As my regulars will know, I am not a man short of opinions. Of course, I acknowledge that the quality of those opinions is, er, mixed - and that's putting it politely! However, it is rare for a subject to arise about which, frankly, I am stumped for an opinion but, of course, 'The Speccie' - who else? - has done just that. The editor, Mr. Fraser Nelson, has written an article warning us all that the monster we thought had been finally slain in a Berlin bunker in 1945 has risen from the dead. He also reminds us, to our intense embarrassment, that the genesis for this monster was not Nazi Germany but liberal Britain! This particular monster comes under the heading of a single word - eugenics.
He reminds us that one of the prime movers for the eugenics movement was Francis Galton, the cousin, no less, of Charles Darwin. Mr. Nelson goes even further by quoting from a 1912 edition of the very Spectator magazine which he now edits:
The only way of cutting off the constant stream of idiots and imbeciles and feeble-minded persons who help to fill our prisons and workhouses, reformatories, and asylums is to prevent those who are known to be mentally defective from producing offspring. Undoubtedly the best way of doing this is to place these defectives under control. Even if this were a hardship to the individual it would be necessary for the sake of protecting the race.
And he reminds us that at the time many of 'the Great and the Good' were in support of this notion including Winston Churchill. In 1908:
[A] Royal Commission conveyed the grave news that there were 150,000 ‘feeble-minded’ people in Britain. So what was to be done with them? As one reformer put it: “They must be acknowledged dependents of the State…but with complete and permanent loss of all civil rights – including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood”. This was William Beveridge, founder of the welfare state. [My emphasis]
So what, you might grumble, that's all history! Not according to Mr. Nelson who reports that via the wonders(!) of modern genetic science, eugenics is very much back in favour.
In academia, the word ‘eugenics’ may be controversial but the idea is not. To Professor Julian Savulescu, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, the ability to apply ‘rational design’ to humanity, through gene editing, offers a chance to improve the human stock — one baby at a time. ‘When it comes to screening out personality flaws such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence,’ he said a while ago, ‘you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children’.
It is difficult to oppose a science that will, by the use of genetic modifications, eradicate inheritable diseases and flaws. No-one dies, no-one is sterilised, no-one is aborted so what's not to like? I'm not sure - but I don't like it! But as a Brit, I need to make up my mind because one of the prime-movers in this new science(!) is the Francis Crick Institute in London, currently being built with government money, or my money as I fondly think of it!
The Francis Crick Institute says its gene-editing research has nothing to do with eugenics; even British law prohibits pregnancies from gene-edited embryos, and its researchers plan to destroy them after seven days. Instead, it aims to learn about the role of genes in miscarriage. But if its research improves gene-editing technology, less scrupulous scientists can make use of that. This is why scholars like Robert Pollack, a professor at Columbia University, want a moratorium on the whole process of modifying human genes. ‘Imagine that, many years hence, there are two sorts of people: those who carry the messy inheritance of their ancestors, and those whose ancestors had the resources to clean up their germ cells before IVF.’ So you end up with two types of humans: the genetically tidy rich and everyone else.
Now as I intimated at the beginning of this post, my instant re-action is to recoil in horror but I am all too aware that I have never thought through the implications, for good or ill, of this new science and where it might lead us all. So, over to you . . .