By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JULY 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The idea that some people are genetically inferior, and need to be eliminated or prevented from reproducing, is a mentality that still persists, despite the battering it took after the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
In a revealing interview published July 12 in the New York Times Magazine Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States was asked about abortion, among other topics.
Referring to the Supreme Court decision that opened the doors to abortion, Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions about abortion funding, Ginsburg commented: "Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."
This amazing statement was not elaborated on, and there was no explanation of which groups might fall into the sectors "we don't want to have too many of."
In an opinion article published July 14 by the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg admitted that the text could be interpreted as a mere description of the mentality behind the decisions, and so we are not certain if Ginsburg endorses this approach.
Nevertheless, he continued, it certainly is true that the push for abortion owed a lot to a desire to eliminate those seen as unfit. It's well known, he said, that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, "was a racist eugenicist of the first order."
Just last month the sad history of forced sterilizations was commemorated in North Carolina.
An aluminum sign was unveiled in Raleigh as a memorial to the thousands of people who were sterilized from 1933 to 1973 because they were considered mentally disabled or genetically inferior, reported the Associated Press, June 22.
According to the article, North Carolina's program targeted the poor and people living in prisons and state institutions, among others. Some were simply victims of rape. The state Eugenics Commission still continued until 1977, after which the mentally ill were placed under the court system.
Sterilization programs are not only a matter of historical interest. On June 22, the Guardian newspaper reported that women in Africa with HIV are being coerced into being sterilized.
Apparently, they are told that the procedure is a routine treatment for AIDS. The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS is preparing a court case against the Namibian government on behalf of a group HIV-positive women in Namibia who were sterilized against their will.
The Guardian also reported that campaigners say there is coerced sterilization in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and South Africa.
The eugenics mentality is very widespread, albeit in a subtler form, when it comes to those who are handicapped or suffer from genetic defects. Often these people are simply eliminated before they have a chance to be born.
Scientific developments promise to intensify the threat to these handicapped. On July 1, the London-based Times newspaper reported that researchers are developing a universal genetic test for embryos that will be able to screen for almost any inherited disease.
Trials will begin shortly and Professor Alan Handyside, of the Bridge Clinic in London, explained to the Times that the test will be capable of identifying any of the 15,000 known genetic disorders. Currently only 2% of genetic defects can be picked up by embryo screening.
The article commented that this technique, known as karyomapping, will deepen the controversy over "designer babies." It appears that the test could also be used to select an embryo with a particular eye color, or with genes that affect height.
Nevertheless, checking for the many genes that control the diverse facets of development would be difficult to carry out in practice as hundreds of embryos would be needed to guarantee the desired profile.
It's already common practice to eliminate embryos or fetuses that suffer from Down Syndrome. Dominic Lawson criticized this tendency in an opinion article published by the British newspaper, the Independent, last Nov. 25.
Lawson, who has a child of his own with Down Syndrome, noted, however, some signs of change. He quoted Carol Boys, the chief executive of the Down Syndrome Association, who said that about 40% of mothers who test positive for Down Syndrome are refusing to terminate the pregnancy.
In part, Boys explained, this is linked to the fact that women are tending to have children later in life. This means they are more conscious that they may not be able to have any other children. As well, these women have an established career of their own, that gives them more confidence in standing up to the pressures from doctors to have an abortion.
According to Lawson, doctors in general have "a visceral bias in favor of eugenic termination."
"This is not based on a realistic and up-to-date assessment of the possibilities open to those with Down Syndrome, still less of the happiness which such people can and do bring to families, and even communities as a whole," Lawson added.
The cause of such an attitude is based on the fact that people with Down Syndrome are going to be more costly for the health system, he accused.
New genetic tests are looming for Down Syndrome too, an article in the online section of the American Spectator announced on June 8. Sequenom, a company that makes genetic analysis products, has developed a new genetic test for Down syndrome.
The test, called SEQureDX, is supposed to be safer and more accurate than any previous prenatal genetic test.
"Though the new tests are safer for both mother and child, they will create a profoundly unsafe environment for babies who test positive for genetic abnormalities," the article stated.
At least three other companies are developing similar genetic tests and hope to have them on the market by the end of the year, the article noted.
The promise of more accurate tests points to a fact not often given prominence, namely that sometimes perfectly healthy babies are aborted due to errors in genetic testing. According to a May 16 article from the Guardian newspaper, Dr. Anne Mackie, the head of screening programs for the U.K.'s National Health Service, estimated 146 healthy babies a year in England who do not have any abnormality are lost as a result of inaccurate test results.
According to Mackie, 70% of hospitals in England still use tests that are more likely to give a "false positive," that is, assessing women wrongly as at high risk.
On Feb. 21, Benedict XVI spoke to participants in a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life on the theme "New Frontiers of Genetics and the Danger of Eugenics."
Every human being, the Pontiff affirmed, "is far more than a unique combination of genetic information that is transmitted by his or her parents."
We must beware of the risks involved in eugenics, the Holy Father warned. He observed that today there are "disturbing manifestations of this odious practice" that are appearing.
There is, he explained, "a tendency to give priority to functional ability, efficiency, perfection, and physical beauty, to the detriment of life's other dimensions which are deemed unworthy."
"The respect that is due to every human being, even bearing a developmental defect or a genetic disease that might manifest itself during life, is thus weakened while children whose life is considered not worth living are penalized from the moment of conception," the Pope commented.
Benedict XVI urged that any form of discrimination be rejected as an attack on the whole of humanity. A call to action that should awaken consciences around the world.