Thursday, 3 November 2011

Eugenics rules in Europe, three generations after Nazism

Doris Stump
Daniel Blackman, one of SPUC's researchers, has sent me his report (below) on a recent debate in the Parliamentary Assmembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the subject of sex selection (see SPUC's alert of 28 September). We can see that eugenics now rules in Europe, three generations after the defeat of the Nazi regime: 
"The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently passed resolution 1829 (2011) “Prenatal Sex selection”, which aims to outlaw the practice of prenatal and preimplanation genetic screening to determine the sex of the child with a view to terminating his or her life. The resolution will be forwarded to the Committee of Ministers, representing the PACE member-states. The resolution was put forward by Doris Stump, a Swiss socialist . The issue of sex-selective abortion and embryo destruction received particular criticism in the context of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, who are members of PACE. The resolution calls on member-states to introduce legislation and clinical guidelines that prohibit sex-selective abortion and embryo destruction.

However, the resolution contains strongly eugenic clauses that discriminate against the disabled. It states that sex-selective abortion should be prohibited:
“unless justified for the prevention of serious sex-linked genetic diseases”
“except when it is justified to avoid a serious hereditary disease”.
An example is that of Turner’s syndrome which almost exclusively affects females. It is not life-threatening, and can be managed in a way that allows girls and women to lead fulfilled lives. In Britain at least 2,290 babies were aborted on disability grounds in 2010. The recommendation attached to the resolution cites a eugenic and discriminatory section of the Oviedo Convention on Biomedicine along the same lines. Luca Volonte, leader of the European People's Party (EPP), put forward an amendment to have one of these eugenic clauses removed, arguing that prenatal sex selection would still discriminate against girls if they were found to have a genetic disorder. The amendment was rejected, revealing that the support for abortion was greater than the support for human rights.

The debate was mistakenly framed within the context of gender equality, rather than human rights. Within that context abortion was defended as a woman’s right. As the rapporteur Doris Stump said:
“It is difficult because it touches on an area that we do not want to question: the right to have an abortion in countries where they have that. At the same time, everyone accepts that there is a problem in our societies with sex selection, or we could have a problem if we go on like this.”
The gender equality framework and eugenic clause came under criticism from Mr Rochebloine, a French EPP delegate :
“It was claimed that sex selection had its roots in cultural sex discrimination, including violence against women. The absurdity of such claims would became obvious if one turned the issue around and tried to promote female births. Men and women should be respected for their individual qualities Prenatal selection should be opposed, whether to select the sex of a baby or to avoid giving birth to a handicapped child. Condemnation of the practice should be based on an absolute conviction of children’s right to be born. Respect for that principle was the source of social cohesion and moral force.”
Mr. Vareikis, a delegate from Lithuania, rightly brought attention the issue of family as the context for children, not IVF procedures. Children must be conceived and raised in the family based on one man and one woman in marriage. A child should not become the property of the pregnant mother who can dispose of the child. He said:
"We have to change our spirit and our understanding of what the family is. The solution lies in the attitude to family life. Family is not for GDP creation: it is not for the production of boys or members of the work force. Family, as we say, is the soul of society, and we have no statistical proof that families with more boys are happier than families with more girls. It is a stupid attitude to think that families are happier with more boys. We have to have – I am sorry, I am very romantic – more children, more natural family planning, more natural love, more natural sex. We would be happy without any reports about how to ban sex selection."
The resolution, including its eugenic clauses, was passed 81 in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstaining. The recommendation, which carries the resolution to the Committee of Ministers, was passed 82 in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstaining. Luca Volonte was one of the three delegates to vote against the recommendation.
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