From institutional Paternalism to Parental Despotism: the Continuing Appeal of Eugenics


  • Stefano Fait


Recent developments in biotechnology have raised questions that have not been previously addressed, questions about the morality of altering the human genome, the alleged difference between old eugenics and the new, ostensibly laissez faire

“techno-eugenics”, and the possible social effects of these deve- lopments. These are tough questions, not small questions of procedure. They are difficult to answer satisfactorily, unless

“secular moral experts”acknowledge that in assessing the ethi- cal implications of genomics and biotechnology, we should also consider that science, technology, and bioethics do not exist in a vacuum and are not socially, politically and ethically neutral. Socio-cultural ideologies and societal arrangements shape the meaning of notions like‘therapy’and‘enhancement’and cer- tain technologies have a greater social impact, may require the State to intervene in the private sphere, and may be differentia- lly accessible to users. Also, science and technology can change our relationship with other people and with our environment. Hence the importance of ethnographic, historical, legal, and cross-cultural studies for the analysis of today’s thorniest bioet- hical controversies. The purpose of this paper is to shed light on some of the substantive problems in the domain of eugenics and human germline engineering.

Author Biography

Stefano Fait

Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, UK






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