Human Genetic Technology, Eugenics, and Social Justice

The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 1 (4):555-581 (2001)
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In this new post-genomic age of medicine and biomedical technology, there will be novel approaches to understanding disease, and to finding drugs and cures for diseases. Hundreds of new “disease genes” thought to be the causative agents of various genetic maladies will be identified and added to the list of hundreds of such genes already identified. Based on this knowledge, many new genetic tests will be developed and used in genetic screening programs. Genetic screening is the foundation upon which reproductive technologies such as pre-natal diagnosis (PND) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) are based. Genetic information arising from the human genome may also be used in attempts to redesign the human genetic inheritance by engineering the human germline (germline engineering). In each of these technologies—PND, PGD, and germline engineering—there are serious ethical and social concerns. Moreover, all three are eugenic in nature because they strive to control which genes are passed down to future generations. The goals of this article are threefold: 1) to introduce the science behind the three technologies; 2) to give a brief overview of eugenics in the past century and show how these genetic technologies are eugenic; and 3) to present a vision of social justice that rejects the genetic determinism upon which eugenics is based and embraces a holistic, ecological view of nature and humanity.

Author's Profile

W. Malcolm Byrnes
Howard University


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