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Unformatted text preview: Second Opinions The Old Eugenics and the New Genetics Compared Merryn Ekberg* Summary. One of the greatest fears associated with the new genetics is the resurgence of eugenics, but too often this assumes the new genetics is eugenics without investigating the diverse definitions and interpretations of eugenics. The aim of this paper is to critically investigate the concept of eugenics in theory and in practice and to question whether the new genetics is a renewal, reform or return of eugenics. The discussion is oriented around six key arguments that illuminate the central points of convergence and divergence between the old eugenics and the new genetics. Ulti- mately, the paper concludes that despite significant procedural, legislative and administrative differ- ences between the old eugenics and the new genetics, and despite significant spatial, temporal and cultural variations in interpretation and implementation, at the ideological level, there is essentially no difference. The old eugenics was genetics and the new genetics is eugenics. Keywords: old eugenics; new genetics; social history of medical genetics While the end of the Second World War saw the collapse of the old eugenics, the discovery of the helical structure of DNA in 1953 gave birth to the new genetics. For many analysts, recent developments in human genetics signal a renewal, reform or return of eugenics, while for others, the new genetics is entirely separate from the old eugenics. The aim of this paper is to critically examine six key arguments that have been raised to distance the new genetics from the old eugenics. These contested argu- ments are that the old eugenics was racial politics whereas the new genetics is preventive medicine. Second, the old eugenics was discriminatory towards women whereas the new genetics offers new opportunities for women. Third, the old eugenics was discriminatory against the disabled whereas the new genetics offers new opportunities for the disabled. Fourth, the old eugenics was oriented around an ethos of collectivism and the promotion of social rights whereas the new genetics is focused on an ethos of individualism and the protection of individual rights. Fifth, the old eugenics was coercive whereas the new genetics is voluntary. Finally, the old eugenics was based on flawed science whereas the new genetics is grounded in accurate science. The Old Eugenics was Racial Politics whereas the New Genetics is Preventative Medicine Describing the old eugenics as racial politics and the new genetics as preventive medicine is the first argument advanced to distance the new genetics from the old eugenics. Racial *University of Northampton, Northampton NN2 7AL, UK. E-mail: email@example.com Social History of Medicine Vol. 20, No. 3 pp. 581593 & The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Social History of Medicine....
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