Eugenics and Enhancement Ethics Statement
Eugenics has historically been the effort to improve the inheritable qualities of a race or species. Traditionally eugenics has been practiced through the use of selective breeding, but it is now moving toward direct manipulation of the genome. Advances in molecular genetics that make this possible are also leading to a resurgence of the eugenics move-ment. This is emerging as the science of directly treating or eliminating undesirable in-heritable characteristics and as the quest for individual human enhancement.
The word, eugenics, was coined in 1883 by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, a biologist who used statistical correlations to study the inheritance of intelligence. The term was built out of the Greek Eu (good) and Genics (in birth).
Eugenics has a sordid history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, and especially in Nazi Germany, eugenics promoted the practice of eliminating human life and races judged to be “inferior.” While eugenics may initially appear attractive, it has by its very nature always led to morally repugnant consequences involving broad facets of society.* Therefore, we are concerned that the modern practices of eugenics will repeat history. The increased power of modern technology demands increased vigilance.
CMDA affirms the primary goals of medicine – the treatment and prevention of disease and the reduction of suffering, whenever possible, by legitimate and moral means.
- CMDA supports the effort to understand our genetic code for purposes of increasing knowledge, treating disease, and bettering the human condition.
- CMDA opposes the use of any genetic manipulation that has an unacceptable risk of harm to any human being.
Mapping the human genome has been a significant aid in the identification and possible treatment of genetically determined diseases. Like all powerful information it can be used for good or for ill. **
- CMDA endorses ethical efforts to increase the scope and accuracy of science used to identify, understand, and treat human genetic diseases.
- It should not be mandatory that persons be genetically screened, be made to know their own genetic information, or be required to act upon that knowledge.
- In this context, no person’s genetic information should be used against him or her.
We oppose the concept of genetic determinism, that we are our genome or that genes are destiny. Humanity’s prospects for the future will be enormously impoverished if its outlook is limited to its own perceived genetics.
The application of genetic knowledge for eugenic agendas is unequivocally problematic.
- The goals of modern genetics must be sought within the limits of moral boundaries and qualifications. Medicine, and therefore genetics, must be practiced according to principles of ethical behavior delineated by conscience under the authority of Scripture.
- When an undesired trait or gender is identified by pre-implantation or prenatal screening the discovery is often followed by destruction of the human life exhibiting the undesired trait. CMDA opposes destruction of human life for eugenic purposes. This includes the destruction of embryos, abortion, infanticide and genocide.
Society, while advocating tolerance, has become increasingly intolerant of any “defective” human life. Our society exerts increasing pressure on parents to neither accept nor bring to birth a child perceived as defective. This intolerance violates the sanctity of human life.
- We must not deem inferior anyone with a “defective” genetic heritage. We recognize that all persons, no matter how normal in appearance, carry defective genetic information within their genome, and that all human physical life is defective to some degree and with certainty becomes more so with aging.
- There are no superior or inferior racial groups. Any efforts to create or eliminate perceived superior or inferior individuals are to be condemned. Similarly, there is no superior or inferior gender. There are no “lives unworthy of life.”***
- Continued improvements in genetic diagnosis sharpen the dichotomy between those who “have” a good genetic endowment and those who “have not.” With the possible advent of genetic enhancement this dichotomy will increase.
- Far more serious and damaging than our genetic deficiencies are our moral deficiencies. Intolerance of those deemed genetically inferior is an example of this moral deficiency.
Although the use of somatic and germ cell genetic therapy**** has the potential to correct genetically determined disease, there are significant concerns regarding the safety of genetic therapy, particularly germ line therapy.
- Somatic cell therapy: If critical concerns regarding the safety of somatic cell therapy can be resolved, the use of somatic cell therapy may be acceptable for correcting genetically determined diseases.
- Germ cell therapy: CMDA believes that germ cell genetic therapy is unacceptable - at least until safety issues are resolved. The use of germ cell therapy is more problematic due to the transmission of any changes to future generations. Safety issues are magnified in this instance since changes not only affect the patient but future descendants. Even if safety issues are resolved, germ cell therapy still raises significant moral issues, e.g., the impossibility of obtaining consent from those yet to be born.
The practice of genetic alteration evokes deeper concerns on a more fundamental level. The prospect of using genetic technology to enhance human characteristics is now a theoretical possibility. CMDA recognizes that the distinctions between treatment and enhancement are difficult to discern and are arbitrary in many cases. As Christians, we hold that all humans are made in the image of God. This essential characteristic disting-uishes us as human. The goal to recreate man in man’s image raises profound questions about human nature and man’s relationship with his Creator. The ultimate end of man is to glorify God; the re-creation of man to glorify himself is idolatry.
CMDA considers genetic research and therapy to potentially be of great benefit to humanity. We endorse the effort to make progress in this field. We diminish our own prospects both individually and communally if we refuse to work for scientific advancement. However, we must build moral safeguards around our technology. We must accept, learn from, and care for those who are vulnerable and suffering.
* See Addendum: A History of Eugenics
** See Statement: Use of Genetic Information and Technology
*** Leben unwürtiges Lebens [“Life unworthy of life”] was a Nazi slogan used to justify using or killing innocent human life.
**** The distinction between somatic and germ cells is that somatic cells do not pass changes on to progeny and germ (sex) cells do.
Passed by the CMDA House of Representatives.
June 16, 2006. Irvine, California.