New eugenics

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New eugenics, also known as liberal eugenics (a term coined by bioethicist Nicholas Agar),[1] advocates enhancing human characteristics and capacities through the use of reproductive technology and human genetic engineering. Those who advocate new eugenics generally think selecting or altering embryos should be left to the preferences of parents, rather than forbidden (or left to the preferences of the state). "New" eugenics purports to distinguish itself from the forms of eugenics practiced and advocated in the 20th century, which fell into disrepute after World War II.[2]


New eugenics is distinguished from previous versions of eugenics by its emphasis on informed parental choice rather than coercive governmental control.[3]

Eugenics is sometimes broken into the categories of positive eugenics (encouraging reproduction among the designated "fit") and negative eugenics (discouraging reproduction among those designated "unfit"). Another distinction is between coercive eugenics and non-coercive eugenics. According to Edwin Black, many positive eugenic programs were advocated and pursued during the early 20th century, but the negative programs were responsible for the compulsory sterilization of hundreds of thousands of persons in many countries, and were contained in much of the rhetoric of Nazi eugenic policies of racial hygiene and genocide.[4] New eugenics belongs to the positive eugenics category.[5] Bioethicists generally consider coercive eugenics more difficult to justify than non-coercive eugenics, though coercive laws forbidding cousin marriage, for example, are widely considered justified. Compulsory sterilization of those deemed unfit is a form of coercive eugenics that has been overwhelmingly rejected in the 21st century,[6] and is illegal under many national and international laws.

New eugenics practices[edit]

New eugenics generally supports genetic modification or genetic selection of individuals for traits that are supposed to improve human welfare. The underlying idea is to improve the genetic basis of future generations and reduce incidence of genetic diseases and other undesirable traits. Some of the practices included in new eugenics are: pre-implantation diagnosis and embryo selection,[7] selective breeding,[8] and human enhancement through the use of genetic technologies,[9] such as embryo engineering or gene therapy.[10][11]


New eugenics was founded under the liberal ethical values of pluralism, which advocates for the respect of personal autonomy, and egalitarianism, which represents the idea of equality for all people. Arguments used in favor of new eugenics include that it is in the best interest of society that life succeeds rather than fail, and that it is acceptable to ensure that progeny has a chance of achieving this success.[11] Ethical arguments against new eugenics include the claim that creating designer babies is not in the best interest of society as it might create a breach between genetically modified individuals and natural individuals.[12] Additionally, some of these technologies might be economically restrictive further increasing the socio-economical gap.[8]

Dov Fox, a law professor at the University of San Diego, argues that new eugenics cannot be justified on the basis of the underlying liberal theory which inspires its name. He argues that heritable mental and physical capacities that are generally valued can be considered as alternative to John Rawls's social primary goods. In this case, natural primary goods. Fox suggests that reprogenetic technologies like embryo selection, cellular surgery, and human genetic engineering, which aim to enhance general purpose traits in offspring are practices a liberal government leaves to the discretion of parents than like practices the state makes compulsory.[13] Fox argues that if the liberal commitment to autonomy is important enough for the state to mandate childrearing practices such as health care and basic education, that very same interest is important enough for the state to mandate safe, effective, and functionally integrated genetic practices that act on analogous all-purpose traits such as resistance to disease and general cognitive functioning. He concludes that the liberal case for compulsory eugenics is a reductio ad absurdum against liberal theory.[13]

The United Nations International Bioethics Committee wrote that new eugenics should not be confused with the ethical problems of the 20th century eugenics movements. Regardless, they have stated that it is still problematic as it challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new ways of discrimination and stigmatization against those who do not want or cannot afford the enhancements.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Agar N (2004). Liberal Eugenics: In Defence of Human Enhancement. ISBN 1-4051-2390-7.
  2. ^ Goering, Sara (2 July 2014). "Eugenics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014.
  3. ^ Cavaliere, Giuli (2018). "Looking into the shadow: the eugenics argument in debates on reproductive technologies and practices". Monash Bioethics Review. 36 (1–4): 1–22. doi:10.1007/s40592-018-0086-x. PMC 6336759. PMID 30535862.
  4. ^ Black E (2003). War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 1-56858-258-7.
  5. ^ Witzany G (March 2016). "No time to waste on the road to a liberal eugenics?". EMBO Reports. 17 (3): 281. doi:10.15252/embr.201541855. PMC 4772985. PMID 26882552.
  6. ^ Buchanan A (2011). Better than Human: The Prospect and Perils of Enhancing Ourselves. p. 123. ISBN 9780190664046.
  7. ^ King, D. S. (1999-04-01). "Preimplantation genetic diagnosis and the 'new' eugenics". Journal of Medical Ethics. 25 (2): 176–182. doi:10.1136/jme.25.2.176. ISSN 0306-6800. PMC 479204. PMID 10226925.
  8. ^ a b Hoffman, Allison K (2017-12-01). "Review of The New Eugenics: Selective Breeding in an Era of Reproductive Technologies". Journal of Law and the Biosciences. 4 (3): 671–677. doi:10.1093/jlb/lsx025. ISSN 2053-9711. PMC 5965496.
  9. ^ Vizcarrondo, Felipe E. (August 2014). "Human Enhancement: The New Eugenics". The Linacre Quarterly. 81 (3): 239–243. doi:10.1179/2050854914Y.0000000021. ISSN 0024-3639. PMC 4135459. PMID 25249705.
  10. ^ King DS (April 1999). "Preimplantation genetic diagnosis and the 'new' eugenics". Journal of Medical Ethics. 25 (2): 176–82. doi:10.1136/jme.25.2.176. PMC 479204. PMID 10226925.
  11. ^ a b "Regulating Eugenics". Harvard Law Review. 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  12. ^ Galton, DJ (2005-01-01). "Eugenics: some lessons from the past". Reproductive BioMedicine Online. 10: 133–136. doi:10.1016/S1472-6483(10)62222-5. ISSN 1472-6483. PMID 15820025.
  13. ^ a b Fox D (2007). "The Illiberality of Liberal Eugenics". SSRN 1072104. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ "Report of the IBC on Updating Its Reflection on the Human Genome and Human Rights" (PDF). International Bioethics Committee. October 2, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015. The goal of enhancing individuals and the human species by engineering the genes related to some characteristics and traits is not to be confused with the barbarous projects of eugenics that planned the simple elimination of human beings considered as ‘imperfect’ on an ideological basis. However, it impinges upon the principle of respect for human dignity in several ways. It weakens the idea that the differences among human beings, regardless of the measure of their endowment, are exactly what the recognition of their equality presupposes and therefore protects. It introduces the risk of new forms of discrimination and stigmatization for those who cannot afford such enhancement or simply do not want to resort to it. The arguments that have been produced in favour of the so-called liberal eugenics do not trump the indication to apply the limit of medical reasons also in this case.

Further reading[edit]