Tag: eugenics

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Part II: LOVING, Bioethics and How Miscegenation became a ‘thing’

Photo Courtesy of Mill Valley Film Festival

Long Before Jeff Nichols, writer/director, chose to make the film LOVING (2016),  about a heroic couple of modest means striking a blow for the maintenance of humanity—by ending anti-miscegenation laws in the USA—The field of Eugenics had to be born and the term  ‘miscegenation’ coined. Miscegenation laws were present in many states  of the USA into the 1960s, in defiance of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution and  the Declaration of Human Rights. 
Modern “bioethics” emerged from the documentation of the atrocities associated with both WWI and WWII, and the manipulation of science and technology to serve ‘evil’ rather than beneficence, autonomy and justice. The film Loving speaks to the need to carefully consider the obligations of science. There is no evil science, just bad science and immoral applications. In particular, scientist, and physicians (who are all ultimately researchers) should at least read the Nuremberg Code. The document is a page long with only ten points. 

How did Anti- miscegenation laws come about? Let’s be clear, they were an economic mechanism to oppress slaves and other underclass people and prevent their owning property. This begs the question of how miscegenation became ‘a thing.’

Philosophy and the applied sciences used to be one school—and still were in the 1800s. Philosophy, was not separated from maths, astronomy, medicine and engineering. The footsteps of philosophy still drive scientific method —theory, hypothesis, proof and argument. Francis Galton was born into that time of interface and development of knowledge. Oddly Galton,  a  latter day Renaissance thinker in the  model of Da’Vinci, is attributed with coining the words miscegenation and eugenics.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Eugenics and the Outer Limits of Good Breeding

February 13, 2017

(Irish Times) – Eugenics, a science popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, aimed to encourage governments to favour the reproduction of the most “fit” members of society and to reduce or even prevent the reproduction of those considered less fit. My students immediately hone in on the injustice of self-selected individuals deciding what constitutes fitness to reproduce. I use the example of eugenics because it shocks them into understanding that science and medicine are not neutral and can be used to forward social agendas.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Remembering the ‘Forgotten Victims’ of Nazi ‘Euthanasia’ Murders

January 27, 2017

(Deutsche Welle) – The mass murder of the supposed physically and mentally unfit was a project central to Hitler’s thinking and the ideology of National Socialism. The Nazi leader translated ideas from the international eugenics and Social Darwinist movements of the early 20th century into a homicidal urge to cleanse the corpus of the German people from ailments and weaknesses. This obsession would cost the lives of more than 70,000 people in Germany and many, many more in countries occupied by the Third Reich. But those murders would not have been possible without the active participation of doctors, judges, administrators, scientists and others.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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How to Watch the Biggest Science Story of 2017

Less than three weeks into the new year, gene editing is already set to be one of the biggest stories of 2017.

CRISPR, the latest gene-editing tool, allows scientists to make changes to DNA faster, cheaper, and easier than ever before. There has been an explosion in the number of researchers using this technique over the past two years, and the coming year is sure to see more.

Media coverage of gene editing is also likely to be extensive. And if past experience is a guide, it will include lots of hype and ample confusion. In an effort to provide clarity, here are three key points to watch out for.

1) Germline gene editing and “3-person IVF” are not the same

The first 3-person in vitro fertilization (IVF) (aka “mitochondrial replacement”) birth was reported in September, where a baby with DNA from three people was delivered in Mexico by a New York-based fertility doctor seeking to avoid US regulation. Since then, there has been a tendency in the media to conflate the technique with gene editing.

On New Year’s Day, for example, NPR published a piece on 3-person IVF with the headline “Unexpected Risks Found in Editing Genes to Prevent Inherited Disorders.” After recognizing the error, NPR changed the headline to “Unexpected Risks Found in Replacing DNA to Prevent Inherited Disorders.”

While both germline gene editing and 3-person IVF are technically forms of human germline modification, or the genetic modification of human reproductive cells or embryos, they are completely different procedures.

Gene editing removes, inserts, and/or replaces nuclear DNA sequences in a living organism.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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CGS Board Member Leads Redress Call for California Survivors of Eugenic Sterilization

Scholars researching California’s twentieth-century legacy of eugenic sterilization, led by University of Michigan professor and Center for Genetics and Society Advisory Board member Alexandra Minna Stern, are urging state legislators to consider reparations for survivors of this abusive chapter in California’s history.

An estimated 20,000 people underwent compulsory sterilization in state institutions from 1909, when California passed its eugenics law, well into the 1950s. According to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health, based on painstaking analysis of historical records, the research team estimates that as many as 831 people sterilized under that law are alive today.

“The remaining survivors of California’s eugenic sterilization program deserve further societal acknowledgement and redress,” the researchers wrote.

And the researchers emphasize that “time is of the essence”: According to their estimates, the average age of the survivors is 87.9 years.

“We suggest that interested stakeholders, including public health advocates, legislators, reproductive justice and disability rights activists, and survivors willing to come forward, move quickly to ensure that California takes steps toward reparations and full accountability for this past institutional and reproductive injustice.”

Their efforts aren’t being ignored. The findings have drawn media attention from high-profile outlets including The Atlantic, the New York Times, NPR Weekend Edition, Scientific American, and the Los Angeles Times. Much of the coverage highlights the call for California officials to make serious efforts to identify the survivors and consider offering them monetary compensation. Such reparations programs have been established with bipartisan support in North Carolina and Virginia, which had similar eugenic sterilization programs.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Sperm and eggs grown in a Petri dish could revolutionise reproduction

The imminent arrival of eggs and sperm grown from skin cells makes legislative change imperative, three Ivy League professors argue in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

IVF was a game-changing technology, write Glenn Cohen, of Harvard Law School, George Q. Daley, of Harvard Medical School, and Eli Y. Adashi, of Brown University, but IVG – in vitro gametogenesis – could revolutionise reproduction.

Although at the moment IVG has only been successful in mice, it may only be a matter of time before scientists are able to make an ordinary skin cell revert to a pluripotent cell which can be grown into germ cell. This will provide scientists and IVF clinics with an “inexhaustible supply” of eggs and sperm.

That day is not around the corner. “Copious preclinical evidence of safety” will be needed. At the moment, “Whether human iPSCs have a propensity for genetic and epigenetic aberrations is unresolved.” But scientists in several countries are working feverishly on this. Sooner or later, it will happen – perhaps in countries where medical researchers are very lightly regulated, like Cyprus, China or the Dominican Republic.

Obviously, until IVG is successful, this essay about its social impact is merely speculative. But the legal horizon is very hazy, because such possibilities have never existed before. “Before the inevitable, society will be well advised to strike and maintain a vigorous public conversation on the ethical challenges of IVG,” they argue.

Cohen, Daley and Adashi list several uses for the IVG which could probably be used to lobby legislators.

1. Scientists will be able to study germline disease at the cellular and molecular levels.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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California Victims of Eugenics-Based Sterilization Programs Deserve Reparations, Researchers Say

December 26, 2016

(Los Angeles Times) – California should pay reparations to victims of its eugenics-based sterilization programs, which took away the reproductive abilities of about 20,000 people in the first half of the 20th century, researchers said in a new study. In particular, Mexican immigrants were disproportionately affected by those programs. And overall, an estimated 800 victims may still be alive today, according to the paper, which was released last week.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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On a ‘Eugenics Registry,’ a Record of California’s Thousands of Sterilizations

December 19, 2016

(NPR) – There’s a grim chapter in American history that involves forced sterilization. And for much of this past century, California had one of the most active sterilization programs in the country. A state law from 1909 authorized the surgery for people judged to have “mental disease, which may have been inherited.” That law remained on the books until 1979. University of Michigan professor Alexandra Minna Stern has been working to identify people who were forcibly sterilized under California’s program. NPR’s Ailsa Chang spoke with Stern, who said this idea of eugenics was intended to “eradicate certain genes from the population.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Slippery Slopes and Biological Curve Balls: Updates on 3-person IVF

In September the world learned of a US fertility doctor who had gone to Mexico where “there are no rules” in order to arrange the birth of a child conceived using 3-person in vitro fertilization (IVF), technically a form of human germline modification, to prevent mitochondrial disease. In October we learned that 3-person IVF is being used experimentally in the Ukraine to treat infertility.

In November we saw four additional important developments:

1) The media got 3-person IVF all wrong

On November 1, Reproductive Biomedicine Online published “Setting the Record Straight,” the journal’s editorial response to the “shoddy scientific journalism” surrounding an article in the very same issue. The article in question was a report on the apparent health of children born in the late 1990s and early 2000s using cytoplasmic transfer, a 3-person IVF precursor (see here for CGS’s take on the media coverage of that article). Published in the immediate aftermath of the Mexico and Ukraine cases, most media reports took it as evidence that current 3-person IVF techniques (pronuclear and spindle transfer) are safe. Railing against this misinterpretation, the editor argues that:

the technique of cytoplasmic transfer in the late 1990s is so different from those of pronuclear or spindle transfer as to make the apparent normality of the offspring born through the former technique of little relevance in the context of (the latter).

In other words, the media got it all wrong—the study doesn’t prove anything about the current or future safety of experimental 3-person IVF techniques.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Biopolitical News of 2016

The biggest surprise of the year was probably the birth, in Mexico, of a baby who was conceived following controversial mitochondrial manipulation (“3-parent IVF”). The location was chosen by a New York-based fertility doctor who noted that in Mexico “there are no rules.” Since 3-person IVF is technically a form of inheritable genetic modification, one big question is whether its increasing use and normalization will open the door to wider acceptance of gene editing for human reproduction.

The gene editing shockwaves of 2015 – when Crispr was first applied in human embryos, and controversy about the prospect of using it for human reproduction became explicit – developed into a somewhat more predictable flood of activity and comment in 2016. The big, and unfortunate, news here is perhaps the non-news: the absence of any significant efforts to encourage public participation in deliberations about whether powerful new genetic manipulation tools should be used in efforts to control the traits of future children and generations.

The most consequential news of the year for biopolitics as for so much else may well turn out to be the US presidential election result, but the consequences themselves remain somewhat unclear. Trump’s comments about having “the right genes” are ominous warning signs, which are perhaps getting worse, as partly described below.

Cross-border commercial surrogacy was in the news this year because of scandals, disputes, and changes in the laws of several nations where it had taken hold. Commercial pressures were particularly apparent in the slick marketing being used to promote egg freezing among young women with no fertility problems.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.