Not so, says Alexandre Erler at Practical Ethics, one of my new favorite blogs, on a post about Britain allowing reprogenetics:

To come now to the worry about “back door eugenics”, it is unfortunate that the term “eugenics” has become a dirty word due to its association with some of the darkest pages of Western history in the past two centuries, and particularly Nazi Germany. The eugenics charge only appears to carry weight because it implicitly understands the term as referring to the horrendous ways in which eugenics have been practiced in the past, i.e. to the compulsory sterilization of thousands of people considered “unfit” in America and Nazi Germany. But this shows that the charge relies on equivocation. Indeed, the genetic test that we are discussing doesn’t involve sterilizing anyone. Its aim is to avoid that children be born with one of a number of handicapping and dangerous diseases. This clearly isn’t Nazi eugenics. If it is eugenics, then it is so in another sense, i.e. it allows us to diminish the likelihood that children will be born with certain features we judge undesirable; and we judge them undesirable because they are likely to be seriously harmful to their well-being. If the word is used in this sense, the claim that using the test in our reproductive decisions would be eugenics does not constitute an objection at all. One might as well argue that the state should not coerce its citizens in any manner, even when they murder each other or refuse to pay their taxes, because coercive policies have been used by the Third Reich and other totalitarian regimes, and they were heinous.

Eugenics simply means “good genes.” The problem has been, and will continue to be, who defines “good.” So long as it is an individual, well informed decision, and coercion and force are kept out of the equation – I think we can enjoy the benefits of eugenics without the horror of the past.

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