Michael Gerson on Eugenics

Don’t miss Michael Gerson’s column in today’s Washington Post. Here’s a snippet:

James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped discover the structure of DNA in 1953, recently pronounced the entire population of Africa genetically inferior when it comes to intelligence. And while he hopes that everyone is equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

Watson’s colleagues at the Federation of American Scientists found his comments “racist, vicious and unsupported by science” — all true. But they could not have found those views surprising. In 2003, Watson spoke in favor of genetic selection to eliminate ugly women: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.” In 2000, he suggested that people with darker skin have stronger libidos. In 1997, Watson contended that parents should be allowed to abort fetuses they found to be gay: “If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her.” In the same interview, he said, “We already accept that most couples don’t want a Down child. You would have to be crazy to say you wanted one, because that child has no future.”

When it comes to the parents of disabled children, Watson has somehow confused “loving” and “courageous” with “crazy” — the sign of a heart clearly inferior to the gentle hearts of children with Down syndrome. And most of us have met women who don’t look like models and gay people who prefer being alive to the preferences of their parents.

“If you really are stupid,” Watson once contended, “I would call that a disease.” What is the name for the disease of a missing conscience?

Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science — and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.

The temptation is eugenics. Watson is correct that “we already accept” genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children. About 90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome are aborted in America. According to a recent study, about 40 percent of unborn children in Europe with one of 11 congenital defects don’t make it to birth.

Read the rest here: “The Eugenics Temptation” รขโ‚ฌโ€œ by Michael Gerson (Washington Post)


  • faimon

    What is the difference between Watson saying that parents should be able to abort a fetus with the ‘gay’ gene and Al Mohler saying that people should be able change the genetic makeup of a child with the ‘gay’ gene?

  • Denny Burk


    The difference is that in the first instance, one is killing an innocent person. In the second instance, one is trying to help a person so that they won’t be as predisposed toward a certain kind of sinful behavior.

    If you’re suggesting a moral equivalence, I’m just not seeing it.


  • Bryan L

    I think the difference is between saying a parent should be able to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome or saying they should be able to change the DS gene in the baby so that it doesn’t cause down syndrome. I think there is a big difference between those 2 alternatives.

    The real question is what are the ethics behind altering the genetic makeup of a child in any way before it’s born to produce whatever desired effect we want, whether it be altering a gay gene or a stupid gene or an ugly gene or a religious gene or a short gene or a skin color gene or a hair gene or any other gene we could possible identify.

    Bryan L

  • Bryan L


    If you agree with Mohler (and I don’t know if you do) would you then advocate altering any other genes that we could see that predisposed someone toward other sinful behavior? What about “pride genes” or “greedy genes”, or “anger genes”, or “sexual genes” (since our sexual desires do cause other sins), or “divisiveness genes” or “anxiety genes” or any other gene we could possible think of that we believe lead to sinful behavior?

    If you start with one gene where does it end? Are we eventually throwing the need for the holy spirit out since we can take care of everything by altering genes? Are we eventually going to find an original sin gene so that that the disposition towards any sin at all is eliminated and the need for salvation is as well?

    Bryan L

  • Bryan L

    I didn’t say you did Denny. I was a bit unclear whether you were agreeing with Mohler. In saying someone was trying to help someone who is predisposed to a sinful behavior, I didn’t know if you were agreeing that they were in fact helping them. But thanks for clearing that up.

    Bryan L

  • rf2r2

    If you start with one gene where does it end? Are we eventually throwing the need for the holy spirit out since we can take care of everything by altering genes? Are we eventually going to find an original sin gene so that that the disposition towards any sin at all is eliminated and the need for salvation is as well?

    Original sin is not a physical defect – it is a spiritual state. That said, the creation is cursed, and with it our fleshly bodies. I see no problem with using gene therapies and modern medicine to alleviate suffering in those bodies. If a gene therapy could cure down syndrome, that would be great, but raising a child with down syndrome in the fear and admonition of the Lord is great too. My point is that my ethical attitude towards gene medicine in general is neutral. Medicine is a good thing that god likes. However, medicine is not going to cure the human condition. All it can do is alleviate suffering, which is a good and very christian thing. If my cursed body carries a genetic predisposition towards anger, I see no spiritual conflict in using some therapy to correct that predisposition. Genes a person do make, but they can certainly complicate our lives, and anything that removes barriers to good health is, in my opinion, removing a barrier to the Gospel truth.

  • Julia

    OH, how I wish I were wise enough to make those choices!!!

    My husband, whom I love dearly, would have certainly never made the cut if I had gone by some list of what I deemed “perfect”.

    Instead of having a brood of “perfect” children, I have a wonderfully, albeit at times frustrating, diverse collection that gives me joy ever single day – One of which happens to have an extra chromosone.

    Personally, I would have never, ever chosen to have a “defective” child. Now that I have lived it, I am not courageous; I am blessed!

    Funny how life works isn’t it. Makes you think there might be an Almighty out there just a bit smarter than us ๐Ÿ˜‰

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