Bioethics has Always Been Eugenic

A group of authors has just published a brief essay for the Monash Bioethics Review entitled “Can ‘eugenics’ be defended?”

In the essay, the authors contend that bioethics discourse is polarized and politicized, and that this is a problem. While the goals of their essay seem to shift across the essay, the specific discussion they want to have is the permissibility of eugenics.

This article confirms two major claims I made in my 2016 book, The Bioethics of Enhancement, about bioethics discourse in Western academia: 1. That the transhumanist/eugenic “fringe” is actually its core; 2. bioethics discourse normalizes both the speech and practice of eugenics.

I remember the general hostility and skepticism I faced from many philosophers and bioethicists when I began publishing and presenting my arguments about the latent eugenic nature of bioethics. I was told flatly that I was uncharitable or misunderstood what was being said.

People tried to convince me that it couldn’t be the case that bioethics and bioethicists and philosophers across the world really were arguing for eugenic policies. I was told no one was actually talking about the “worth” of disabled lives. (Notice that the authors of this essay pretend that ableism is problematically defined, ignoring sophisticated arguments on this topic; and, meanwhile, they beg the question about what eugenics is.)

I was given business cards at conferences so I could be told to read already existing “moderate” and “reasonable” work on the topic. They implied that my own work was wrongheaded. This move was also made, quite literally, by one of the authors of the new essay in the Monash Bioethics Review.

Ironically and predictably, from what I can see now many of those same philosophers/bioethicists have reversed course and now frankly endorse eugenic arguments.

This is what normalizing eugenics looks like in bioethics: there is no need for a new, pseudonymous “controversial ideas” journal to publish arguments for eugenics when you can do it in highly reputable existing journals coauthored with “top” philosophers.

Let’s not pretend that these eugenic ideas weren’t always already the core of bioethics.

I wrote my book anyway.

Listen to us. Listen to disabled people. Listen to the critics of bioethics.

You can access The Bioethics of Enhancement (available in paperback) here. You can read this latest example of eugenic thinking in bioethics here.

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