Eugenics and Biotechnology.

Eugenics was a proposed solution to all of mankind's troubles. Let's hope that it does not catch on again.

Eugenics was a proposed solution to all of mankind’s troubles. Let’s hope that it does not catch on again.

We’ve begun with Biotechnology, chapter 20 of our book. The best possible approach I could think of for beginning this chapter, was through a film which we concluded watching today: Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol in 1997. Biotechnology and many of its sociological and technical implications are suggested here — sci-fi as an alternative way to approach contemporary scientific issues. One of the protagonists of the film is named Eugene, which literally means ‘well born’ (Eu = good, true; Gene = born). Thus, not surprisingly, eugenics comes to mind. A short Wikipedia excerpt from the eugenics article:

The way eugenics was practiced in this period (19th and 20th centuries) involved “interventions”, which is a euphemistic name for the identification and classification of individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals and entire racial groups — such as the Roma and Jews — as “degenerate” or “unfit”; the segregation or institutionalisation of such individuals and groups, their sterilization, euthanasia, and in the extreme case of Nazi Germany, their mass extermination.[6]

Eugenics became an academic discipline at many colleges and universities, and received funding from many sources.[7] Three International Eugenics Conferences presented a global venue for eugenicists with meetings in 1912 in London, and in 1921 and 1932 in New York. Eugenic policies were first implemented in the early 1900s in the United States.[8] Later, in the 1920s and 30s, the eugenic policy of sterilizing certain mental patients was implemented in a variety of other countries, including Belgium,[9]Brazil,[10]Canada,[11] and Sweden,[12] among others. The scientific reputation of eugenics started to decline in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin used eugenics as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany, and when proponents of eugenics among scientists and thinkers prompted a backlash in the public. Nevertheless, in Sweden the eugenics program continued until 1975.[12] — Parentheses added by me.

The following links* provide a context on where we are in terms of eugenics in the 21st century:

1) One of the articles deals with technicals achievements that are worth a look at if we want to better understand the impact of Biotechnology in te next few decades: Life expectancy linked to DNA length.

2) This second article–with a somewhat misleading and poorly chosen title–is an interview that chillingly reminds us of the dystopia presented in Niccol’s film: China is engineering genius babies.

*Reading is compulsory.


27 thoughts on “Eugenics and Biotechnology.

  1. This topic makes me very sad to see what some people did to “perfect” the human race, I think it is completely wrong what all of those governments did. Also I have read that the United States performed various eugenics programs in the 20th century here in Puerto Rico, I will leave a link down below. I saw the movie Gattaca and it is quite scary what it says there, the article about what the Chinese hope to achieve with that technology also discomforts me, although if any of that ever happens in the future at least I will always be proud of being a completely “natural’, genetically unmodified human.


  2. This movie is a great way to introduce a topic such as the one given in Chapter 20. Eugenics may have been teached in the 19th and 20th century as a field; but now I days, in my opinion, I consider it against moral values to conduct such studies. Every person is born as he or she is, and there is no need to create that figure of a perfect individual or “true-born”.


    • The struggle between «de-generates» and «true-borns» is the same as the struggle between «the master» and «the slave». I encourage you to do a google search of the concept «dialectic materialism»; put forth by the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel.

      If natural selection is Darwin’s way of saying that speciation on this planet has an underlying mechanism, dialectic materialism is Hegel’s way of saying that human history has a mechanism as well: struggle.


  3. I found the movie and the concept, of eugenics as presented in the movie very upsetting, to think that in a relatively near future people might be descriminated by their genes. It is not right to not allow people to fufill their hopes and dreams just because of their gene’s potential, people hold true potential in their will to acomplish their goals, as Eugene’s brother did in the movie


  4. Once you think about it, humanity has been altering genes to achieve “the best genes” for hundreds of years! There have always been people of the high class who refuse to mix with peasants for social reasons and to conserve the “purity” of their bloodlines. Even some royal families in some countries married cousins and resorted to incest for generations for similar reasons (Source: A modern example of the practice of eugenics would be sperm banks, which give women the chance to choose who they want to father their children based on genes.


  5. It caught my attention, in the movie, that in order to live in that perfect world one had to carry several distinctive traits that made a human stand out from the rest of society (normal civilians). Nowadays we might find this requirements rather absurd and unnecessary since we have concluded that “perfect genes” are not a determinant factor on weather a person is fit for a particular world or job.


    • If the dystopy (“dys” = bad; “topos” = place. A dystopy is basically an utopia gone bad) shown in Gattaca proves to be an accurate depiction of what will happen in the next hundred years, then discrimination will have an additional sphere, besides all of the other types of xenophobia we are, unfortunately, familiar with.


  6. Although the majority of today’s society views the practice of eugenics as ethically incorrect, I think that the basis of eugenics is still present in most people’s mindset. Eugenics consists of the thought that some people are superior to others, an opinion widely spread today. Although we may not go to the extreme of creating a “pure breed”, this feeling of superiority is what leads to bullying and other problems in society. I see this way of life as a form of eugenics; we treat those who have more “favorable characteristics” better. This is just my opinion though, feel free to oppose.


    • So, José,—or anyone that would like to answer this question—would you consider ‘eugenics’ as an euphemism for xenophobia (which includes racism, sexism, etc); or just a mechanism that further enhances xenophobic practices?


      • Even though both terms have similar concepts, they have different defines xenophobia as ” an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers”, while eugenics is the science behind “improving” the species. They both relate to each other since racism, sexism, etc.are causes for the fear present in xenophobes, similarly, these same prejudices are the guidelines that eugenics follows. However, I would not say that eugenics is a euphemism of xenophobia since eugenics has been made into a science with the intention of improving society, while xenophobia expresses hate.


      • I agree. Eugenics has been used as a mechanism—under the almighty title of «science»—to justify xenophobia. Let’s hope humanity learns the lesson from history.


  7. Mankind should use this to its advantage not using it to make everyone’s physical appearance like Hitler would do.


  8. Despite what Gattaca presented, discrimination based on the concept of Eugenics isn’t as far into the future as one would believe. An article from CNSNews describes the case of Anita Kruzmane, a “Latvian woman who gave birth to a girl with Down syndrome in 2002. She argued that she should have been given a blood screening test as part of prenatal. Had she undergone the test, she would have decided whether or not to abort.”


  9. In my opinion, what this has done is go against moral values in life, but this is not the fault of eugenics and biotechnology, this is done by the ego of the scientists who try to do experiments to prove themselves superior to others, because of this is why this is wrong, because if eugenics and biotechnology were to be used for the use it was supposed to, which is in good nature it would be something that would help a lot human society.


    • Eugenics is a mind set, Biotechnology is a science. If we have scientists with eugenic mindsets, we will get the bad end of science; which in extreme cases can mean the deployment of nuclear weapons.

      But science is part of the human condition, it is a human activity.

      Ego is a problem that pervades the experience of both laymen and scientists.


  10. I is a very sad topic to see what prople do to create the perfect race. To me it is stupid because everybody was created equal and you should respect what others do and are.


  11. This is absolutely terrifying. Eugenics sounds “beneficial” in theory, but it leads to extreme xenophobia and classicism. It was immensely glorified during the early 20th century and it lead to the deaths of millions during WWII. If i had lived in Europe during WWII, I would have been killed simply because I have an anxiety disorder. Even though eugenics has been highly criticized after WWII, society is still highly obsessed with another kind of perfection; for example, the use of photoshop in many of the pictures we see in magazines and social media, for the purpose of making someone more “beautiful” according to society’s standards of physical “perfection”. People should embrace imperfection and diversity, not kill it away.


  12. Pingback: Gattaca & Bioethics | The Hypertextual Lounge

  13. Genetic engineering or at least the idea of achieving the “perfect human” is an idea that haas been in society since the beginning. This thoughts that emerged in society brought upon Eugenics which is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population. It is sad in the past this type of beliefs were funded by many sources and became an academic discipline at many colleges. Thankfully, Eugenics now is not the same as it was before, like for the time of the Jews, but it is still seen nowadays but in a much smaller scale. For example in life expectancy, scientist are manipulating genes so that the new people would live longer among other things.


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