CW: several mentions of Nazis and Nazi policies
Anyone who has engaged with or watched the disabled twitter community over the past few days will have seen the seemingly endless debates over eugenics, prompted by this post. At times like these, what little faith I have in humanity is lessened, and I fear for the future.
Eugenics has it’s roots in the late 19th/early 20th century eugenics movements, however it is best known for it’s use by the Nazis during WWII. Early eugenics involved encouraging certain groups to reproduce while discouraging/preventing people with “undesirable” genes from reproducing. The second part, negative eugenics, can been seen in the Nazi’s horrific Aktion T-4 program, where they exterminated disabled people.
However, modern technology has now produced the possibility of eugenics in a different manner – that of gene editing. It is this that the article which started the debate focused on. The writer of the article claims they would “love to see the option to remove any genes that cause disability.” The writer faced considerable backlash on twitter from disabled people.
Then another person appeared on Twitter, writing “And if you can find a single Autistic person or Deaf person that doesn’t want there to be a magical cure for that I’d be surprised” which at the time of writing this paragraph, has 221 replies, most of which are from autistic or deaf people who do not want cures (myself included).
The majority of autistic people do not want a cure, but the majority of the neurotypical population do not seem to acknowledge this. Neurotypical people continue to set up cure-focused research centres and ‘charities’ like Autism Speaks, NT parents of autistic children force their kids to go to ABA ‘therapy’ (widely seen by autistic people as abuse) to try and force their kids to act NT, and then there are a number of people who want to find the ‘autism gene’ so they can abort us before we are even born.
Eugenics is never okay. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, eugenics with technology still has the same fundamental goals as the eugenics of old, it should not be seen as more acceptable to prevent the birth of disabled people than to kill us after we are born.
Eugenics is being used today. We see this in the widespread abortion of Down’s syndrome foetuses. Genetic screening for Down’s syndrome is possible, and 90% of positively identified Down’s babies are now aborted. If a genetic cause for other disabilities, autism included (not that it’s likely) was found, then there is a good chance the abortion rate would be as high for them. Especially given the majority of society’s attitudes to disability.
Of course, most supporters of modern eugenics want the technology to alter the foetus so an abled, neurotypical baby is born, rather than aborting the foetus. However the technology to do so is experimental and new (US scientists only sucessfully edited the genes of a human embryo on the 2nd August, 8 days ago from time of writing). So at the moment, the main method of preventing disabled births is abortion.
Proponents of modern eugenics would like to isolate all the genes that cause any disability, and edit the genes of the child. This is the goal of the modern eugenicist – to genetically engineer babies so they are not disabled. This technology has been in the development for years, and debates have sprung up throughout that time on the ethics of such technology.
One of the main controversies surrounds the issue of ‘designer babies’ – if it is possible to edit any genes of an unborn foetus, then why shouldn’t prospective parents be able to choose eye colour, hair colour, skin tone, general appearance, intelligence, strength, sex etc? If scientists can isolate a genetic cause for anything, then prospective parents could theoretically choose whether or not their child has that thing, or what variety of that thing their child has. But should parents have the authority to decide all that for their children?
One of the main problems I have with this technology is that it would likely be incredibly expensive. Although I live in a country with a national health service, it seems unlikely that anything but the most basic alterations would be available on the NHS, and there are many countries where all healthcare is private. This would lead to rich people being able to create designer children with high intelligence, conventional attractiveness and superior strength.
These genetically engineered children would likely do better in school and at sports, gaining all the top university places and the best jobs, creating a distinctly separate class from the basic natural human that poorer children would be. It would widen the wealth gap significantly, and make any kind of socioeconomic mobility near impossible. Over time the technology would come down in price, but by that time there would be two very distinct classes of human, and the rich would still have access to any new innovations in the field of genetic science before the rest.
As an autistic person, my brain functions differently from the majority of people. I think and process things differently, and in my opinion this makes me neither superior nor inferior to the neurotypical majority. As in all aspects of life, I value diversity, and I believe that humanity functions as a whole at its best when there are a wide variety of different perspectives to any issue that arises.
It is my belief that if all neurodivergences were eliminated from the population, that the human species would be in great trouble. Reduced to only the neurotypical way of viewing the world, human society would become monotonous and dull. Small talk and socialising would be far too great priorities in that society. If that is what the future holds, and I fear it is, then I am glad I will not survive to see it.
We do not want to be replaced by our neurotypical, abled clones, we do not want to be prevented from ever living at all as who we are. To take away someone’s disability is to change who they are. To edit the genes of someone is to change who that person is. If someone gave me a ‘cure’ for my autism, they would kill me and give life to a different neurotypical person inside my body.
In that way, genetic engineering technology is little different to aborting one foetus and then getting pregnant again with an abled baby a few days later. You kill the initial person to replace them with another. So whichever style of eugenics is used, in the end it amounts to the systematic murder of disabled people.
It is my great fear that this technology will become prevalent, and that in the future most babies will be genetically engineered in some way. The technological modern eugenics does not seem to have the same stigma as the eugenics of the WWII era, and in fact many seem unaware of the history of eugenics or the origins of the term at all. I fear for the autistic community, that we will be wiped out in a misguided attempt to prevent ‘suffering’ by people who refuse to hear us even when we shout.
It greatly concerns me that it appeared to be only disabled people who were objecting to eugenics on twitter this week, that our allies are nowhere to be found. Disabled people as a group are frequently ignored, talked over, and not listened to. We can raise all these concerns but in the end, without allies I fear that we will lose this battle. Our existence is threatened, but abled people turn away or worse, join the ranks of the eugenics proponents who would rather we were never born.
Eugenics is a fundamentally immoral idea. Any and all attempts to put it into practice, be they in the past, present or future, were/are/will be unethical and will lead to the death of many people who have a right to life. In my opinion, there is no justification for eugenics and I will oppose it in all forms until the day I die.
One world war has already been fought against advocates of eugenics. I worry that it will take another to prevent disabled people from being wiped out entirely. Or worse – it happens with no war, because nobody thinks we’re worth fighting for.
If I have made any factual errors in this, please message me as neither history nor genetics are my field of study.