Category: News

What’s So Bad About Eugenics?

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.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage: A Night at the Drive-in

Sex education is tricky stuff. We’ve heard some about it already here on Nursing Clio. And many of us awkwardly shuffled through it one way or another in public school. The only real “talk” I remember from my parents was a noticeably scientific explanation from my microbiologist father, which pretty much cleared up my curiosity at the time, I recall. The public school side of it was mostly anatomy

The Blame Game in Autism

The interwebz have been abuzz this week, debating Moises Velasquez-Manoff’s editorial in the New York Times on autism and immune function. Although Velasquez-Manoff is a little late on the autism/immune function thesis (which has been posited in research projects since at least 2005), it’s his use of autism stereotypes and ableist language that put this article on my radar. It’s the assumption that autism is a sign of a broken or damaged child that has made me question both his interpretation of that thesis and the implications for the families of children with autism – and the autists themselves.

Now It’s Everybody’s Fault

By Adam Turner

Welcome to the second in a series of posts discussing genetics, prenatal testing, and genetic counseling. In this post we’ll be thinking about blame and birth atypicality. Earlier this month the New York Times and other news media reported on the findings of a recent study published in the journal Nature. In some cases, the study suggested, the increased genetic mutations found in older men’s sperm could make it more likely their offspring might develop autism or schizophrenia.

The Flip-flop over Foreskin

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Reis, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. Professor Reis is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recently released a statement saying that the health benefits of circumcision outweighed the risks. This pronouncement contradicts the Academy’s earlier ruling, just thirteen years ago in 1999, which stated unequivocally that the health benefits of the procedure were slim. The 1999 statement reversed a previous one made in 1989 that said there were good medical reasons for it; but a few years earlier, in 1971, the Academy had officially concluded that it was not a medical necessity. Clearly, circumcision is one of those surgeries about which opinion shifts back and forth over the years.

Are You Really Pro-Life?

About two weeks ago, Nicholas P. Carfardi of the National Catholic Reporter, wrote a brief opinion piece and asked who was more pro-life, Obama or Romney? He argued that although Obama is clearly pro-choice, he is actually more pro-life than Romney, because Romney profits from abortions and supports cuts in federal spending that might actually increase the abortion rate. Carfardi did not go further to redefine the term pro-life or call on Catholics and other anti-abortion groups to address this term in a more nuanced and complex manner. I wish he had, because he may have addressed the hypocrisy that lies beneath the term. Look, as a self-exiled Catholic, I am very well aware of the Church’s stance on abortion. I am also familiar with the history of abortion. But that is not what I want to focus on today. The term “pro-life” needs a new definition. There is much more to being pro-life than just praying, preaching, marching, and legislating for the rights of the fetus. Being pro-life means supporting the rights of babies, children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. If you are going to claim you are pro-life, then you must support the life outside the womb, not just the one attached to the umbilical cord. So, are you really pro-life?

Yes, Virginia, You Can Get Pregnant From Being Raped

In a T.V. interview on Sunday, August 19, Representative Todd Akin stated, “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare…. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” I don’t know whether we should be livid about his qualifying rape into “legitimate” and “illigetimate” (whatever those categories are) or that he is perpetuating a myth- a horrible ignorant fabrication- about pregnancy and rape. Sexual Assault survivors have endured enough after such a traumatic event. Already, rape victims face a society that perpetuates blaming the survivor, as I mentioned in my prior post on Victim Blaming. Do we really need to add even more problems onto their plate?

Breast is Best… in Art?

Breasts are everywhere in popular culture. This is nothing new. And yet I’ve been struck in recent years by the resurgence of the breastfeeding body in visual culture and contemporary art. It’s apparently a big deal (i.e., magazine-cover newsworthy) that Salma Hayek, Alanis Morrisette, Tori Spelling, Kourtney Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera, and many other celebrities breastfeed their babies.

Let’s Talk About Sex…. But Only If We Really Have To…

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I have a difficult time talking about sex.
[I will pause a moment while my friends, colleagues, and former students pick themselves up off the floor and recover from the raucous laughter that I’m sure they just engaged in.]
Okay. Let me clarify: I have a difficult time talking with my son about sex.

The Baby in the Double Helix

Part 1 in a series on genetic counseling What makes for a healthy baby? Is it an absence of something? Or is it a particular quality? Once we’ve defined it, how do we go about guaranteeing healthy babies? In a July 20 article in the New York Times’ parenting blog, Motherlode, author Ellen Painter Dollar shared an emotional and… Read more →