Genetic purification

I have heard some argue that prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion would reduce society’s burden in having to give special care for very disabled people and that this would free up funds for general health care, education, etc. for the mildly disabled.

I have also heard the strong counter-proposition that such “genetic purification” in practice works against tolerance for the usual range of variation and against measures to care for the abnormal.

To understand the logic of this second proposition consider an analogy: The health and fitness boom of the 1980s seems to have reduced tolerance for plump, “overweight” people. Those who have kept themselves trim tend to think that overweight people ought also to be able to do something about their figures.

I first used these contrasting propositions as a topic for a writing assignment in a course on Biology and Society where the assigned reading was Rapp, R. “Moral Pioneers: Women, Men & Fetuses.” Women & Health 13 (1/2, 1988): 101-116.  I then adapted into a problem-based learning unit that asked students: “In the light of this analogy, Rapp’s articles [i.e., “Moral Pioneers” and her subsequent publications], your own experience, and research into the published literature, discuss the contention about ‘genetic purification.'”  Readers of this post may also reflect on how they think about these contrasting propositions.

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