None dare call it eugenics!

By Razib Khan | April 16, 2012 9:37 pm

Well, almost no one:

“The unspoken central reason for the societal taboo and the penal ban on incest is the possibility of hereditary defects — a factor that Strasbourg only hinted at. But the intention behind the eugenic argument is one that is indefensible, and not just in Germany with its terrible Nazi past: The increased risk of hereditary defects does not justify a legal ban. Otherwise you would have to legally ban other risk groups, like women over 40 or people with genetic diseases, from having children. Does anyone truly want to prevent predictable disabilities using penal measures and thus deny disabled children the right to life in 2012? That’s absurd. And yet such fears of genetic damage are precisely what shape the punishibility of sexual intercourse between siblings.”


There are a set of arguments against near relation incest which strike me as generally ad hoc. And there’s social science to back that up. Incest is reflexively disgusting to most people (depending on how it is categorized). But disgust alone is not a sufficient grounds for banning a practice in educated circles today, so people create rationales after the fact. David Hume would not be surprised.

Of course on purely genetic grounds there are serious reasons to ban procreation between first degree relatives. For example, of the four children of this particular incestuous couple, two are routinely described as “disabled.” Several of Elisabeth Fritzl’s children have congenital defects. The genetic reason for this is pretty obvious: first degree relatives have a very high likelihood of sharing the same deleterious alleles which express only in a recessive manner. All humans carry a particular mutational load. But near relations tend to carry correlated mutations. So offspring between near relations naturally express these mutations in deleterious or lethal form far more often than any two random pair of individuals would.

But let’s think about this logically. What about a couple where both carry a Tay Sachs allele. The couple is pro-life, and do not wish to make recourse to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (embryo screening). Genetic counselors tell them there is a one out of four chance that their child will manifest Tay Sachs. They decide to have children anyhow. This case is arguably riskier than the pairing of first degree relatives. Though there is a three out of four chance of a perfectly healthy individual, there is a one out of four chance that the child will die very young, and painfully. Should we ban the marriage of people who carry these genes, exhibit these attitudes, and express the goals of having children?

It is famously well known that the Orthodox Jewish community encourages genetic screening to prevent the tragedy of Tay Sachs children. I would not shed a tear if no Tay Sachs children were born into this world. I am also willing to go on the record that society should intervene to a reasonable extent to make it so that no children with Tay Sachs are born (e.g., genetic screening, subsidized pre-implantation genetic screening for candidate parents). In our age there is a very strong attachment to the idea that parents, and more precisely individuals, have a right to their own reproductive choices. The question always ends: where do we draw the line if we curtail these freedoms? We won’t know where we draw the line until we start actually having the discussion, and move these concerns out of the inchoate shadows. As a society we don’t agree when human life begins. But we agree that an infant is a human. I believe we should begin to consider the potential suffering that these infants may reap from the choices of their parents, and the liberty which we as a society grant them.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Genetics, Medicine
MORE ABOUT: Genetics, Medicine
  • Mephane

    I believe we should begin to consider the potential suffering that these infants may reap from the choices of their parents, and the liberty which we as a society grant them.

    Here comes the question what isn then better: the suffering or the alternative of the child not being born? Some say it is irrelevant because a worries about someone who does are void, however in the concrete question of whether having a child, though the person in question does not exist yet, it is probably going to be.

    Then who is it to decide what fate is worse, living disabled or not at all? Many disabled people would say in a heartbeat that they are glad to be alive. So even if one might say by not having a disabled child one would prevent a certain degree of suffering, one would at the same time prevent a certain degree of happiness on the other hand.

    Here comes a slippery slope (I do not suppose the OP’s intentions go this far): if one were to decide that for a certain degree of disability it were better for the individual not to have been at all, some would conclude that they would do those individuals or the human species as a whole (or both) a favor by killing said disabled people. This is far from hypothetical, as it was part of the nazi ideology and has lead to forceful sterilisations and even murder.

    I see no functional difference between the two notions of preventing a child that would otherwise very definitely be born from being born or even conceived out of fear (or knowledge) that it may be disabled and killing an existing disabled person. Though in the latter case the person in question is quite concrete, the former situation may not as abstract as some might think, particularly if the parents are already planning to have a child and then someone wants to step in to prevent them. Even if the considered child does not exist yet, the one to prevent it can say very concretely that through their actions a human will not exist who otherwise would.

    What I hope, however, might resolved this matter in the near future (near as in several decades) when it will, as I expect, be possible to alter genes right in the zygote (or even before or later than that) and instead of just picking a hopeful and destroying others, repair the mutations in question, and possibly, in the long run, get rid of many gene defects altogether. I think eugenics only are such an important topic now because our ability to detect those defects are still beyond our abilities to repair them.

  • Ed

    @Mephane

    “Many disabled people would say in a heartbeat that they are glad to be alive.”
    -Aren’t mentally disabled people far more likely to suffer from depression?

    “I see no functional difference between the two notions of preventing a child that would otherwise very definitely be born from being born or even conceived out of fear (or knowledge) that it may be disabled and killing an existing disabled person.”
    -Would you have an issue if there were preventative measures taken to make sure such a child was never conceived in the first place?

    “I think eugenics only are such an important topic now because our ability to detect those defects are still beyond our abilities to repair them.”
    -There have been some pretty amazing breakthroughs in gene therapy lately. But even then, wouldn’t gene therapy be too expensive for most people?
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331141623.htm

  • 4runner

    Don’t some “disabilities” like Huntington’s actually enhance an individual’s reproductive success? In other words, who’s actually “disabled?”

  • http://FreakoStats Garth Zietsman

    Society thinks it OK to prohibit and punish driving fast, or driving under the influence, purely on the statistical off chance of harm to others. The probabilities involved are considerably less than those involved in your Tay Sachs example. Why should a disability caused via risky breeding be different from one caused by risky driving? The rules should be consistent either way.

    I tend to take a libertarian view that risky breeding shouldn’t be illegal and also that those making the choice should bear the full costs. I am also in favor of various voluntary practices that tend to have eugenic effects e.g. genetic screening, sperm and egg donation, legal availability of abortion etc. I even think it would be a good idea to have charities that pay people enough to make it worth their while to be voluntarily sterilized or use contraception reliably. The amount should be high enough to be a real incentive to low earning and low IQ groups but not so high as to make it attractive to high earning high IQ groups. Some kind of lotto for not being pregnant during one’s fertile years could also work.

    With incest, the deleterious potential of correlated bad genes is almost always stressed but if the couple have a lot of particularly good recessive genes then the potential may be especially bright. For some reason this potential upside is always discounted. A rational approach would use a complete payoff matrix. If first degree relatives are free of all known deleterious genes and have a lot of good heritable qualities then one could even make an argument for encouraging them to breed.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Here comes a slippery slope

    to frank, i think slippery slope arguments are often kind of retarded & cheap. PEOPLE DRAW LINES. it happens. i refute you thus!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Don’t some “disabilities” like Huntington’s actually enhance an individual’s reproductive success? In other words, who’s actually “disabled?”

    again. retarded. huntington’s disease sucks (anyone who watched NOVA in the late 1980s knows it sucks). that being said, i specifically used tay sachs as an example because this is a case where infants and toddlers die miserable deaths. we can have discussions reflecting on whether these are lives worth living, because blind 3 year olds dying of seizures are not too coherent. but naturally you play the slippery slope change-the-subject game. if there was a mutation which turned people into fast breeding spiders which were totally mindless and expired within a few years, who’s actually a freak? THEY ARE FREAKS!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    If first degree relatives are free of all known deleterious genes and have a lot of good heritable qualities then one could even make an argument for encouraging them to breed.

    if you want to play the payoff game of perfect genes, just invest in perfecting cloning. cloned lines eventually expire though. not robust. frankly, i think there’s something fucked up where human flourishing includes brother-sister sex, but hey, i guess that’s not rational. if i was a dick i would put “rational” in quotes, but i’ll hold off on that…. sometimes being too rational about behavior leads us down dead-ends. we would save a lot of time wondering whether bestiality is rape due to issues of animal consent if we just went with our first instincts and agreed that normal people don’t prefer sex with animals to sex with conspecifics, and going ‘doggy style’ with a horse is profoundly abnormal if you aren’t a horse (i once worked on a mule farm, and i can tell you that male donkeys think it’s fucked up, and they’re phylogenetically much closer to a horse).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    to be clear: i like rational thinking. but sometimes rationality has practical limits. i wish people would internalize that more when it comes to human affairs. of course, now i’m sound like leon kass or something. fuck.

  • Charles Nydorf

    Levi-Strauss proposed a sociological explanation for incest taboos. He maintained that they were designed to prevent communities from breaking up into smaller units that only married within themselves. People would owe their primary loyalty to these sub-units and the community would break up.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #9, i think first degree incest is a case where we don’t need higher-order structural explanations. even if the children are not “monsters” (the ones which reach viability), they clearly tend to have sub-optimal physiological fitness. if you lack the genetic bias toward aversion to sex with first degree relatives (or those whom you are conditioned to perceiving as such)*, your genes have a death wish in the very near term.

    * it seems most consensual adult sibling sexual relationships are like the one in the german media; people who were not raised together.

  • Dm

    Thanks Razib, that’s what stunned me in Dienekes blog too, that both the German court and himself unquestionably sided with eugenics in this case, complete with its classic ethical traps – both probabilistically, since the more direct and precise knowledge of the health of the unborn children is available (and not to do it is unscientific IMHO) and judgementally (declaring the disabled children not worth of being born, which is ethically fraght, no to mention unreligious to many). Now that you have written it up, I guess I don’t have to wonder if I have to write it :) – thanks again

  • Karl Zimmerman

    @Mephane

    Since you’re a fan of slippery slopes, I should say that if there’s no functional difference between executing someone disabled and never allowing them to be born, that means it’s fundamentally wrong to prevent the creation of any human being. Hence the Mormons are right, and we should have as many children as physically possible, as otherwise we are denying potential human beings existence. Hell, we should expand the global population to hundreds of billions and convert the entire biosphere to either be human or food for humans.

  • jb

    I see no functional difference between the two notions of preventing a child that would otherwise very definitely be born from being born or even conceived out of fear (or knowledge) that it may be disabled and killing an existing disabled person.

    This is utter nonsense. We prevent children from being born all the time for all sorts of reasons, and no one has a problem with it. If my mother had been in a bad mood on a certain critical night this would have prevented me from ever being born. So what? Most likely someone else would have been conceived on a different night, someone who doesn’t exist precisely because I do exist. And in any case the world would move on. There is simply no problem here.

    The thing is, there is a huge difference between a potential person — a person who might exist, but doesn’t exist yet — and an actual person. Potential people are ephemeral, they exist in huge numbers, and most never actually come to exist. There is no conceivable way you can extend any sort of rights to them. At least at the earliest stages a fetus has no mind, so there is no person there, even though a body does exist. Deciding you don’t want to bring that fetus to term has no more moral weight than deciding you don’t want to have unprotected sex on a particular night. In both cases you are simply deciding the fate of potential people, not actual people.

  • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

    Agree that broadening wrongful life causes of action against parents is the way to go. A California appellate court briefly did this in the 90s but it was almost immediately changed by statute. Parents have a lobby; children do not.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    hey all, any mention of ovens and gas chambers are going to be summary grounds for banning. just to be clear to newbies who are not aware of my standards.

  • http://emilkirkegaard.com Emil

    For those interested in Eugenics, I recommend reading: Richard Lynn’s Eugenics: A reassessment (2001). It’s the best thing I’ve read on the subject.

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com Tim Martin

    Mephane said:
    I see no functional difference between the two notions of preventing a child that would otherwise very definitely be born from being born or even conceived out of fear (or knowledge) that it may be disabled and killing an existing disabled person.

    In addition to what others have said, there is a very important difference that no one has yet mentioned, and it comes up often in discussions of euthanasia. In most cases (i.e. with adults), those who are disabled and who find their lives no longer worth living are able to make this decision for themselves. It is their choice and their right. It is only in the case of those who cannot decide for themselves (e.g. infants) that we make decisions for them.

    Razib said:
    …we would save a lot of time wondering whether bestiality is rape due to issues of animal consent if we just went with our first instincts and agreed that normal people don’t prefer sex with animals to sex with conspecifics…

    Yes but what if our first instincts aren’t very good? Or what if what most people consider “normal” is simply a result of cultural or even evolutionary psychological accident? How do we know we aren’t foisting our biases on humans with outlier psychologies for a bad reason? The only way to know, I think, would be to think about it rationally.

    If “what most people think” is a practical limit to rationality, I think that’s a limit we’re better off breaking through.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    even evolutionary psychological accident?

    on a deep level everything is an evolutionary psychological accident. i take your point, but a lot of the rational thinking is a waste of time for almost everyone.

  • omar

    I am in favor of full access to information and permitting people to make their own choices. One problem with eugenic legislation is that it is so open to misuse and irrational application based on widely held prejudices and not on rational calculation (rational calculation may not even be possible because of lack of good information).
    e.g. we ban some drugs, regulate others and leave others undisturbed. And we then subject drug users and their dependents (and society in general, with taxation, prisons, police-state tendencies, etc) to penalties that usually far exceed any harm the drug itself could have done to them or to others. None of this is done because of very rational calculation of societal or individual harm. And dont forget that somebody will soon find a way to profit from any new rules and penalties we put in place.Given this high risk of misapplication and prejudice in the conduct of our daily affairs, we are better off being very “conservative” about the legislation of behavior.
    Disgust is not necessarily a permanent state for all times to come, but while its there, it will do its job without legislation. I dont think incest is any less due to fear of the law. And in the rare/uncommon cases where it does occur, the law is usually not involved.
    Incidentally, on the Tay-Sachs example, the healthy kids could be completely healthy, but in cases of first degree incest, every baby is likely to carry some (maybe mild, but some) disability. But there are other problems with incest that have nothing to do with the possible offspring. e.g. there may be the psychological impact on the victim (many cases seem to be father daughter or brother-sister incest where the younger partner was not exactly consenting).
    Also, we permit father and siblings to be with “unprotected” daughters and sisters (and brothers, males can be victims too) in ways that we would be very careful about if they were NOT fathers or brothers (e.g., the precautions taken at boy scout camps to make sure adult volunteers dont get to be alone with individual scouts in the showers or tents). A society without an incest taboo might find that burden of regulation and oversight rather heavy.

  • 4runner

    but naturally you play the slippery slope change-the-subject game.

    Actually no– I’m not arguing slippery slope. I’m questioning your premise that you’ve somehow figured out something that society hasn’t.

    *Any* curtailment of reproduction (be it, incest, norms banning pre-marital sex, or whatever) inherently involves a lot of work for society to impose its values on individuals.

    The question then becomes what values society chooses to impose. Some values (like repulsion to incest) appear to be hard-wired into humans and society can get broad agreement on the use of force. Other values— like insuring care for the young– appear to be so fundamental to advanced societies that institutions like marriage are nearly universal. Still other values– like ensuring paternal lineage– are much less universal but still find expression in practices like clitorectomy, chastity belts, and social norms against female sexuality.

    It would seem that different societies’ willingness to impose these sorts of values reflects the benefits of the imposition. In other words, it is really important that incest not occur, it is slightly less important that parents care for their children, and it is somewhat important that the cuckoldry rate be kept pretty small.

    In your own example of Tay-Sachs– there seems to be broad agreement that the benefits of allowing couples to marry whom they want, control their own reproductive behavior, maintain their pro-life beliefs, whatever– outweigh the benefits of infants and toddlers dying miserable deaths. You disagree and propose to “think logically” about this situation.

    The heart of my position is that although it is possible that society is wrong and that there’d be some great– previously unknown– benefit to your proposal, I believe that chances are that society kinda knows what its doing. In other words, you bear the burden of proof that the sort of restrictions you propose would actually be beneficial.

    Turning to your question:
    if there was a mutation which turned people into fast breeding spiders which were totally mindless and expired within a few years, who’s actually a freak? THEY ARE FREAKS!

    Do you really believe your own answer to this question? If any genetic mutation comes along and improves reproductive success, how long will it be before the people without the mutation are considered “freaks?”

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    4runner, you wrote a lot. i actually think you’re entering into the discussion a lot of facts which are false on the face of them. so i’m not going to respond much at this point.

    Do you really believe your own answer to this question? If any genetic mutation comes along and improves reproductive success, how long will it be before the people without the mutation are considered “freaks?”

    of course i believe it. i’m talking in a proximate sense as who i am now. if you have a biological background you are aware that something like ‘reproductive success’ is very ambiguous in the long term, so my ‘thought experiment’ obviously wasn’t realistic. i really don’t think you’re even address me, or, you want me to address a different set of questions. as i stated above, nature is nature. it’s not useful for me to consider that eusocial WASPs would consider humans freaks.

  • 4runner

    ‘reproductive success’ may indeed be very ambiguous but so is the term “freak.”

    As for “nature being nature”– my point is that it seems pretty arrogant to think that the application of “logic” in passing to a system that is as complex as a human society can readily come up with an “improvement.”

    As for my facts, I’d be very interested in hearing what you think is false…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    in passing to a system that is as complex as a human society can readily come up with an “improvement.”

    don’t ever use quotes like that again or i’ll ban you. i didn’t use the word improvement, probably because i reject your characterization of my argument (in contrast, i did use logic, so i accept the usage of quotes in response to me there). instead of making your own position clear, you keep setting up my own position for your own trivial but true or non-trivial but opaque rebuttals.

  • ackbark

    Reproductive success also involves not being killed by the surrounding population, as I think would probably happen in the advent of giant fast-breeding spiders.

    I saw somewhere (John Hawks?) something to the effect that since the beginning of civilization societies have executed an average of 10% of each generation and it’s only in recent centuries this has declined.

    That is, for the most part, the most violent or disruptive 10% of each generation has been systematically eliminated. Is this not eugenics?

    And hasn’t it been established that women, given the choice tend to go for the guy with the most different immune system and that objections to incest have to do with ensuring the broadest level of immune system coverage in a population?

  • http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/ Christopher@BorderWars

    @4

    > if the couple have a lot of particularly good recessive genes then…

    By the very nature of being recessive most alleles are actually broken and are non-functional. Novelty might make these phenotypes seem desirable, such as with loss of pigment recessives (we see this all the time in dog breeding where recessive coat colors are fetishized). But these are hardly “good” save for that novelty.

    Recessive Means Broken

    > If first degree relatives are free of all known deleterious genes and have a lot of good heritable qualities then one could even make an argument for encouraging them to breed.

    Yet another spurious argument we see so often in pure bred dog breeding circles. The notion of “free of all known deleterious…” There are several rather simple refutations of this argument.

    (1) We know so little about disease genetics, we are very much in a state of ignorance. So being free from “all known” deleterious recessives isn’t actually saying very much.

    Only a small fraction of diseases are even mapped to genetic tests and even the definition of what a disease is and “a gene for disease X” are controversial ideas. Just because we have developed mental models of “genetic disease” and “genes that cause disease” does not mean that most disease paths are so easy to differentiate from the wildtype “normal” biological processes.

    The Limits of “Health” Testing
    and
    You Can’t Pass a Health Test You Don’t Take
    cover this issue in dog breeding where eugenics is as alive today as it was in the 30s and 40s.

    (2) If you should find a stud that is free from deleterious recessives, is it not better to use him to create clear phenotypes and carrier/clear genotypes in lines that are affected? I.e. slowly weeding out disease over many generations without a rush to cut out “bad” genes and thus lose genetic diversity in a small gene pool? This isn’t as much of an issue when the gene pools are large and there are many breeders, but it is very much an issue in dogs where artificial segregation into rigid and closed breeds highlights the damage done by loss of diversity.

    (3) New mutations happen all the time. Genetic drift sends most of them into history without ever being expressed, so why would you want to take that risk by breeding seemingly clear close relatives when doing so is really the only way most of these brand new mutations are ever going to become homozygous?

    For example, something like 80%+ cases of achondroplasia in humans are due to de novo mutations, i.e. no known family history of the mutation. The mutation which causes this is likely at a fragile location that is PRONE to mutate. Breeding “healthy” close relatives brings these sorts of diseases to light.

    That’s why you often see novel “diseases” in inbred human populations. Those mutations would likely never have doubled up had inbreeding not been in place. And, once you have an incubator community for new deleterious recessives and then these breeders are released into the world, you have a situation where you’ve greatly magnified the chance that such genes will move toward becoming fixed in a population versus lost due to drift.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i think that commenter was making an analogy to selfing plants which purge genetic load. though my understanding is that doesn’t work too well in humans.

  • http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/ Christopher@BorderWars

    @26

    I did a little analysis of selfing plants. You can reach almost universal homozygosity in just 5 generations.

    Inbreeding Is Screwing Yourself

    Too bad most active hobby breeders (and occasional totalitarian regimes) aren’t satisfied keeping their genetic meddling and ideas of genetic purity to plants, a life-form which we ascribe very little moral implications to. There’s arguably little harm done by entertaining genetic failures of flowering plants in search of a ribbon winning paeony, although large scale mono-cultures are not as easy to write off as benign.

    But society doesn’t generally have such a favorable view of producing dysfunctional sentient beings. I expect more from a cow than I do some corn, more from a dog than I do a cow, and more from a child than I do a dog. And the level of ethics of how those things are bred rises too. Few people care about monoculture plants. There is little stigma of eating an inbred cow (although the practical nature of hybrid vigor makes $ driven cattlemen more likely to outcross than many in dogs who count “breeds” as sacred and unchanging even though most are fewer than 100 years old). There is growing backlash against hard core eugenicist dog breeding methods with greater public awareness.

    Close human inbreeding is generally looked down upon and the communities that embrace it do so with rather suspect motives: racism, culturism, isolationism, etc. And in any one you can name (be it Arab immigrants in the UK or religious sects in Utah) we see rising levels of disease and often novel deleterious mutations.

  • AG

    Bring non-productive burden to society is quite selfish, similar to those welfare mamas.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home Louise Kinross

    Before you start making assumptions about qualify of life in children and adults with disabilities, maybe you should look at some scientific studies of self-reported satisfaction with life in these populations:

    http://www.hollandbloorview.ca/bloom/rh_happy_children_disability_not.html

    http://bloom-parentingkidswithdisabilities.blogspot.ca/2011/12/costs-quality-of-life-assumptions-put.html

    http://bloom-parentingkidswithdisabilities.blogspot.ca/2012/01/disability-paradox.html

    I don’t believe that genetic defects are the prime reason for the societal taboo on sibling incest.

    If you feel we should ban the marriage of people carrying the Tay Sachs genes, where would you lift the ban when a disability is detected prenatally? Should I be ‘allowed’ to carry a child with Down syndrome to term? What about a child with only a physical disability? What about a child who is deaf?

    Does it matter how these real people rate their quality of life? Does it matter how their families rate their contributions?

    Maybe we should start banning the birth of any societally marginalized group — separate from disability. Forget about changing prejudice — let’s just keep it alive in a vacuum of homogeneity.

    For someone who calls himself a scientist, you throw around the word ‘retarded’ an awful lot. Is that a word you use in your academic papers?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    a comment like #29 will result in immediate banning. i’m not inclined to tolerate people who impute views to me that i don’t hold nor did i assert. no mind reading please :-)

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Dodging the eugenic possibility a bit, it is clear that most close relative incest cases (e.g. father-daughter, uncle-niece, much older brother-much younger sister, etc.) have a clear likelihood of undue influence/exploitation element that is likely to be present and that due to the Westmarck effect, that siblings close in age and raised together, which is the overwhelming majority of siblings, are unlikely to have much of a sexual attraction to each other.

    In these cases, the truly consensual case of incest (and if you delve into the facts of the German case, it isn’t obvious that the German case is one of them), are likely to be few and far between and the procedural utility of not having to show exploitation in a context where it may be hard to prove something that is really present may outweigh the downside of a few prohibited relationships that don’t deserve to be prohibited on the basis of lack of true consent and exploitation.

    When you start with that premise, then second order considerations, like genetic risk, can fairly inform the question of whether it really makes sense to make exceptions for the rare cases that might be O.K. from a consent/exploitation analysis. If even the “pure consensual” cases still have downsides and are rare anyway, the utility of a simpler, less case specific incest ban is even greater.

    It is also worth considering that the Germans imposed a sentence (three years) much milder than what many U.S. states would impose on teachers and students who are both adults in a much more likely to be consensual relationship who have sex and don’t have kids and have no genetic risk. The punishment may be pretty mild in this case because the act, while deviant, isn’t considered as horrible as other acts of incest.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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