On the concept of eugenics: preliminaries to a critical appraisal
Public aspects of medicine
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AbstractThis paper's main issue is linked to what can be foreseen as the increasing capability of medical genetics to modify the genetic composition of the human species through direct interventions in the human genome for medical and non-medical purposes, i.e., the 'risk' of a resurgence of eugenics. In current discussions on the topic (briefly presented in the first section), the 'phantom of eugenics' is raised several times, but there is a great deal of confusion on what counts as eugenics, partly because of broad conceptual disagreement over the notion itself. Furthermore, according to some scholars there is no hope of overcoming this unsatisfactory conceptual uncertainty. Partly challenging this opinion, the second and third sections of this paper attempt to identify some basic features which could be seen as intrinsically linked to the notion of eugenics, with the aim of reducing the range of conceptual disagreement as a preliminary step in bringing into focus what exactly is wrong with practicing eugenics. The subsequent sections deal with the substantive issue of whether or not to practice eugenics from the point of view of the interest of future generations in the human species' genetic composition. The main moral arguments for and against eugenics are examined from the point of view of our obligations towards future generations, and the conclusion is in favor of a cautious 'open-door' position.