We Are All Eugenicists Now: New Test Identifies 3,500 Genetic “Faults” In Fetuses — Update

See the crucial update below. I was assured, several times, that my second son was to be my first daughter. The doctors who told me this had performed certain tests, you see, and these unambiguous, quite scientific tests revealed the absence of that which makes a girl into a boy.

Now this was just more than a score of years ago, a time when medical science was little removed from bleeding and letting diseases run their course without the application of massive amounts of money. But this is hindsight. At the time—in the moment—all of us had high confidence that the tests were accurate. Just as we think the tests that exist now are accurate.

There is in statistics a hoary old mind-twister which we use to tease first-year students. It runs like this. You have just been tested for a disease and been told the test was “positive”, which means the test says you’re in for it. The question is: given this information, and some evidence about the disease and test, what is the probability you actually do have the malady?

We teachers delight when students say “100%”, “99%”, and other high numbers. This makes us happy because these answers are as wrong as can be—and because we love to shock our pupils. The real answer is usually near 10%, or even less. Why? Because tests are imperfect and most diseases are rare.

It isn’t just the rarity of the disease that causes this result. It’s the imperfection of the tests. Even the best ones aren’t that good; certainly not when used in isolation and without the benefit of further tests and other diagnostic markers. Every doctor knows this.

But patients, and students of probability, do not. When they hear a test say that “Things are this-and-such” they believe that things really are this-and-such.

It was reported this week that science, the answer of all things, had invented a new battery of tests which would scan a fetus for, count ’em, 3,500 genetic “faults.” We are told that some of these “faults” “include Down’s syndrome and cystic fibrosis.”

Pause here, Mr or Mrs Relativist. The word fault is objective; it implies a universal, or at least a universally agreed to, standard. A fault is that which we all agree is a defect, a thing undesired and undesirable. It is that which is to be weeded out. Culled. Or erased.

We would, I hope, react with abhorrence if a scientist had claimed to have developed a test which would identify those—living, walking, breathing—individuals who were deemed genetically imperfect. Which is to say, impure. Because even if the act of identifying those of us who are less than (racial) perfection is not tied to any program to eradicate these impurities from the gene pool, the suspicion that efforts along these lines could at any moment organize is surely historically warranted.

But if it is instead announced that new and improved methods have been invented for genetic weeding of the womb, well, pop the champagne corks! The glorious forefronts of science and all that. Nobody says it, but in these stories the implication is always that killing the genetically faulty before they make their entrance is good for all of us. We would not want to be burdened with that which is less than perfect. Incidentally, good, ladies and gentlemen, is another one of those objective, universal standards.

Previous genetic tests could identify, at best, a few dozen imperfections. Last week’s news pushes that number much higher; and presumably this figure will grow by an order of magnitude in a decade. This means that the fault-lines are ever widening. The inescapable conclusions is that our idea of genetic perfection is growing narrower, ever narrower.

Circle back to the beginning and recall that medical tests are imperfect. England’s Lord Robert Winston remembered. He warned that the new tests would raise “many ethical questions.”

This is British understatement for the truth that many non-mothers-to-be relying on these tests will kill off perfectly healthy fetuses which they believe to be defective. To be, that is, genetic inferiors. In that group of women willing to kill their fetuses and who trust testing, the rate of killing-in-error will be high, because the chance of an error can only increase with the number of items tested.

This, dear reader, is a mathematical truth. The more tests there are, the greater the chance of an error. It is also true that newer tests are more prone to mistake, meaning that as the number of tests increase the chance of an error in killing increases much faster than you would think. Until, that is, it becomes almost certain.

But then, it always was certain.

Update In the same article which quote Lord Winston, we also hear from Professor John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, who has this to say

No potential being has a right to become an actual being — abortion is not a “wrong” to the individual because the individual in question will never have existed.

We would be negligent and reckless if we paid no attention to the health care of future generations and future people. The ability to protect future generations from terrible conditions that will blight their lives seems to me to be an absolute moral responsibility and a duty that we should not shirk.

This is full-blown eugenics; no other way to spin it. “Protecting” human beings from faults by killing them is an argument only an academic could love. And could say and get away with.

I’ll agree with the good professor about one point, at least partially. “No potential being has a right to become an actual being.” Many eggs and most male gametes, which potentially could have been combined to form a human being, haven’t a “right” to be so combined; thus there is no right to exist in this sense.

But the bad professor is quite wrong—he is committing a silly fallacy—by moving from this to saying abortion isn’t “wrong” (notice the scare quotes) because, he is tacitly arguing, the fetus is not an individual. But that, dear ones, is the very point at question: whether the fetus is a human being. It is certainly an actual being of some kind: it is not a potential being. It is a human being, too, at the earliest stages of its life. If you say not, then what exactly is it? At what point and just how—exactly, please—does it become a human being?

The real injustice of it is that even though Prof. Harris argue so badly, he is still collecting a paycheck. For arguing so badly. Yeesh.

Update Worth noting.


  1. DAV

    Hmm. They still can’t test for the genetic fault causing criminal behavior? I think we should increase the time limit for having an abortion from 3 mos. to 30 years. This should give sufficient time to determine which fetus is defective and thus should be eliminated.

  2. Ye Olde Statistician

    I used to pose the correlation of ten risk factors with ten diseases. What are the odds that at least one is a false positive, given that each test is 99% accurate? I suspect a great many peer-reviewed studies represent the same phenomenon. Given enough studies, some of them are bound to yield a false confirmation. (Say, roughly one in twenty, if they use p<0.05 and there really is no underlying relationship.) That's the one that gets published. The other 95% rot in the file cabinet.

    I also like to produce "clusters" by generating a string of random Poisson numbers and arranging them on a grid.

    (and see this: AP IMPACT: Suicides are surging [sic] among US troops

  3. tudza

    The use for these tests should be to prepare for possible problems that may otherwise go undetected for months after birth.

    The usual follow up to a test for cancer is usually not “We will now have to shoot you.” but rather, “Better watch for that more closely and once we are sure we will treat you.”

  4. Rich

    Is there anything more terrible than a mother who, having been told definitely by a doctor that tests show that their child will be horribly deformed, who aborts a perfect child? It happens.

  5. Ray

    If I recall my history correctly, the Romans allowed post natal abortions untill age 30.

  6. brent

    Evolutionary Psychology
    and Our Mythical Dark Nature
    Philip Yancey

    James V. McConnell describes the ultimate goal of behaviorism: “I believe that the day has come when we can combine sensory depriva-tion with drugs, hypnosis, and astute manipulation of reward and punishment to gain absolute control over an individual’s behavior.”
    My fear, precisely.

    Aldous Huxley 1962 U.C. Berkeley Speech on “The Ultimate Revolution”

    Increasing Mental Health Awareness: Too Much of a Good Thing?

    Diagnosis as disease
    Physicians are now making diagnoses in individuals who wouldn’t have been considered sick in the past, and it’s raising healthcare costs.
    By H. Gilbert Welch
    May 6, 2011

    The Psychological Effects of Global Warming On the United States

    Number Of Ways To Go Nuts To Increase: DSM-V

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

    Bioengineering Humans To Combat Climate Change

    Crispin Tickell

    Huxley family tree (partial)

    Crispin Tickell (Belief)
    Now you come from an Anglo-Irish family. Your great, great grandfather was T H Huxley – Aldous Huxley was in your background too. Now this is a legacy of seriously thoughtful, intellectual address, isn’t it?
    Well T H Huxley was in many respects one of my heroes. Aldous was as well. In fact I think if anybody had any influence on me during my adolescence, it was Aldous Huxley

    Nigel Lawson: Global warming has turned into religion

    Lawson was Chancellor when Crispin Tickell, then British Ambassador to the UN, convinced Prime Minister Thatcher that man-made global warming was a problem. Despite Tickell lacking any scientific background (he read history at university) Mrs Thatcher took the population campaigner’s views seriously enough to make a landmark speech on global warming. This led to the foundation of a branch of the Met Office, the Hadley Centre at Exeter, to study the issue. It remains one of the three leading climate institutes.

    Richard Lindzen: The Perversion Of Science

    Andrew Montford provides a straightforward and unembellished chronology of the perversion not only of The Royal Society but of science itself, wherein the legitimate role of science as a powerful mode of inquiry is replaced by the pretence of science to a position of political authority

    Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975)

    He saw Humanism as a replacement ‘religion’, and as such represented an important strand in post-war humanist thought. In a speech given to a conference in 1965 he spoke of the need for “a religiously and socially effective system of humanism.” And in his book Religion Without Revelation, he wrote:
    “What the sciences discover about the natural world and about the origins, nature and destiny of man is the truth for religion. There is no other kind of valid knowledge. This natural knowledge, organized and applied to human fulfilment, is the basis of the new and permanent religion.” The book ends with the concept of “transhumanism”– “man remaining man, but transcending himself by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature”.

    Religion and the Environment
    Lecture delivered to “The Earth our destiny” conference, Portsmouth Cathedral, 2002-11-30

    Environment is the stuff of religion, and religion is the stuff of the environment. Their relationship once went without saying. Yet we live at a time when they are being prised apart
    This may be enough for some people. It was not enough for T. H. Huxley’s grandson Julian, who embarked on a search for religion without revelation, or E. O. Wilson who has since developed the concepts of scientific materialism and the evolutionary epic as substitutes for religion. Others have made similar efforts in the same direction. But none has reached anywhere near the human core. Some people may not believe in God, but most people want to believe in something.
    The present collectivity of life on earth cannot be distinguished from the present collectivity of its physical surroundings. The animate and the inanimate shade into each other. This is the environment. As I have suggested, it was – and in some cases still is – the stuff of religion. But it has also been the stuff of science. James Hutton, the geologist, recognized it as long ago as 1785. T. H. Huxley did likewise in 1877. Almost a century later James Lovelock developed ideas on the same subject which, on the advice of the novelist William Golding, he called Gaia. In a paper written with Lynn Margulis in 1974, he wrote
    “Gaia theory is about the evolution of a tightly coupled system whose constituents are the biota and their natural environment, which comprises the atmosphere, the oceans and the surface rocks”.

  7. Speed

    If it were not for “genetic faults” we would still be single celled creatures floating in a salty sea.

  8. Steve Crook

    “Pause here, Mr or Mrs Relativist. The word fault is objective; it implies a universal, or at least a universally agreed to, standard. A fault is that which we all agree is a defect, a thing undesired and undesirable. It is that which is to be weeded out. Culled. Or erased.”

    Agreed with this paragraph until the ‘Culled. Or erased’ bit. Unless you were just trying to really hit the nail home. Faults can be tolerated because they’re not serious, sometimes be repaired or worked around.

    That said, your point about the reliance on tests is well made. There has been a lot of debate over here (UK) about starting a screening program for prostate cancer. However, given the slow progress of the disease (fault?) and the fact that many men can die of old age while having prostate cancer, it’s accepted that the risks from administering the tests and operating on false positives outweigh the potential benefits from a screening program.

  9. Eric

    Dr. Briggs,

    You have jumped from technical issues of measuring a condition, to the ethics of a limited range of responses to the issue.

    Do we have your permission to measure the air temperature in our homes, or do you fear the inaccuracy of household thermostats will cause mass slaughter of our children to reduce waste body heat?

    If only we would just remain ignorant of the cold, all those shivering children would be perfectly healthy.

    Interesting that you presume the best way for me to measure the air temperature in my own home. Perhaps next you will presume the size of soda I can purchase.

    Ethical questions indeed.


  10. DAV


    Did you actually read the Telegraph article? It says:

    A team has been able to predict the whole genetic code of a foetus by taking a blood sample from a woman who was 18 weeks pregnant, and a swab of saliva from the father

    Note that it is a prediction as opposed to a diagnosis. A lot of medical tests are effectively predictions but at least they try to look at the specific individual instead of the individual’s parents. To use your analogy: it’s not much different than looking at the plans for the builder of your house and those of the heating unit manufacturer to determine — strike that — predict the temperature of your home.

    On top of that, this “test” has an accuracy of around 88% assuming we are inclined to give it maximum benefit of doubt. That means it will misidentify 12% of the time. It would be a shame of the results of such a “test” were factors in considering an abortion. Humans being what they are, it’s hard to see how that wouldn’t happen.

    Also note how detection of “genetically caused disorder” has slipped into the prediction of “genetic faults”. The latter sounds ever so judgmental.

  11. Uncle Mike

    We would be negligent and reckless if we paid no attention to the propensity for murder lurking in the hearts of eugenicists. The ability to protect future generations from slaughter by insane professors from the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester seems to me to be an absolute moral responsibility and a duty that we should not shirk.

  12. J. Mayfield

    One can imagine health insurance companies mandating these tests and then refusing to cover children who test positive for too many factors if they are born with those “faults”.

    What does “deformed” mean anyways when so many amputees are now competing in athletics and there are so many devices to help people live full lives even with handicaps?

  13. Bill S

    Briggs et alia,
    I visit this website in a vain attempt to find some utility into this thing called statistics.
    I generally avoid these discussions on the human condition because when it comes to morals I don’t think I have any.
    But this topic appears to be getting dangerously close to the real one.
    Which is the question of over population. e.g. Abortion is actually just one method used by
    the elite to reduce the number of peasants. War and pestilence have not been working well
    for them lately.
    I will start by stating that my opinion is that human density is too high in all desirable parts
    of the planet. I would like to know what you folks say about the topic ranging from “are
    there too many people” to possible “moral methods to reduce the population”.
    BTW. I hope to engender a debate but not actually participate in it. I kid you not – you all are
    much better at debate than I.

  14. DAV

    Bill S.,

    An yet number of children per household is inversely proportional to income. IOW: defining “peasant” as “low income”, the number of peasant children is increasing while the number of non-peasant children is decreasing. Maybe a solution is to give them money? Of course, there will always be a range of income regardless of the actual amounts so in a land where most incomes are greater than $1 Billion/year, the person getting only $1 Million/year would be a “peasant”.

    Maybe the “desirable parts of the planet” have higher human density because humans are attracted to them?

  15. Briggs

    Bill S,

    You might search my site for an article I wrote entitled (something like) There can’t be too many people. Also search for Malthus. There cannot be overpopulation.

    But I wonder, since you think there can be (which also implies you think you know what the ideal number should be, or that the ideal number can be identified by somebody, at least approximately), and thus there needs to be a reduction in the surplus population I wonder what you would suggest we do if we cannot get enough volunteers to abort their babies. Non-voluntary abortions, a la China? Non-voluntary starvations via any serious Socialist state? Other ideas?

    I do not ask this to be glib. It is a serious question. See where trying to answer it leads you.

  16. Eric


    Briggs has used a thermostat in his home, yet didn’t slaughter his son.

    Who is he to deny others the use of thermostats?

    Where is his proof that thermostats lead to slaughter? Perhaps his is another of your bemoaned “predictions”?


  17. Will

    There are too many illnesses that aren’t so much illness, as they are misplaced strengths. It would be folly to eradicate them.

    The Irish have a predisposition to SAD, which you might assume is a disorder given the D part. Looked at another way, the Irish have a predisposition to conserve calories through metabolic regulation during certain seasons. Heck, I’m sure Bears don’t feel overly peepy either when it’s time to hibernate. :).

    In the same vein, some folks tend to pack on the pounds while others remain rail thin. It makes sense from a survival perspective that some folks ought to store the calories for a rainy day. Will obesity be considered an undesirable trait? What happens if there is ever a food shortage?

  18. Luis Dias

    Perhaps I’m too late for the party here, and I’m not going to byte all the baits mr Briggs wrote for those who think exactly like me ;), but rather to forward you all to an excellent sci fi movie called Gattaca, which involves exactly these questions.

    The plot of the film is about a society decades from now that is already able to detect malformations and possible diseases from DNA scanning. However, there’s another thing it can already do as well: to take out every single genetic “problem” from your child. A computer rearranges the genetic code of some parent’s cells so that the child is really son / daughter of them, but without any diseases.

    The unintended consequences are severe and mindblowing. It’s a very powerful movie, because it both presents a very possible future for all of us and an ethical nightmare we will inevitably have to confront.

    This version presented by Briggs here is a hellish version where mothers will have to present themselves to the doctors right after they know they are pregnant, who will be able to detect errors in their fetuses and kindly ask “Well now madam, do you really want to bring about a child we know will have this and that and that and that? Are you that cruel, madam?”

    It’s a chivering future.

  19. brent

    Bioethicist John Harris

    Infanticide is justifiable in some cases, says ethics professor
    By Elizabeth Day

    12:01AM GMT 25 Jan 2004

    One of British medicine’s most senior advisers on medical ethics has provoked outrage by claiming that infanticide is “justifiable”.

    Professor John Harris, a member of the British Medical Association’s ethics committee, said that it was not “plausible to think that there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal” – suggesting that there was no moral difference between aborting a foetus and killing a baby
    “Infanticide is murder and is against the law. It is frightening to think that university students are being educated by somebody who endorses the killing of newborn babies and equally worrying to discover that such a person is also a member of the ethics committee of the British Medical Association.”

    She continued: “Prof Harris is the Establishment’s preferred bioethicist, a member of the Human Genetics Commission, and has acted as ethical consultant to the Department of Health and to numerous international bodies. In such a climate is it any wonder that a baby has been aborted in the UK at seven months for a cleft palate?”

    The Age of Infanticide: The Culture of Death Marches On
    Albert Mohler
    President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

    Two big lessons are to be learned from Professor Harris’ statements and the aftermath. First, these statements draw attention to the fact that a growing number of “bioethicists” now openly defend the practice of infanticide. In the United States, the notorious Peter Singer of Princeton University argues that infanticide should be seen as a moral option and an essential part of a woman’s reproductive choice. Singer even argues that parents may have a responsibility to terminate the life of a child born with serious genetic abnormalities or physical disabilities. According to Singer, human dignity is not inherent in every human individual, but is achieved when an individual demonstrates certain human abilities such as the capacity to communicate and to relate to others. This is the logic of the Culture of Death on public display. In a book co-authored by Singer in 1985, the argument comes in a truly chilling form: “We think that some infants with severe disability should be killed.” That is the frightening verdict of a professor who holds one of the most respected chairs in bioethics at one of our leading universities.

    Is Bioethics Ethical?
    by Wesley J. Smith

    The lead author, John Harris, the Sir David Alliance professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, in England, claims that it is necessary to establish the criteria for personhood so as to “identify those sorts of individuals who have the ëhighest’ moral value or importance.” It is not life per se that is dispositive, but life of such quality as to “bring [individuals] into the same moral categories as ourselves.” Being human alone does not do the trick: Personhood theory creates castes of “us” and “them,” in an explicit hierarchy of human worth.

    Harris makes a rather astonishing assertion, considering the brouhaha over abortion. He baldly states that human life begins at conception. This, of course, does not mean he opposes abortion—to the contrary. Remember, it is not human life that matters in personhood theory; human beings do not deserve special status merely because of their species. Harris blandly denigrates unborn human life: “The human embryo and fetus,” he writes, “in all stages of its development from conception to birth is no more interesting or complex than the embryos of other creatures and indeed no more interesting than the adult forms of other creatures, for example cats and canaries.”

    Harris next opines that the exploration of who is a person must include animals, because the exclusion of fauna from personhood deliberations would be arbitrary and an act of “speciesism”—a claim of superiority based on species, which Harris considers as “disreputable” as an assertion of superiority based on “race, gender, nationality, religion, or any other nonmoral characteristic.”
    So, who (or what) should duly be deemed a person? To Harris, a person is “a being that can value existence.” This means “persons might, in principle, be members of any species, or indeed machines.” He explicitly states that fetuses and newborn infants are not persons, nor are people with significant cognitive disability or dementia.

    The ultimate purpose of personhood analysis is to determine whom we can kill and still get a good night’s sleep.

    The new grim reapers
    Practitioners of bioethics say who should live — and who should die

    Brave new Bioethics
    By Rory Leishman
    Issue: April 2001

    Fifty years ago, the entire Western world anathematized the Nazi notion of “life unworthy of life.” Today, many physicians in Europe and North America have no compunction about deliberately killing a patient without so much as consulting him or his family, on grounds that it would be futile to prolong the patient’s life.

    In making these God-like decisions, most physicians do not act alone. They follow guidelines set down by a hospital bioethics committee. But for patients, that’s no consolation. Smith reports that many members of these bioethics committees are ill-trained. Others have the most sophisticated academic credentials, yet uphold a utilitarian bioethics that denigrates human life.

    Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, is a prime example of such academic barbarism. Despite acknowledging that “ethical ideals, like individual rights, the sanctity of life, justice, purity, are incompatible with utilitarianism,” he remains a champion of utilitarianism and a leading exponent of animal rights, assisted suicide, euthanasia and infanticide.

    Smith points out that, for utilitarians, there is neither objective right nor objective wrong. “Lacking a firm commitment to the sanctity of human life,” he writes, “utilitarians may justify profoundly dangerous and immoral schemes and not even blush.” Thus in Applied Ethics, a book of readings edited by Singer, a British bioethicist, John Harris, has suggested, “Whenever doctors have two or more dying patients who could be saved by transplants, and no suitable organs have come to hand through ‘natural deaths,’ they (should be allowed to) ask a central computer to supply a suitable donor … at random and he will be killed so that the lives of two or more others may be saved.”

    Smith explains: “To the radical utilitarian Harris, saving two or more lives at the expense of one murder would bring greater overall happiness than the suffering caused by the killing of one man or woman. And since under utilitarianism, no individual possesses human rights per se, why not go ahead and perform the human sacrifice?”

    Such is the “Brave New Bioethics” dissected by Smith in Culture of Death. It’s a profoundly important book that eminently fulfils Smith’s stated aim: “to alert my readers to the intentional undermining by bioethicists of the fundamental moral principles that have long governed our society, and to invite them into the crucial, ongoing debates about their health care debates that will, quite literally, determine the future of Western medicine.”

    Making the Earth Greener the Medical Way

    The Duty to Die
    26 April 2001 Thomas Sowell

    A medical ethicist says that “health care should be withheld even for those who want to live” if they have already lived beyond the politically correct number of years — which he suggests might be 75. He says that, after such a “full rich life” then “one is duty-bound to die.” How did we get sucked into collectivizing decisions that were once up to individuals?
    Our betters have been telling us how to live our lives for so long that it is only the next logical step for them to tell us when to die. We have grown so used to meekly accepting their edicts, even on what words we can and cannot use — “swamp” has virtually disappeared from the English language, replaced by “wetlands,” as “bums” has been replaced by “the homeless, “sex” by “gender” — that it seems only fitting that they should now tell us when to die.

    The new phrase is “the duty to die.” The anointed have proclaimed this duty, so who are we ordinary people to question it? Former Colorado governor Richard Lamm has said that the elderly should “consider making room in the world for the young by simply doing with less medical care and letting themselves die.” Colorado didn’t seem that desperately over-crowded to me, but Lamm is one of the voices of the anointed, so their arbitrary dogmas become well-known facts by sheer repetition

    From 7 Billion People To 500 Million People – The Sick Population Control Agenda Of The Global Elite

    They Love Death

    Hardtalk – James Lovelock – Population reduction (max 1 billion)

  20. Bill S

    Moved to So Cal from Wyoming. Concur that people are attracted to desirable places.
    (I love my home state folks – but have you tried to live there in February?)

    Grew up in 0 human density Wyoming, live in moderate density LA suburb. Realized I should not talk about over population with someone living in Manhattan. But, I deliberately chose the phrase human density because I do understand there is no such thing as over population. Have no clue for a moral method to reduce population. ergo the question.

    BTW. While searching for “too many people” I came across your piece on mouse hatred.
    Something I share and should nominate for the worst invention. Car alarms are a pain but those damnable electronic mice are destroying the intellect of a generation. I mean that is right up there with giving engineers selection of font size!

    Promise I will read your last entry as soon as my ADD tapers off.

  21. It’s interesting to note that “future generations” have more rights than “potential beings.”

    I wonder what would would happen if we were to switch the words around to say “potential generations” and “future beings.”

  22. rob r

    As a parent of a child who, under the definition given by the researcher, is genetically defective, I am appalled. My boy is now an otherwise healthy 16 year old. Sure, he requires some medication on a daily basis. But he is an intellegent kid and will be a fully contributing member of society. Should he have been terminated before death? The very thought is obscene.

  23. brent

    The Bioethics Mess

    As bioethics supplants traditional ethics before our very eyes, few seem to question its underlying premises. But we should know it for what it is: a form of extreme utilitarianism in both its theoretical and practical forms.
    It bears no relation to the patient–centered Hippocratic ethics that for nearly 2,500 years required physicians to treat every human being in their care as worthy of respect, no matter how sick or small or weak or disabled. It certainly bears no relation to Catholic medical ethics, which continue the Hippocratic tradition in light of church teachings on moral law. And bioethics offers little concrete guidance to physicians and scientists even on its own terms.
    Perhaps one of these days, society will come to grips with the moral and practical mess that bioethics has created and come up with something to replace it. This time society will perhaps not rely so heavily on the self–proclaimed scientific and moral experts

    While Europe Slept. History’s clock turns full circle

    Peter Singer: Architect of the Culture of Death

    Death by Committee
    What the Groningen Protocol says about our world, and where it might lead next

  24. JH

    Since there is an (roughly) equal chance of having a boy or girl, I use sex selection example for Bayes theorem to demonstrate that the chance of actually having a boy given a positive test result remains high, as long as the sex selection test itself is relatively accurate. (Though preimplantation genetic diagnosis is claimed to be 100% accurate for sex selection.)

  25. JH

    There can’t be too many people. Also search for Malthus. There cannot be overpopulation.

    Would you believe that Mao Ze Dong once thought so too?! Chinese population had a sharp increase during the Mao era. It doubled during the first 10 years of his governance. While doubling from 5 to 10 is no big deal, from 500 million to 1 billion is massive.

    Some people would argue that China is not overpopulated, just underdeveloped or that there can’t be too many people because we would do something to prevent it from getting worse, for example, one-child policy and free conceptive for men and women, both introduced after Mao’s death.

    I think there are too many people in China. Approx. one billion more people than we have in the US!!!

    Well, people can live in crowded, cage-like dorms. It’s not inhuman, is it? Just visit factories and cities in China. Those dorms are one of the products of so-called housing and infrastructure developments in China.

    Just imagine some huge social problems that China *(or India) has to deal with due to its large population.

    Bill S,

    I can think of two solutions to reduce population for now.

    i) Men stop impregnating women.
    ii) Immigrate to other countries, e.g., many Chinese have relocated to Africa and other countries.

  26. Gary C

    Culling the genetic inferior, is there a gene for ALS, if so should Steven Hawking have been “culled” in the womb? Where is the gene that detects intellect?

  27. Mark

    1. Median age for cystic fibrosis survivors in Canada (the best performing country mentioned) is nearly 48 years, according to Wikipedia. In the absence of a cure, and knowing that most of that life will require regular, if not constant, medical supervision… maybe it is better to abort the fetus. Not being the pregnant woman (or even a relative), I can’t answer that however.

    2. What are the other genetic faults? Are they similar diseases or ginger hair & freckles? Because the latter isn’t exactly a fault now…

    3. Finally, on the more philosophical side of things, yes I think you can have “faults” in your DNA – the danger is in being too restrictive in what’s fine & what isn’t. Cystic fibrosis? Yep that’s a fault all right. Sickle cell anaemia? Another fault – ALTHOUGH, it can have some advantages in surviving malaria etc (in other words, not all faults are universally bad). Different coloured skin? Nothing wrong with that… but once, people WOULD have considered it an issue, which is the problem.

    4. The history of eugenics and skin colour has a lot more to do with ignorance than science. Ask a racial eugenics supporter to prove his case with modern science to help and he won’t be able to. People then had far less knowledge of genetics than we do today, which made eugenics based on hard science a hell of a lot harder than would be (or is?) today.

    @brent: I do sometimes think that the Hippocratic oath & similar ideals can be taken too far. Of course, I say that primarily as a “right to die” supporter.

    @JH: “I think there are too many people in China. Approx. one billion more people than we have in the US!!!”

    Wikipedia reckons that there are roughly 139 people per km^2 in China, compared to 256 per km^2 in the UK. China would need to hold about 2.4 billion to be as densely populated as the UK.

    The real problem of course is not so much total population as things living conditions and so on. The % land area of the UK unsuited for human habitation is a lot lower than in China, too.

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