While some ideas flower for a season and then pass away never to be seen again, others return to the shadows waiting for the right environment in which to bloom again. Eugenics, it seems, is a scientific ideal of the latter type, and is growing towards full bloom. Nathaniel Comfort, author of The Science of Human Perfection, takes a close look at what he terms the “The Eugenic Impulse”—a drive “to eliminate disease, to live longer and healthier, with greater intelligence and a better adjustment to the conditions of society” using genetic manipulation of one sort or another. Most interestingly, he finds that the new affirmation of eugenics springs from “the best of intentions” and refocuses on eugenics as a form of “long term public health” or “preventative medicine.” This focus is in line with a shift Comfort identifies in the practice of medicine whereby diseases are no longer “defined by their symptoms” but rather “their mechanisms.” And so, when the mechanism is not a virus or bacteria but one’s genes, the medical practice being affirmed is to address the genes directly—all of which seems very tempting.
Is this a temptation to which we should submit? Or would it be too fundamentalist to reject all forms of gene-based medicine based on claims that it is the first step on a slippery path to moulding the image of God by our own hands? Before we can make such decisions and work out how to respond Christianly to the new methods, we need to understand where the eugenic impulse comes from and how it relates to the Christian story. We also need to understand where these techniques might lead us, and what they truly involve. While we can and should point readily to the doom and gloom of discarded embryos and devalued citizens, we should also point to appropriate ways in which health and fullness of life can be offered. But what is appropriate in this scenario? To answer these difficult questions we need faithful Christian practitioners—people that know both the story that we’re a part of and the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.
What is involved in these modern day eugenic techniques?
For what situations might these techniques be appropriate/inappropriate?View This Resource