Humanity has since time immemorial strived for attaining perfection, Eugenics or attempting to control what sort of progeny one has is one effort towards this end. Eugenics too has evolved with the times from being imposed through coercion by society or the state to being market driven in the present day and age. Prof (Dr) Jugal Kishore, Head of the Department, community medicine, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College, explains how eugenics survives even today under various guises and the ethical questions related to it.
Q) How has eugenics changed over time?
Earlier eugenics was done by community or state through coercion however now it is being done in a market driven manner. In my book ‘Vanishing Girl Child’ I have elaborated on this trend my point is that we should not desire designer babies. Determining the colour, intelligence, too much manipulation may not be very good in that case all children born would be same i.e., tall, beautiful etc. The focus should be on detection and prevention of abnormalities which would be positive eugenics. In the Future there would be such technology that we are able to detect each and every part of the body and manipulate it, but this technology ought to be used for detecting genetic disorders and prevention of diseases rather than having designer babies. Eugenics should be used for preventing births of those whose life would be a burden on him/her. Marriages in our country too can be labeled as a type of Eugenics we find instances where people would not marry into families where a certain person is known to be suffering from mental disorder or physically handicapped or having a criminal record. They reject the entire family because of one particular person as they feel that the genes of the family would possess such traits and fear that the progenies too might develop these tendencies. At a national level negation of some particular castes is a form of negative eugenics. Similarly we see developed countries have done this where they allow only literate, technocrats or only people of certain races to emigrate which is negative eugenics in the name of ensuring the prosperity of the country.
Q) Is Surrogacy a form of Eugenics?
Eugenics aims to improve the genetic endowment of the progeny and it can be classified into two types positive eugenics and negative eugenics. Surrogacy is selective and you are not allowing certain characteristics to develop whereas you want some other features to increase. In surrogacy you are selecting the women and the womb, father and mother are selected. Women who volunteer to be surrogate mothers do so due to poverty however even within this framework selection is done and not all qualify as being fit for being Surrogate mothers, hence selection is involved. Surrogacy is negative eugenics as it uses the poverty of a person to use her womb if the mother is westerner father is also a westerner and if they are doing it in their own country it may be ok, but coming and doing it in some other country and renting the womb of some poverty stricken woman is negative eugenics.
Q) Kindly differentiate between positive and negative eugenics
Positive eugenics involves encouraging a particular section population to increase its progeny, negative eugenics involves stopping a certain section of society from increasing its progeny. Positive eugenics would always involve taking into account freedom and human rights of the individuals rather than using people’s poverty, caste, race, etc.
Q) Some feel that the population’s average IQ is going down as those who are better off and more educated are having fewer kids?
This is a wrong and dangerous point of view; firstly we should forget that IQ is not the most important criteria world does go around due to IQ. For high administrative, managerial posts EQ or Emotional Quotient is more important. For choosing people for higher posts people with moderate IQ but high Emotional Quotient are chosen. And to think that the kids of the poor would be inferior is also wrong. More number of children in poor families cannot be a threat to few children in rich society. We should always promote fewer children for the sustainable development in the world. Few number will never cause overall lower IQ.
Q) Pollution, chemical fertilizer based farming, GM food and a synthetic lifestyle would all this leads to mutation and genetic changes in the future?
Genes have the inbuilt mechanism for mutation; this mutation many a time can be wrong and can even be beneficial. Cancers have a direct co relation to pollution and chemical fertilizer use. Genes can be affected by several environmental factors. Some diseases, for example Sickle cell anemia which occurs in certain African regions protect the person from getting malaria because red blood cells get deformed in the disease due to which it becomes unsuitable for attack by malaria parasite.
Q) With time are we losing some of our powers, are we becoming less intelligent and lazier with passage of time?
I don’t think we can say that the thing is that with the passage of time requirement of the situation changes and we need to adapt, that is what evolution is all about. To say that evolution is making us lazier is not true; our children are very smart, very good with technology, very career oriented. Intelligence of the human race has risen over time hence all the discoveries in science and technology, we see that humans are having an effect everywhere, humans are encroaching everywhere be it land, sea, sky and space. This is the reason why environment is being affected severely which would affect humans negatively. However humans are so intelligent that they would find a way to overcome these problems. Even bacteria and viruses evolve. We can say that we learn to become intelligent only in new ways.
Q) What physical changes are accompanying evolution?
Over a course of time physical changes are inevitable for example our teeth have changed overtime as the food which we are consuming is getting more and more polished too soft, we are hardly eating anything raw, so we find that the shape of our teeth is changing canines are getting less sharp. In earlier times as raw food consumption took place hence stronger and sharper canines were required. Ganna (sugarcane) is eaten by grinding it by our teeth but many of the kids now may not be able to do it as their gums and teeth are not developed in this manner.
Q) What characteristics we have left behind by the process of evolution?
We are getting more and more cut off from nature we seldom go to the fields, forests hence we are losing certain perceptions and those perceptions which we do not stimulate we are bound to lose. Physical activity is getting lesser and the food we are consuming is in a cooked and easy to digest form so our bodies and digestion all are changing.
Q) Can mental health problems be identified in the womb?
To an extent it can be done some mental disorders for example for ‘Down syndrome’ some indicators exist for example if the mothers’ age is over 30 years chances of this rise if it is over 35 years it goes up further.
Q) What sort of technology can we expect in the future?
Now we can take just a blood sample and make an entire gene map by doing so we can predict which genes are problematic and what sort of problems can arise in the future. Through our modern technology it would be possible in the future to predict cancer as well diabetes occurring in the future.
Q) Selective abortion is being done in order to avoid congenital defects of unborn.
These are preventive health measures, which is permitted under law the ‘Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971’ legalized abortion before which it was illegal. Under this act abortion is permitted in certain circumstances like medical condition makes pregnancy risky for the mother, pregnancy occurred due to sexual assault, suspected or confirmed congenital deformity or it is found out that if the child is born then it would have some sort of a defect. Purpose of this act is to enable the women to have children which they desire and which she can look after as well. It is a part of our reproductive health it strives to ensure that the child is healthy. Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act empowers the people to find out any Congenital defects in the unborn but no such test can be carried out which could determine the gender. There are registered clinics for the purpose and at the state or district levels it is decided what tests would be permitted. This act has been passed for preventing sex determination.
Pre-conception counseling provision already exists here genetic screening is carried out and the parents are informed if the new born might have some medical issues. Couples ought to educated, motivated, and empowered to take decisions. Then there are some couples who despite being warned that the unborn is likely to have certain medical defects insist on having the babies this ought to be allowed as no coercion should take place and human emotions must be taken into account.