Eugenics, the 100 year cycle

By Razib Khan | November 11, 2012 11:50 pm

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece out by Nathaniel Comfort, The Eugenic Impulse. I would just like to offer that to a great extent we already live in the second age of eugenics. The high frequency of abortions of fetuses which come back positive for Down syndrome is well known. But it seems possible that we’ll be able to reduce the frequency of many Mendelian diseases as well. Basically those ailments which are due to a major mutation of large effect and high penetrance (i.e., you have the mutation, you have the disease).

A major goal which we’re very far from though is the ability to select for quantitative traits. There are technical hurdles, both tactical and strategic, here. The major issue is that there are simply too many variants for one to be able to select a ‘perfect’ genetic profile. Those who’ve talked to me know my response in this domain: select for low mutational load. High coverage fetal whole genome sequencing would do that. The marketing pitch for this writes itself: imagine you, but bright of mind, and beautiful of face!

MORE ABOUT: Eugenics

Comments (12)

  1. Jim Kling

    We’re not reducing the frequency of Down’s syndrome, because it’s not inherited, it’s spontaneous. What we’re doing is increasing the frequency of abortion of Down’s syndrome fetuses. And this is ironic given that we now know how important environment is for Down’s syndrome kids. Given special education and opportunities, they can live much better lives than they could a generation ago, when most were carried to term.

    And don’t misunderstand. I’m pro-choice. I’m just a little disturbed by the increased abortion rate for Down syndrome fetuses.

  2. #1, the frequency of tay sachs has declined. the frequency of the allele itself has not. i’m aware of the semantic point you’re making (and have made it myself), but ultimately it think it’s useless.

  3. My cousin knew her baby was likely to have severe developmental problems and she had it anyway. Turned out to have some obscure deletion rendering it helpless for its entire life. All because she’s christian (and possibly due to high paternal age in this case)! wow, what a burden to place on society and your family because of that poor judgment. You can get a late term abortion in most states, correct? Or, at least, in another state? I found the online explanation of the patchwork of rules about this to be confusing. I’d even advocate the legalization of euthanizing a child after birth if found to have developmental problems. It used to be the norm, or sill is, in some cultures:)
    i think it may be this but i really don’t know for sure:

  4. J

    “I’d even advocate the legalization of euthanizing a child after birth if found to have developmental problems.”

    What sort of developmental problems do you think would warrant the killing of an infant?

    “It used to be the norm, or sill is, in some cultures:)”

    Perhaps your advocacy would find supporters in these other unnamed cultures. Good luck with this one.

  5. what probs? uh, being retarded. is that not ok with you? i sense some bitterness. and, hey, it was the norm far longer than it hasn’t been. don’t look at me like i’m weird. it’s the logical thing to do.

  6. Karl Zimmerman

    Darkseid is right. It offends our modern sensibilities, but in most cultures in history, not only the severely retarded, but children with comparably mild deformities like clubfoot were either killed at birth or (in societies a bit more squeamish) abandoned outside to the elements in order to deny moral responsibility and allow the rationalization that “someone might have picked it up.”

  7. ackbark

    I saw somewhere that Oedipus meant ‘wounded foot’, though Wikipedia says ‘swollen foot’.

    This is suggesting a whole other level of interpretation of the story I’d never thought of before, that the child’s presence would have been a more ordinary burden.

  8. brad12345

    Karl and Darkseid there has also been slavery and much more brutality for most of our existence. Are you suggesting we cut the power cord and move back into our grass huts? Have fun with that, based on your out dated opinions, I am guessing you are getting up there in age and your younger barbarians will take you out to pasture.

  9. Sandgroper

    I suspect Karl and Darkseid are suggesting that we should make use of modern science to aid in exercising better judgement.

  10. Thank you, Sandgroper:)
    I guess pure analytical thinking doesn’t come naturally to commenters like Brad.

  11. Hermenauta

    I find fascinating that thousand of years of pure analytical thinking still brought us to the need of keep doing the same thing as ever.

    This is progress, man!

  12. Tanya McPositron

    Wow! These comments are a real mind-bender. I appreciate the bold (albeit disturbing) line of thinking.


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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


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