Genetics seeks to improve on inherited traits.  With the great scientific discoveries, there is great concern that human applications of modern genetic technologies may lead to eugenic abuse (Ledely 157).  To prevent the abuses, clear guidelines must be put in place for distinguishing between the two.

The term eugenics was invented by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin (Wikler 183).  Galton launched the term and a movement to improve the human race, or to halt what he perceived as its decline, through selective breeding.  His idea spread quickly, and by 1920’s the eugenics movement existed all over the world.  It was a movement for social betterment under the guises of modern science.  Eugenics claimed that it had the allegiance of most genetic scientists and also supporters from all political lines (right, center, and left).  Eugenics was embraced by Hitler and his Nazis followers.  As a result, eugenics is now used as an epithet.

The difference between eugenics and genetics has to do with the nature of social control (Ledley 158).  As exemplified by Hitler and the Nazis, genetics with an agenda can become eugenics.  Here the science of genetics was not advocated as a way of eliminating a genetic trait that unavoidably leads to illness (such as cancer or diabetes).  It was the case of a government trying to do away with an entire race of people, which they deemed inferior.

The issue is generally addressed in the context of separating the rights and responsibilities of governments and their citizens (Ledley 158). It is that same structure which determines the boundary between the legitimate and illegitimate extensions of the state.  In short, the government should not have social control over the individual’s genetic make-up or procreation.  When it does, there are unspeakable consequences.  The Nazi version of eugenics certainly taught us that lesson.

Works Cited

Ledley, F.D. (1994).  Distinguishing genetics and eugenics on the basis of fairness.  Journal of Medical Ethics (20:3), 157-164).

Wikler, D. (1999).  Can we learn from eugenics?  Journal of Medical Ethics (5), 183-194.

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