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Reproductive Technology: Ethical Issues

Recoiling From Eugenics

Humans' ability to selectively breed desired characteristics into domestic animals and plants, combined with pride and concern for family and for national and ethnic heritage, has led historically to multiple suggestions and experiments aimed at "improving" the human race. These ideas gave rise to the eugenics movements in Great Britain and in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, preceding and influencing the Nazi "racial hygiene" experiments of the 1930s and 1940s. The horror of these experiments caused an almost universal backlash against eugenic programs that continues to this day.

Nevertheless, from time to time suggestions are made to improve the human gene pool so as to produce people genetically suited for specific tasks, or to improve the general levels of intelligence or other traits that are considered desirable. Numerous ethicists have made strong arguments against such suggestions. The novelist Aldous Huxley decried them in his famous satire Brave New World. Paul Ramsey, a Methodist moralist and one of the founders of modern bioethics, argued in his book Fabricated Man that any change from natural procreation to mechanized reproductive technology would be harmful to individuals and to society in general.

Louise Joy Brown, the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization was born in England on July 25, 1978.

A child is generally seen as a kind of gift of nature, conceived out of the love and passion of two people. However, as more technology is used in childbirth, there is a concern that the child may be seen increasingly as a commodity whose major purpose is to satisfy the emotional needs of the parents.

Another twenty or thirty years must pass before data will be available on the well-being of children born to couples as a result of reproductive technology, although anecdotal reports are positive. Data about children who have been brought into the world by technology for reasons other than infertility may have to wait another fifty to one hundred years before being analyzed because such children are few in number and difficult to find and study.

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Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 4Reproductive Technology: Ethical Issues - Recoiling From Eugenics, The Poles Of The Debate, Donor Gametes, In Vitro Fertilization And Surrogacy