Monday, May 14, 2007

Pathology and Eugenics

In following tangents related to purple_kangaroo's Defining Marriage thread, I came across the article: "Creationism and the problem of homosexual behaviour by Dr Jerry Bergman", wherein "The evolutionist view of the origin of homosexuality in contrast to the creationist explanation is reviewed." It provides a scientific argument for a pathological view of homosexuality.

Of course, "pathology" indicates a disease to be remedied and implicitly makes a moral judgement about the condition, which others may contest. For example, since 1973, the American Psychiatric Association no longer classifies homosexuality as a psychopathology ("Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health"), though apparently, there is still a defiant minority.

But more generally, is the moral judgement of any pathology or disease warranted? Or is it merely relative to a person's subjective response to a condition?

For example, in 2002, one deaf couple intentionally 'chose' to have a deaf baby. The lesbian couple, "both in their 30s, are part of a growing movement in the US which sees deafness as a cultural identity, not as a disability. Many oppose surgery to correct deafness."

In "Deaf lesbians, 'designer disability,' and the future of medicine", Julian Savulescu discusses some pertinent arguments and concludes that preventing such reproductive choices is tantamount to the Nazi eugenic program and that a "child is harmed by being selected to exist only if his or her life is so bad it is not worth living".

But how do we determine whether a life is "worth living"? Treatment of a "disease" seems rightfully ground in our individual freedoms, but making this decision for a baby disturbs me. Yet it does seem right to me that parents should be the ultimate caretakers of their child, and not doctors or society.

On the other hand, we clearly would not permit a more developed baby (or fetus?) to be intentionally disabled in order for its parents to form the child they desire. Incest has likewise been forbidden out of concern for creating disabled children.

Do such parental decisions sufficiently impact society for the government to intervene? Can this be compared to, for example, a parent's decision not to have their child vaccinated?

Kevin

13 comments:

brad said...

...we clearly would not permit a more developed baby (or fetus?) to be intentionally disabled in order for its parents to form the child they desire.

Are you sure? If a mother has the right to remove all the limbs from her baby in the process of killing the baby in her womb, why would she not have the right to remove one of those limbs and keep the rest alive?

I would love to see the ACLU's response to such a mother's request.

--Brad

Kevin said...

Brad,

Thanks for your comments.

Brad wrote: "Are you sure? If a mother has the right to remove all the limbs from her baby in the process of killing the baby in her womb, why would she not have the right to remove one of those limbs and keep the rest alive?"

No, I'm not sure about your example, but I'm hopeful. :) I put a question mark after "or fetus" for the reason you describe. Suffice it to say that outside the womb, it would be illegal.

Your example is very disturbing and I wonder at its legality, particularly if such modifications were performed early in the pregnancy when the state ostensibly has no legally permitted interest in the child.

Brad wrote: "I would love to see the ACLU's response to such a mother's request."

That would be interesting, and perhaps something similar may one day be tested in court.

Kevin

katia said...

This is too wierd for me. I do not think this is a good analogy since I do not believe children are born without ability to choose so I don't think there is much for me to say here.

Kevin said...

I reread my last comment, and it sounded rather weird to me following Brad's question. It should read "No, I'm not sure about your example, but I'm hopeful that it would be illegal".

Kevin said...

katia,

I agree that it is a weird subject. Nevertheless, I think our rights and responsibilities in creating human life is a legal subject that must eventually be addressed.

As Brad indicates, it might even have repercussions on abortion, since the potential of the child would likely be taken into account. And, for example, killing is traditionally a greater crime than maiming.

I'm not sure what analogy you are referring to, or how better to respond. In any case, thanks for your comment.

Kevin

katia said...

If this is about wether or not parents should get treatment for their child and not a gay right issue then I would say that the anology of maiming wouldn't be appropriate as the couple doesn't want to maim the child is already maim sounds like. There are children who are blind but parents can't have surgery done cause it's too expencive. So I fail to see the conection. If the couple just refuses treatment it doesn't neccessary say they are making their child's live not worth living. I am still confused by this whole aregument

I don't think gayness is a dissease like one that can't be cured I think it is more like an addiction that can only be cured cold turkey and with God.

I don't think the baby born deaf is neccessary being maimed if the baby has no surgery unless the baby had an illness that was threatening their life.

I deffenately thing that babies should have rights as children do and that to purposly maim a baby should be outlawed as it is outlawed to hurt a child. Both are human and individual in their own right. But types of treatment for already existing stuff that is where I hit a gray area. For example I am against kemotheory and if my kid had cancer I would prabably have a court case on my hands. I think kimo kills kids faster. Sometimes it helps but the stats aren't good. so Some things should be in the parents hands but the life a child even in their womb is not theirs to decide. The child should have a right to live. If the baby doesn't have a right then why do they have more rights when they are out of the womb as a child whats the difference. The goverment might as well say you can kill your kids any time because you created them and it's an extention of your body. Crazy huh. Well that is how I feel of abortion and anything like it.

Kevin said...

Katia,

I primarily meant to raise the issues of the ethics of engineering children and the changing nature of pathology / disease.

In the case of the lesbian deaf couple, they intentionally selected a sperm donor because he was genetically deaf in order to ensure that their child would be deaf.

It seems the next step, when it becomes reliable and feasible, would be to directly modify an egg/sperm/embryo/fetus in order to effect desired qualities. Most commonly, people would want to eliminate diseases and disabilities, but what about those who want to instill them?

There are laws against incest in order to prevent the creation of disabled children, yet before the third trimester, as I understand it, the State is not permitted to have a legal interest in a child. These two principles seem at odds to me.

My curiosity related to pathology / disease is that it assumes some objectively proper design or condition. If we abandon that notion, then disease becomes subjective to indivual desire. Also, I don't think "disease" implies "incurable".

Kevin

katia said...

I agree with you on all accounts from your comments posted today now that I see what you are saying.

I find it interesting though that a child born of deaf parents will not necessarily be deaf so even though they might wish it they don't have as much control as they think. I think this is different than incest. I know of deaf couples who have seeing children. Strange that they have these notions.

Kevin said...

Katia,

I think you're right that there was a chance of a hearing baby, but given the opportunity, I expect they would diminish that chance.

Also, apparently, incest can result in a healthy child. From the BBC's "Incest: an age-old taboo" article: "Some geneticists put the risk of producing a disabled child as high as 50%, but this is hotly debated. Opponents of the incest ban also argue there are double standards, noting that no-one would ban those with hereditary diseases from reproducing."

Kevin

MamasBoy said...

The idea that one could purposefully make sure their kid ends up with a disability strikes me as similar to the post PK had awhile ago on the doctors who operated on a handicapped girl in order to prevent her from going through puberty and growing up.

I see a big difference between treating a disease and purposefully eliminating a fully functioning organ/appendage. I also see a big difference between procreation vis-a-vis sexual intercourse and IVF. I'm in the minority in opposing both of those. We live in a society where adults regularly pay doctors to mutilate their healthy reproductive organs and think nothing of it. We also live in a society where people regularly resort to the test tube when their efforts at conception via intercourse fail. Is it any wonder that we should see the confluence of these two trends?

Other than consent to being purposefully chosen as a deaf kid, I see little difference morally in the aim of the actions themselves. Perhaps consent is where most people base most of their concerns these days. Consent and the fetus is a tough issue. For starters, no fetus or infant and few children are capable of making informed consent on complicated issues. Can we base such prohibitions solely on the potential for future disagreement?

Given that such reasoning over future disagreement is sufficient, over what topics would such a future disagreement have sway. There are many atheists who hate the way they were indoctrinated at a young age to believe in God. Should parents be allowed to choose their children's religion? It seems to me that religion plays as big a role in one's social life and development as disability. If politics is really partially genetic, can we reproduce to build the party? http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/070524_ideological_leaning.html

MB

Kevin said...

MamasBoy,

I agree that there are some similarities with Mark's Always a Child (also his Gattaca post), but I think those still maintain some objective measure of pathology (and morality), while this thread suggests that such an objective measure is eroding, leading to contradictory laws and even more diverse implications and dilemmas regarding our reproductive freedoms.

MB: "Other than consent to being purposefully chosen as a deaf kid, I see little difference morally in the aim of the actions themselves."

Which actions are you referring to?

MB: "Can we base such prohibitions solely on the potential for future disagreement?"

Maybe not solely, but it does seem relevant. In addition to the potential (e.g. 99+% probably say that hearing is better than being deaf), maximizing future options could also be a qualifier (e.g. it is easier to become deaf than to become hearing). What other criteria would you suggest?

MB: "There are many atheists who hate the way they were indoctrinated at a young age to believe in God. Should parents be allowed to choose their children's religion?"

Yes. Assuming that the religion does not actually amount to child abuse, beliefs can be changed. I imagine people could likewise lament an atheistic upbringing.

MB: "If politics is really partially genetic, can we reproduce to build the party?"

Yep. :) If not due to genetics, then at least due to environment. Interesting article you linked, but I suspect it oversimplifies the issue.

Kevin

MamasBoy said...

Kevin,

To clarify:
MB: "Other than consent to being purposefully chosen as a deaf kid, I see little difference morally in the aim of the actions themselves."
Kevin: "Which actions are you referring to?"

I am referring to 1) parents choosing to eliminate any chance of their child hearing and 2) parents choosing to eliminate any chance that their child will grow up (e.g., go through puberty when there is nothing wrong with their body in that regard). In both cases, the parents are choosing to have their children purposefully handicapped because they think they can better raise a child whose body does not function normally as opposed to a child whose body does function normally.
---------------

Kevin: "Yes. Assuming that the religion does not actually amount to child abuse, beliefs can be changed. I imagine people could likewise lament an atheistic upbringing"

I was referring to parents who actively proselytize their children. Whether it is to some form of theistic belief or atheistic belief is irrelevant to my line of thinking. I say this because I have read articles from people who think that trying to influence children regarding religion is unethical. The reasoning goes that since children are impressionable and allegedly unable to understand the implications of such a decision, then pushing them into a religion before they are ready can drastically limit their future options in life. Following this line of thinking, limits should be put on the proselytizing of children, even by parents. A) Children should have freedom of religion just as much as adults. and B) Children should not be taught one narrow viewpoint on religion before they are capable of pursuing the relevant questions and deciding for themselves among the many theistic and atheistic belief systems out there.

-----------------
MB: "If politics is really partially genetic, can we reproduce to build the party?"

Kevin: Yep. :) If not due to genetics, then at least due to environment. Interesting article you linked, but I suspect it oversimplifies the issue.

I agree that it oversimplifies the issue a bit. I am really proposing a hypothosis for future scientific capabilities.
Assuming that A) People of certain temperments tend to gravitate strongly toward specific political parties (this seems logical from the article) and B) Scientists could control for these tempermental characteristics.
Then, would it be ethical to try to genetically engineer the temperment of one's child so that that child would be much more likely (say 90% likely) to join a particular political party?
------------
MB: "Can we base such prohibitions solely on the potential for future disagreement?"

Kevin: "Maybe not solely, but it does seem relevant. In addition to the potential (e.g. 99+% probably say that hearing is better than being deaf), maximizing future options could also be a qualifier (e.g. it is easier to become deaf than to become hearing). What other criteria would you suggest?"

Saved this for last, since the earlier responses feed into it.

I can't think of a justification for prohibiting purposeful handicapping of a child that is not highly problematic, once purposefully handicapping a person is not considered to be inherently wrong. Both of the above reasons for not handicapping a child (future disagreement and limiting of options) can also be used to prohibit proselytizing that child into the parents' religion.

MB

Kevin said...

MamasBoy,

MB: "In both cases, the parents are choosing to have their children purposefully handicapped because they think they can better raise a child whose body does not function normally as opposed to a child whose body does function normally."

But how immoral is that commonality by itself? Wouldn't such reasoning also extend to circumcision or removing an appendix or tonsils?

It seems to me that the moral analysis should primarily be based upon the effects of the change and not the fact that any change from "normal" is made. This what makes the case of Ashley (Always a Child) so difficult for me to judge, since I can't be sure whether her life will actually be better.

MB: "I say this because I have read articles from people who think that trying to influence children regarding religion is unethical."

Ah. I haven't read those articles, and if I had, I probably would have dismissed them. I hold religion to largely be defined by the morality it espouses, so that statement doesn't make much sense to me. I would imagine that even such a multi-cultural/-religious position will have a definite impact on the child's religious views.

MB: "Then, would it be ethical to try to genetically engineer the temperament of one's child so that that child would be much more likely (say 90% likely) to join a particular political party?"

Or maybe just a less rambunctious temperament? Or a more rambunctious temperament? Boy, I don't know.

A study mentioned in the article I linked in my original post even suggests a positive correlation between maternal stress during pregnancy and homosexuality. So, to some extent, it seems we may already be influencing genetics and fetal development, just without clear awareness of our effects.

Further, does knowing the statistical influence of certain genetics obligate us to correct them? Terrible genetic diseases may be obvious candidates for engineering, but what if there are significant statistical correlations with schizophrenia, or even sociopaths, murderers, etc.?

MB: "Both of the above reasons for not handicapping a child (future disagreement and limiting of options) can also be used to prohibit proselytizing that child into the parents' religion."

I would judge the potential (probability) for future disagreement by polling society, so I don't think "proselytizing a child" meets that first criteria, which would require at least a majority to think it is immoral and should be illegal.

I also don't think "religion" limits the child's ultimate options any more than other less-formal moral instruction, so I don't think it meets the second criteria, and certainly not to such a degree that it should be unlawful.

Kevin