Thursday 3 March 2011

Eugenics is an enduring part of fallen human nature, says leading international bioethicist

Today I am with clergy in London who are being addressed by Fr John Fleming, SPUC's bioethical consultant, as part of the latest series of clergy information days organised by SPUC up and down the country. Fr Fleming's presentation is entitled: "Eugenics - an enduring part of  fallen human nature". His full presentation can be read here on the SPUC website, but below is an executive summary:
From very early on in human society, those human beings judged to be “unworthy of life” have been at great risk of being marginalized and even killed by mainstream society.

Eugenics is expressed in two forms:
  1. Positive eugenics which encourages “good” parents to have more children
  2. Negative eugenics which discourages or coerces the “unfit” from reproducing their own “kind”.
Plato encouraged both forms of eugenics in order to build a state which was better capable of defending itself against the enemy, better able to contribute intellectually and better able to participate sensibly in the affairs of the state.

Christianity was opposed to practices such as the jettisoning of ‘weak’ children by their parents.  These babies were collected by Christians and cared for by them.  The Christian faith was the key factor in the development of western culture which saw an end to the lawful practices of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

Since the Enlightenment and especially from the time of Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century there has been an increased interest in the practices of eugenics.  Social Darwinism influenced many intellectuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Nazi eugenics programme began quickly because the German medical profession had already been radicalised by notions of “racial hygiene” and the desirability of ridding society of “useless eaters”.  The racist aspect of Nazi eugenics was inspired by other factors.

It was also the case that intellectuals in the ‘civilised’ and ‘democratic’ countries were also attracted to eugenics.  These intellectuals included people like Bertrand Russell, Julian Huxley, and a whole host of others. Indeed it is fair to say that eugenicism has been driven in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by intellectuals and their allies in the mass media.

Eugenic abortion is predicated on the idea that there are some human lives which are not worthy to be lived. It is now widely accepted that there are people whose lives are so blighted by old age, sickness, or disability that they would be better off dead. This is the principle that lies behind the current drive for legalised euthanasia.

Even some of those who would describe themselves as ‘pro-life’, nevertheless support eugenic abortion and the right of the medical profession to discontinue food and fluids to those patients reckoned to be living useless and burdensome lives.

While eugenicism bites deep into the psychology of many human beings, it has often been prevented from expressing itself by social standards. Those standards are now being increasingly undermined such that the eugenic impulse to rid the world of social and economically burdensome people has gained an almost unstoppable momentum.
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