I are different races, and our kids are bi-racial. I guess I had never proclaimed us a “rainbow family,” but ok. The clinic’s decision to avoid creating bi-racial children seemed like a judgment on my family. Like, my family’s not terrible or anything, but as a society we wouldn’t want to go making extra families like mine if we can stick to normal, uni-racial families. Am I a bad mother because I ignored race when I chose my spouse? Would it have been more responsible of me to have my kids with a white father?
By Tina M. Kibbe
Happy New Year! As another year ends, I wanted to take a look at three news stories involving eugenics and genetics in 2013 that you may have missed.
By Adam Turner
This is the second post in a two-part reflection on some of the issues raised by a September BBC news story, Judge Approves Man’s Sterilisation in Legal First. (See part one for a synopsis of the story.) In part one I listed three reasons why people often believe adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) should not have sex or sometimes even be in romantic relationships. I discussed number one in part one, and will now look at numbers two and three.
By Adam Turner
In September, BBC news ran a story titled, Judge Approves Man’s Sterilisation in Legal First. I started reading the story expecting a familiar case of medical authority and restrictive assumptions of what is and isn’t normal leading to surgical intervention. Not so. At least not exactly. Partway through the first few paragraphs of the news report I knew this story was much more complicated than I had imagined.
A recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) disclosed that physicians, under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, performed tubal ligations on nearly 150 female inmates while they were housed at two of the institutions under its authority. Between 2006 and 2010 148 women at the California Institution for Women in… Read more →
By Adam Turner
Genetic counseling, as the previous two posts in this series suggest, has a lot to offer for navigating the tricky decisions things like prenatal testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis raise. Well, in this post I’d like to make things a little more complicated. Enter the sheer messiness of history. I still believe genetic counseling is the best approach we have right now for helping prospective parents with hard choices, but it has a complicated — and not so distant — past that continues to shape counselors’ ways of interacting with clients.
Surprisingly, I have been asked that question on more than one occasion. I have had students ask me during class and once after a conference presentation. The last time I was confronted with this question was in my summer class, when an earnest young student asked, “If you take the racial prejudice out, what’s wrong with eugenics?” The student continued to press his point: “What’s wrong with a program that has the goal of improving the human race and now that genetics is so advanced, surely we could make sure that people have the best genes and traits. Wouldn’t that make for a healthier, happier population?” Hmm. So much to think about here. A program that uses cutting edge science to improve the human race by ensuring that individuals have only the best genes or traits so that people will be healthy and happy? Indeed, what is so bad about that? Who can say, “NO” to having the best genes, being healthy, and being happy? This is precisely the reason why eugenics was fairly easy “to sell” in the early twentieth century. For the sake of brevity, let’s set aside the vast complexity of the science of genetics and pretend that we could just pluck out the “bad” genes and insert the “good” ones on DNA strands so that in a few generations we might have a utopian world filled with people swimming in the luxurious, healthy, and happy waters of the “best” gene pool. At this point, I have two questions. What determines which genes or traits are the “best,” and in this program of improving the human race, who makes the determination of which ones are the best? Me? You? Or what about a panel of experts? Afterall, we are talking about using science and a panel of objective scientific experts seems like an appropriate choice to make these important decisions. Or is it? While we ponder that for a moment, let’s take a look back.