June 20, 2009
Downs Pregnancy Abortion Rates Show New Eugenics

Imperial College researcher Armand Marie Leroi looks at the future of neo-eugenics.

Every year, 4.1 million babies are born in the USA. On the basis of the well-known risk of Down syndrome, about 6,150 of these babies would be expected to suffer from this genetic condition, which is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. In reality, only about 4,370 babies are born with Down syndrome; the others have been aborted during pregnancy. These estimates are based on a prevalence rate of 0.15% and an abortion rate of about 29% of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome in Atlanta, GA (Siffel et al, 2004), and Hawaii (Forrester & Merz, 2002)—the only two US locations for which reliable data are available. Data from other regions are similar or even higher: 32% of Down syndrome fetuses were aborted in Western Australia (Bourke et al, 2005); 75% in South Australia (Cheffins et al, 2000); 80% in Taiwan (Jou et al, 2005); and 85% in Paris, France (Khoshnood et al, 2004). Despite this trend, the total number of babies born with Down syndrome is not declining in most industrialized nations because both the number of older mothers and the conception rate is increasing.

You might object to all this on ethical grounds. But at least in some industrialized countries you would be in a distinct minority.

The 85% abortion rate for Downs fetuses in Paris is amazing for 2 reasons. First off, it implies that at very least 85% of all pregnancies in Paris get genetically tested for abnormalities. This is happening even though the number of genetic defects currently detectable by embryo testing is still pretty low. Second, the overwhelming number of women informed of a Downs fetus elect to abort.

This willingness to test at such a high rate and to act on the information suggests that once a much larger number of genetic defects and variations are detectable in embryos selective abortion will be used to greatly speed up human evolution. That speed-up is going to take place in the 2010s as the meaning of many more genetic variations becomes known every year.

As advances in genetic research leads to the identification and easy testing for a much larger number of defects and features this will change popular views on selective abortion. As more people can see a personal benefit (getting children closer to your ideal) from selective abortion more will decide it is not such a bad thing after all. Mind you, I'm not arguing that sort of reasoning is correct or incorrect. It is just that when people see a personal benefit from a choice they tend to look at that choice in a different light.

The vast bulk of the Downs babies avoided above are done via abortion of pregnancies which were initiated by conventional sexual intercourse. But once it becomes possible to test embryos for a large number of genetic defects and features then the focus of selection will shift to choosing between embryos created via in vitro fertilization (IVF). Why? IVF will provide many more embryos to select among. Rather than doing thumbs up or thumbs down on just a single embryo in a woman IVF can produce one or two dozen embryos. This will greatly increase the odds that prospective parents can find an embryo that combines the most desired genetic features of both parents.

So first comes the discovery of the functional significance of large numbers (tens or hundreds of thousands) of genetic variations. Then comes the shift to IVF to allow selection between a much bigger set of choices.

The third step after IVF embryo selection will involve development of ways to go thru much larger numbers of combinations of each parent's chromosomes before fertilization to get just the combination of parental genetic contributions that is most desired. Highly automated methods of predicting or measuring the genetic sequences in a sperm or egg will allow sorting thru large numbers of sperm or eggs (which could be generated from adult cells in a lab) to identify the most deal sperm to fertilize into the most ideal egg.

After that comes gene therapy to provide offspring with some genetic sequences that neither parent has.

As more biotechnology comes along to provide more powerful ways to choose genetic endowment for offspring I expect most will embrace this biotechnology and the human race's evolution will speed up by orders of magnitude more than the huge evolution acceleration of the last 10,000 years.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 June 20 10:34 PM  Bioethics Reproduction


Comments
buffpilot said at June 21, 2009 6:36 AM:

The 85% abortion rate for Downs fetuses in Paris is amazing for 2 reasons. First off, it implies that at very least 85% of all pregnancies in Paris get genetically tested for abnormalities.

No, It means that 85% of the 0.15 incident of people with Down's syndrom have been checked. Less than 1%...

Brett Bellmore said at June 21, 2009 6:53 AM:

"But once it becomes possible to test embryos for a large number of genetic defects and features then the focus of selection will shift to choosing between embryos created via in vitro fertilization (IVF)."

This would also require that the cost of IVF drop rather substantially. If there's one thing conception by the natural route is, it's cheap. IVF in the US currently costs about $10,000 per cycle, and you might need several cycles to actually get a pregnancy. That's in the price range where most people wouldn't even think of resorting to IVF unless they were having trouble conceiving, and people of average means would seriously consider adopting.

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2009 8:17 AM:

buffpilot,

Sure, all the women who are not carrying a Downs fetus know not to get genetically checked. Okay, how do they do that?

The best argument I can see against my statement is that perhaps older women are getting checked at a rate higher than 85% and younger women at a rate lower than 85% with a net average below 85%. But I doubt it is much below 85%.

Brett Bellmore,

The upper income folks will do IVF first. But $10k is nothing compared to what a couple will eventually spend on college or what they spend on housing. A substantial fraction of the population (at least a quarter and probably higher) will view smart, healthy, good looking children with pleasant personalities as worth $10k each. Look at what people spend to adopt abroad.

kurt9 said at June 21, 2009 10:03 AM:

The social conservatives go psycho over this. However, as the recent presidential election has made clear, they are an waning influence. The Christian right will decline into insignificance in another 10 years or so.

Mthson said at June 21, 2009 10:41 AM:

Social conservatives do seem to be at a general disadvantage because modern intellectualism is increasingly complex, but they skew toward anti-intellectualism, eschewing academia and the sciences.

However, their fertility rate has been much higher than other groups for a long time, so I would expect their numbers to continue to grow. I assume Obama will be re-elected through 2016 (I'll link to this comment at that time), but it will be interesting to see if social conservatives can launch a comeback in the 2010s, similar to that led by Newt Gingrich in the 90s. Will any comeback they launch end soon after, though, similar to the self-sabotages of Gingrich and Bush?

The Undiscovered Jew said at June 21, 2009 11:48 AM:

Highly automated methods of predicting or measuring the genetic sequences in a sperm or egg will allow sorting thru large numbers of sperm or eggs (which could be generated from adult cells in a lab) to identify the most deal sperm to fertilize into the most ideal egg.

Is there a way to test unfertilized ova for its genetic makeup that does not destroy the oocyte?

The social conservatives go psycho over this.

There might be some initial restrictions on the procedure because everyone will be shocked by its newness.

However, the bans will not last long because the elites of society (such as scientists and business leaders) will want to use this technology to stop regression to the mean and guarantee their high IQs are passed on to their children.

The elites will chip away at the restrictions either with lobbying Congress to put loopholes in the legislation or by using lawsuits in Court to steadily erode the restrictions on PGD.

If the elites want to use this technology, they will find a way to use it regardless of any religious objections.

Btw, third world elites will also want to use ART technology, apparently to make their children more Nordic looking:

Actress’ sperm donor pregnancy stirs debate

Denmark sperm vs boyfriend

Özkul already has a boyfriend but she did not have children from him. She chose to apply to a sperm bank because her boyfriend already had children and did not want another one. She used a donor’s sperm from Denmark instead of her boyfriend’s. She said in her relationships, none of her boyfriends wanted children or more children than they already had.

"If I want to see respect in my decision to have children, then I should respect my partner’s decision to not have children," she said. This is when she stopped expecting her partner to be her baby’s father. Then she said she understood that she had to deal with this problem by herself.


snip

Most of the donors at the center in Cyprus are from northern European countries, said Özkul. "In fact, they told me that Turks prefer blond donors since they want blond babies. But I preferred a rather fair colored donor to make my baby look more like me," she said.

jimm said at June 21, 2009 1:40 PM:

Early abortions will increase, but the social conservatives are winning the argument when it comes to late term abortion which more and more people recognize as especially cruel and horrific. There are still some hold-outs, like the vile and morally repugnant Obama, but late-term abortions will relatively soon be a dark stain on our nations history, much like slavery.

Aki_Izayoi said at June 21, 2009 2:08 PM:

If the social conservatives are gone, I suppose some people on the left would use this for their own agendas. They would probably subsidize or mandate access to these programs. I suppose in the Nordic Countries (which originally practiced eugenics too such as sterilization) wouls also use this and have it subsidized.


I wouldn't be surprised if the people in the NAACP (appropriately named) and La Raza use this for the advancement of their race.

I suppose the end result would be a more egalitarian society if everyone used this. I suppose it is easier to manipulate a population with an average IQ of 100 having an IQ of 130 than it is to manipulate a population of 115 IQ with an IQ of 145. I suppose the marginal utility of IQ decreases beyond the two sigma range. Higher IQs would allow the proles (who would have an average IQ of 115) to initiate effective reverse dominant hierarchies to prevent the elites from consoldiating power since they would understand society more clearly.

docmerlin said at June 21, 2009 7:55 PM:

In france they play with their statistics, if the doctor kills the child at birth I believe it counts as an abortion in the stats. Also, if the child dies shortly after birth, it doesn't count as an infant mortality. Don't trust any government medical statistics from france. Their definitions are fudged for political purposes.

Mercy Vetsel said at June 22, 2009 7:55 AM:

Kurt9 wrote:

The social conservatives go psycho over this. However, as the recent presidential election has made clear, they are an waning influence. The Christian right will decline into insignificance in another 10 years or so.

Ha! Guess again.

First, the secular left is considerably more fascist in just about every area than the so called religious right. For example, in the U.S. there is currently greater freedom for IVF and cloning than in Europe.

Second, consider the fact that abortion is illegal in most parts of Mexico. If you look at the demographic trend and birth rates, it unfortunately favors economic populists and the religious. So we're going to get much more of a socially conservative religious left in the future.

BTW, excellent post. It already costs $10,000 in hospital bill to give birth. For the middle class or at least the upper-middle $10,000 for effective genetic screening is a no-brainer, even if you have to travel overseas to have it done.

We definitely have Gattaca in our near future (that is the genetic screening parts of the movie, not the space travel).

-Mercy

kurt9 said at June 22, 2009 11:36 AM:

However, their fertility rate has been much higher than other groups for a long time, so I would expect their numbers to continue to grow.

I read this all the time on the net. This is based on the assumption that kids always take after their parents in political beliefs. However, the boomers certainly did not share their parents' political beliefs.

First, the secular left is considerably more fascist in just about every area than the so called religious right. For example, in the U.S. there is currently greater freedom for IVF and cloning than in Europe.

This is certainly true and is an unavoidable aspect of socialized medicine. However, another unavoidable aspect of socialized medicine is the emphasis on controlling costs and the inevitable emphasis on allowing only "healthy" births. You see, if the tax payer is put on the hook for paying for other peoples' kids, it creates an incentive for them to ensure that only "healthy" kids are born. It is well known in bioethics circles that socialized medicine favors a certain kind of eugenics.

Aki_Izayoi said at June 22, 2009 2:13 PM:

Kurt,

randall said that eugenics reduced the number of down syndrome births in denmark. also... i said that sweden used to have eugenics programs such as sterilization.

I hope the side of socialized medicine wins in the early 2020s or late 2010s. Right now seems to be too early.

mabirch926 said at June 22, 2009 3:35 PM:

"You might object to all this on ethical grounds. But at least in some industrialized countries you would be in a distinct minority."
I suppose the intent of this statement is to say that standards of behavior, especially those behaviors that may be constrained by government opposition or encouraged by government support, should be determined by majority vote.

"This willingness to test at such a high rate and to act on the information suggests that once a much larger number of genetic defects and variations are detectable in embryos selective abortion will be used to greatly speed up human evolution." & "As more biotechnology comes along to provide more powerful ways to choose genetic endowment for offspring I expect most will embrace this biotechnology and the human race's evolution will speed up by orders of magnitude more than the huge evolution acceleration of the last 10,000 years."
To speed up human evolution implies that previously non-existent traits caused by a change in the human genome will be identified and preserved through eugenic selection. Since a previously unknown trait couldn't be correlated with a desirable outcome, the most likely choice would be for the selector to choose against the birth of a child having that genetic anomaly. For genetic sequences whose outcome is already known, the outcome of eugenic selection would be to either slow the incorporation of damaged genetic material in the population or to narrow genetic variation by selecting away from traits deemed, at the time, to be not desirable.

Lastly, even if such technology were available, why does anyone reading this suppose that such choices would be left up to each set of parents? Given the complexity of the tech, it seems inevitable that those in power would use such selective techniques to perpetuate the traits that they saw as desirable for their own ends. (Lot's of Sci-fi authors of have explored this concept. Makes pretty gloomy reading.)

Let's hope it doesn't happen - it would be a nightmare, not a paradise.

mabirch926 said at June 22, 2009 3:40 PM:

Mthson said at June 21, 2009 10:41 AM:

"Social conservatives do seem to be at a general disadvantage because modern intellectualism is increasingly complex, but they skew toward anti-intellectualism, eschewing academia and the sciences."

Simple bigotry and self congratulatory arrogance.

Jonathan said at June 22, 2009 4:04 PM:

This doesn't surprise me. If my wife and I found out our baby was a downs syndrome baby, we would abort it. Same with any other serious handicap. Of course we would have this testing done as early as possible as I think that is the most ethical thing to do. I have talked with many other couples who feel the same.

Mthson said at June 22, 2009 4:49 PM:

"Simple bigotry and self congratulatory arrogance."

It's uncontroversial to note that some groups tend to reject the theory of evolution, as well as things like fruit fly research, etc. Simply denying it doesn't seem like a constructive way forward.

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2009 6:43 PM:

Mercy Vetsel,

The fertility rate of Hispanics in Mexico is 2.4 whereas when they come here their fertility rate rises to 3.0.

Audacious Epigone chomping on some numbers from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the GSS reveals that higher fertility of religious couples makes up for any virginity of single Christians. The faithful are out-breeding the unbelievers. However, the huge Hispanic influx is shifting the country leftward far faster than white conservative Christians are making babies.

So I suspect Kurt9 is right that the conservative Christians have waning influence.

I am expecting that selective abortion to filter for higher IQ, better looks, etc will widen the gap between the more affluent smarties and the less affluent dummies. The smarties will embrace eugenic reproduction with more enthusiasm and be able to afford it. They'll do more planning and make better decisions. So the distribution of intelligence should widen in the US even faster than it already is.

mabirch926 said at June 22, 2009 6:46 PM:

It is controversial to simply assign an entire political demographic to "anti-intellectualism", academic eschewment, and ,implied, scientific ignorance. And then bring up fruit fly research?

mabirch926 said at June 22, 2009 7:14 PM:

Now, to the most pernicious part of this post. The position that Down's syndrome babies, and by extension Down's syndrome adults, are not worthy of life. That they should be killed early to prevent their existence. They are not really, really human and thus as worthy of protection, cherishing, and life itself as Randall and the others who agree with him.

Some quotes from http://www.ndss.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59:myths-and

"Myth: People with Down syndrome are severely “retarded.”
Truth: Most people with Down syndrome have IQs that fall in the mild to moderate range of intellectual disability (formerly known as “retardation”). Children with Down syndrome fully participate in public and private educational programs. Educators and researchers are still discovering the full educational potential of people with Down syndrome.

Myth: Most people with Down syndrome are institutionalized.
Truth: Today people with Down syndrome live at home with their families and are active participants in the educational, vocational, social, and recreational activities of the community. They are integrated into the regular education system and take part in sports, camping, music, art programs and all the other activities of their communities. People with Down syndrome are valued members of their families and their communities, contributing to society in a variety of ways."

To those who, in this string of comments, have casually supported the hideous, pre-meditated slaughter of any human because they are not genetically perfect I can only say that your attitude is appalling. I sincerely hope that you come to your senses. Your viewpoint is EXACTLY that of the Nazis. EXACTLY. They, too, wanted to improve the race. Their race. To their specifications. Everything they did followed from that beginning.

Mthson said at June 22, 2009 8:38 PM:

Mabirch,

You're right that there would be good reason to defend a group of people from being unfairly labeled anti-intellectual if the labeling merely resulted from political tribalism. However, in order to show that social conservatives don't trend toward anti-intellectualism, you'd have to show (just to begin the conversation) that they haven't been opposing the theory of evolution in recent history.

Saying you'd prefer someone doesn't trend toward anti-intellectualism isn't the same as saying someone doesn't in reality trend toward anti-intellectualism.

These things are a matter of statistics ("trend"), not passionately held opinions that can't change.

Whether or not social groups trend toward anti-intellectualism isn't merely a detail which can be swept under the rug; it has a broad effect on their ability to navigate a world of increasing intellectual complexity.

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2009 10:15 PM:

Mthson,

Social conservatives oppose the theory of evolution? I think you should be more precise with your labels. The Catholic Church accepts evolution and quite a few social conservatives are Catholic. Also, opposition to the theory of evolution isn't consistent across all Protestant denominations either.

Anti-intellectualism: I also think that's a poor choice of label. Some of the people who deny evolution are intellectuals and do not deny obvious truths in other areas. It is more like they've got a blind spot.

I see a big problem with anti-empiricism on the Left and Right. The topics where the blind spots exist differ from one side to the other. But substantial fractions on both sides have their areas of reality denial.

One reason why people reject reality is because they have a limited capacity to understand it. People are innumerate mostly because few possess the capacity for highly quantitative reasoning. Assorted cognitive biases as a result of evolution make the problem even worse.

Mthson said at June 22, 2009 11:31 PM:

Point taken, Randall.

I think, though, we (on the Left and Right) are much more willing to passively maintain our blind spots in the face of a shift in the balance of evidence than we're willing to actually be called anti-intellectual. If it does have utility in that way, I think using the term anti-intellectual is defensible when a position can only be maintained by disregarding a vast set of empirical arguments. I think both the Left and Right would enjoy improvement in those areas, and it limits the risk of ending up on the wrong side of history.

Jake said at June 23, 2009 5:04 PM:

@mabirch926

I agree that at would be wrong to kill a down syndrome baby once it was born, but discovering the disability early in the pregnancy (1st trimester) allows the fetus to be aborted before the brain is formed. It essence, it is like euthanizing a frog as both creatures have similar intelligence.

Randall Parker said at June 23, 2009 7:05 PM:

mabirch926,

Whack those strawmen! Whack them good and hard.

JBS7460 said at June 24, 2009 5:34 AM:

Explain why these increased targeted abortions will "speed up evolution"? Is not evolution propelled by random mutations? If all babies are born just like their parents, wouldn't there be zero evolution? Thanks.

painlord2k said at June 24, 2009 8:26 AM:

Because evolution need mutations AND selection. Without selection, the mutation will often be lost.
Strong selective pressure is able to radically speed-up evolution, because it prevent unfit individuals from reproducing or from reproducing as fast as more fit individuals.
If people with lower intelligence die faster and have less offspring the IQ of the population will grow with the time as the traits that make someone dumber are selected against.

Randall Parker said at June 25, 2009 6:44 PM:

JBS7460, what painlord2k said.

We have millions of genetic variations already. We have enormous differences in personalities, intelligence, appearances, athletic prowess, and other characteristics due to genetic differences. There are plenty to select among.

Engineer-Poet said at June 25, 2009 8:16 PM:

The idiocy is strong in jimm:

the social conservatives are winning the argument when it comes to late term abortion which more and more people recognize as especially cruel and horrific.
You mean, like stopping the fetus's heart with a drug injection before the rest of the procedure?  What kind of cruelty can you commit on something that is beyond sensation?  Are autopsies cruel?  Why aren't you up in arms over the selective abortion of female fetuses prevalent among Asians, even in the USA?

And another example, from mabirch926:

The position that Down's syndrome babies, and by extension Down's syndrome adults, are not worthy of life.
Have you bought into the dogma that fetus==baby, or hasn't your thought process even gotten that far?  There are lots of differences between a 20-odd week fetus and a baby, starting with the fact that one needs a surrogate womb with intensive intervention and the other needs kindness and a wet nurse.  And I note that you omit the often severe PHYSICAL abnormalities associated with Down's, requiring painful surgery to correct (if they are correctable), plus the typical onset of Alzheimer's in their 40's.  You'd force them to endure that?  You hater!

You religious freaks never cease to amaze me.  I can literally not grasp how you can parrot dogma that makes no sense whatsoever.  There is zero evidence of a thought process at work.  It's as if you're against abortion because you are afraid that you would have been aborted due to anencephaly!  And maybe you should have been, at that. <VBEG>

Mthson said at June 26, 2009 10:10 AM:

The abortion debate seems somewhat temporary, because in time, the people who would be getting abortions will instead be designing babies in the lab and using next generation birth control to avoid unintended fertilization.

mabirch926 said at June 26, 2009 10:47 AM:

To Engineer-Poet
You said "Have you bought into the dogma that fetus==baby, or hasn't your thought process even gotten that far?"

Yes it is true that an unborn baby is unable to sustain its own life without the support of the mother's womb.

Yes I know that it is modern parlance to use the word "fetus" to refer to a baby not yet born and the word "baby" to child after it has been delivered. (fetus Look up fetus at Dictionary.com
1398, from L. fetus "the bearing, bringing forth, or hatching of young," from L. base *fe- "to generate, bear," also "to suck, suckle" ) This parlance is used by people with your position to presumptively assert that the unborn child and the born child are INNATELY different.

I also know that your position would be that the "personhood" for the as yet unborn child occurs at some point in their physical development and is not innate. I disagree. The child, if left unmolested, will complete their physical development and come to birth. What will be born is indisputably human at that point and I see no way to say that they were not human throughout their development in the womb.

mabirch926 said at June 26, 2009 11:01 AM:

Again, to Engineer-Poet

You said, "You religious freaks never cease to amaze me. I can literally not grasp how you can parrot dogma that makes no sense whatsoever. There is zero evidence of a thought process at work. It's as if you're against abortion because you are afraid that you would have been aborted due to anencephaly! And maybe you should have been, at that. "

While your language in this part of your post is quite insulting and even deliberately cruel it does highlight quite nicely the progressive application of your world view. On the one hand, my defense of the idea that people, even unborn children, should not have their right to live based on the perfection of their health has caused you, possibly in jest, to wish for my death. On the other hand, my world view leads me to now forgive you your vitriol and murderous thoughts and commit to defending both your freedom to say such things and your right to live.

I sincerely hope that your inability to understand that thought process is remedied at some point in your future.

mabirch926 said at June 26, 2009 11:14 AM:

And once more to Engineer-Poet

You said "And I note that you omit the often severe PHYSICAL abnormalities associated with Down's, requiring painful surgery to correct (if they are correctable), plus the typical onset of Alzheimer's in their 40's. You'd force them to endure that? You hater!"

You seem to think that I rejoice in the difficulties and pain that the child with Down's syndrome endures and that the extra work and sorrows endured by their parents is a matter of indifference to me. Absolutely not. My obligation at the sight of human suffering is to help. Not eliminate those who suffer. I doubt that you have personally extended your logic this far yet, but if physical problems that require surgery to correct or the eventual onset of Alzheimer's or any other present or potential physical difficulty is cause for the abortion of a Down's syndrome child, why isn't it the cause for the abortion of children without Down's syndrome? Is the age of onset of Alzheimer's the criteria? Is the mental acuity of person requiring the corrective surgery the criteria? Or are you stating that all persons having a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's or needing surgical intervention are unworthy of life? Or wouldn't want to live out the life that they have?

Engineer-Poet said at June 26, 2009 8:36 PM:

mabirch:

I also know that your position would be that the "personhood" for the as yet unborn child occurs at some point in their physical development and is not innate. I disagree.
Aside from using terminology ("unborn child") which implicitly assumes your conclusion, you offer no evidence for your position (which I shall demolish below).
The child, if left unmolested
That's a nice way to dehumanize the woman involved.  What you actually meant is "if the woman is forced to carry the fetus against her will", but saying that would destroy the moral basis of your argument.  You cannot acknowledge her in any way.
will complete their physical development and come to birth.
You mean, unless it's anencephalic or has other serious defects causing death before delivery.  There are also some other facts which are inconvenient for your position:
  • Even under the best of circumstances, between 1/2 and 2/3 of all fertilized ova either fail to implant or abort spontaneously.  Coming to live birth is the exception, not the rule.
  • Identical twins come from a single fertilized ovum.  If personhood is implicit at fertilization and doesn't develop later, where did the "extra" person come from?
  • Sometimes two fertilized ova merge and become a single individual, called a "chimera".  Neither one dies.  This occurs naturally, even in humans.  If personhood is implicit at fertilization, where did the "extra" person go?

When "pro-lifers" are surveyed regarding whether they would prefer to save one live infant or a freezer containing 1000 human embryos, they invariably choose the live infant.  You almost never actually believe what you say you believe.  My contempt for the likes of you comes from the fact that you not only fail to address facts such as these, you refuse to admit that they exist.  It's always "a mystery" and your position is the right one anyway.  I've been calling bullshit on that for close to 3/4 of my life, and I'm not about to stop now.
On the one hand, my defense of the idea that people, even unborn children, should not have their right to live based on the perfection of their health has caused you, possibly in jest, to wish for my death.
I never wished for your death, in jest or otherwise.  All I did is ask what you are afraid of, and postulate a humorous answer.  Your claim above proves that you either lack the wits to understand what I was saying (despite the blatant <VBEG> cue), or you are dishonestly claiming offense without cause in lieu of an argument.  Either reinforces my contempt for the likes of you.
On the other hand, my world view leads me to now forgive you your vitriol and murderous thoughts and commit to defending both your freedom to say such things and your right to live.
I stand behind your right to live, and your right to hold your views.  What I do not grant you is any right to impose your views on others, such as women carrying fetuses they do not wish to bring to term.

When two other people find that their child has Down's, or anencephaly, or Potter's syndrome, or spina bifida, or anything else which leads to severe illness or death, YOU have no right to demand that they follow YOUR dogma.  On the contrary, I believe that people following dogma such as yours should have to pay the public costs of medical treatment that others avoid:  it's called "taking responsibility for your actions".

My obligation at the sight of human suffering is to help. Not eliminate those who suffer.
"Eliminated" is, again, assumed as part of your dogma that there is "someone" there.  If there is no one there yet, the issue isn't elimination, but prevention.  If you could tease out the extra 21st chromosome to prevent Down's, you would effectively eliminate one possible individual and create another.  Would anyone be "killed" by this?  What about anencephaly and other fatal malformations?  Is it mandatory to bring such to birth, so you can watch them die?  (How ghoulish.)

You realize that, in the past, digestive malformations, circulatory malformations, and even Down's were almost invariably fatal.  Modern medicine has given us both the ability to prevent the birth of infants thus afflicted, and to correct some of the consequences.  Which one is wrong, and why?

I have a more complex reaction to human suffering.  Mine includes asking "did this have to happen?"  In the case of obvious errors of nature detectable before birth, my answer is a flat "No".  And yes, given my point of view, I hold people such as you responsible for that which you choose to bring into this world.  The suffering endured by the congenitally impaired children born to people such as you is your fault.

Mojo Bison said at June 26, 2009 8:44 PM:

I hate arriving late to a debate (the one place where it's not fashionable to do it), but I've been reading the comments and I see that no one has invoked Huxley. I'm somewhat disappointed, as I thought it would be obvious (and I'm a dim-witted social conservative, gasp!)

Better prediction, also fiction-inspired: in the only Civilization (game) variant licensed outside by Sid Meiers, Activision produced a really cool version titled CivII: Call To Power. It had a larger military component, and a few bugs (Fascists could get machine guns before they got rifles, making world conquest soooo much easier), but it also had some cool future components, like expanded governmental options. One of my favorites was the write-up for something called Technocracy. Technocracy involved the social elites and government bureaucracies making "an unholy alliance" with scientists and researchers to make themselves into super-men, while using mind-control technology and unlimited pharmaceutical distribution to turn the mass of humanity into drugged sub-human slaves, more or less. Eugenics was part of this process.

Just sayin'... I have little confidence in the willingness of elites to allow the mass of humanity to share in any Great Leap Forward. Cream can't rise to the top if everyone is equally (not so) dense.

Engineer-Poet said at June 27, 2009 5:33 AM:

Randall Parker has written about the phenomenon of the "cognitive elite", which has arisen without any need for mind-control drugs (though media and lowest-common-denominator education have certainly helped).

Mthson said at June 27, 2009 1:21 PM:

Re: "I have little confidence in the willingness of elites to allow the mass of humanity to share in any Great Leap Forward."

The US has a culture that's the most free market, least socialist among wealthy nations, and even here, we seem to currently be in a shift to the left economically. The rising proportion of Latinos and African Americans in the US is continuing to drive this shift, and, whether it's good or bad, there's nothing anybody can do it about. (Reprogenetics will make a lot of that debate moot, anyway.) Next generation reproductive care will likely just be included within the infrastructure for single-payer health care.

Anyway, the idea of economic elites being evil seems like it's a bit of a myth. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Ted Turner are some of the most visible of many elites who are concerned for the well-being of society's economically & neurogenetically disenfranchised.

mabirch926 said at June 27, 2009 2:47 PM:

One last comment to Engineer-Poet,

Although you have continuously stated that I wish to coerce people, not only to give birth, but to do anything it is a false accusation. What I am arguing against is the concept that a human being is less than human because they have genetic defects. The choices made by a couple might be different, even in light of a disability for their child, if they held a different view of humanness.

I will note that you have virtually exploded with anger. Words like "freak" and "contempt" are very emotionally laden.

I will agree with you that the application of medicine to help correct or mitigate the outcomes for any sort of disease condition is to be desired. First, do no harm.

Randall Parker said at June 28, 2009 8:06 PM:

mabirch,

What's with the 926?

Regards when a human comes into existence: You think it happens at the moment that a sperm enters an egg? Or when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus? Or at which point exactly?

If the fertilized egg's potential to develop into a human is what makes it a human in your eyes then is the fertilized egg in a petri dish also a human?

mabirch said at June 29, 2009 7:55 PM:

To Randall Parker:
You asked "Regards when a human comes into existence: You think it happens at the moment that a sperm enters an egg? Or when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus? Or at which point exactly?"

That's a very good question. I have several responses.
The first response is to ask you to define what you mean when you use the word 'human'. Not as an avoidance, but to make sure I am answering the question you asked. It becomes the key term.
The second response is to say, honestly, that I do not have an exhaustive and complete knowledge as to when the combination of two separate cell in the sperm and the egg become an individual. And because I don't have that exhaustive and complete knowledge, and because I know that the end result will be, if not interrupted because of natural causes or outside intervention, a human then I would err on the side of caution. I believe that my position would cause you to disagree. If I am wrong then the destruction of the developing embryo does no harm to a human individual. If I am right, and the destruction of the developing embryo in fact does destroy a human individual, then great harm has been done.
The third response would be to turn your question back to you. You must either be very sure that you know precisely when the developing embryo, fetus, unborn child becomes human in your definition, or, if there is any uncertainty, you must not consider the destruction of an unborn, albeit still developing, human individual to be terribly problematic.
Lastly, my response would that your questions, while good and reasonable, are an avoidance of this issue that you have raised in this particular article and my points regarding them. Regarding the selective abortion of diagnosed Down's Syndrome unborn babies (I know, you would prefer the term 'fetus'), the issue isn't whether or not they have a physical imperfection, it is whether or not that physical imperfection is sufficient grounds for intervening and causing them to not be born. And that question leads back to whole question of what it means to be human. (Hence my first response)

Randall Parker said at June 29, 2009 9:49 PM:

mabirch,

I think that in order for a human to exist a human brain has to exist.

If (or perhaps when) technology advances to the point where a body can be kept alive without a head then is that body a human? Does killing it constitute murder? Suppose a person gets beheaded in a car accident and the head is smashed beyond repair. If technology exists that can keep the body alive then are we morally obligated to keep the body alive?

In my view a pretty extensive amount of knowledge about developmental biology is needed to begin a discussion about what's human.

Erring on the safe side: If there's no brain then what sentient being's rights are we violating if we destroy the fetus? In order to call a pre-brain fetus a human one has to either decide that God put a spirit in it or that God just decided we should call pre-brain fetuses humans.

Gotta say, none of the major religions have anything about developmental biology in their base texts that they claim are God's views. The Catholic Church hasn't even been consistent on this point. As recently as the Middle Ages it believed in a "quickening" view of a spirit entering the fetus much later during fetal development.

mabirch said at June 29, 2009 10:10 PM:

Randall Parker:
You said "I think that in order for a human to exist a human brain has to exist"
http://www.drspock.com/article/0,1510,4548,00.html
Week 5:
Eyes are starting to form, a mouth-like opening appears near the "head"; finger and toes are beginning to form. The brain now has three recognizable divisions, as it does in the fully-developed baby and adult.

So, at the least you would agree that by week 5 of gestation the entity in the womb is human?

Randall Parker said at June 30, 2009 10:11 AM:

mabirch,

You are going to have to try harder than that if you want to understand fetal brain development. There's no sentience at that point.

More generally: If you want to look at sentience and explore the concept of rights possessing beings you're going to have to learn far more than you apparently know now. What attributes cause something to be a rights possessing being?

Some hold a religious view to that question. They say a being becomes infused with a spirit. The spirit has rights in their view. You want to go there? If so, I can still throw real world questions at you (as Engineer-Poet did above with chimeras and other developmental events) for you to answer (though you seem to dodge these questions).

If you want to take a more scientific view we can look at when brains start to process information or perhaps when they develop a sense of self and other. That's not at 5 weeks. The question of what is a human is, in my view, wrapped up in the question of what is sentience.

Ayn Rand argued that the essential attribute of a rights possessing being is the ability to reason. I think her definition is a good start but inadequate. The reasoning being also needs attributes which cause it to respect the rights of others.

BTW, you see me speak of rights possessing beings rather than humans. Why is that? Because we are going to create other types of sentience, both biological and computer-based.

Laurel Johnson said at October 11, 2009 3:50 PM:

October 11, 2009: IVF workers already do a blastomere biopsy at the 8 cell stage and destroy any imperfect embryoes before choosing one to implant. MD Anderson researchers have told me their karyotype lab, where chromosome studies are done to discover Down babies,see a result of over 90% abortion rates. I think that is pretty obvious considering how few Down children we are now seeing. Yet, I know a Down woman who gets herself on the bus and works the lunch shift at Burger King and gets herself home again. She then sets the table and brings great joy to her parents. Why must someone be aborted just because she has Down Syndrome?

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