Volume , Number
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
The New Eugenics
As this article is being written, delegates from nearly every country are meeting at the UN to take the next steps towards an international convention banning human reproductive cloning. Human cloning is the latest, and loudest, in a series of new technologies of human reproductive and genetic manipulation that have elicited controversy and division in civil society. Additionally, enormous payments to egg donors with specific characteristics have been in college newspapers for several years (see Assisted Reproductive Technologies, July/ August 2002, Z Magazine). Recently, the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, in which embryos are screened for certain genetic characteristics before implantation via in vitro fertilization (IVF), for gender selection or non-disease traits, has gained attention. Soon, we can expect to see public debate over inheritable human genetic engineering, the technology with the greatest potential for social and biological impacts.
Human reproductive cloning technology is imminent and several rogue scientists are working to create cloned children. Although more than 30 countries have already passed laws prohibiting reproductive cloning, the U.S. has not. The U.S. media, instead of focusing on the Senates recent failure to ban a technology that upwards of 90 percent of Americans feel should be prohibited, offers touching stories of couples desiring clones and focuses on the antics of cloners like Severino Antinori. The resulting sympathy and spectacle serve to further muddle the issue.
What reproductive cloning and the other technologies mentioned above have in common is the ability to pre-select the genetic composition of our offspring. Children will no longer be unconditionally accepted ends, but instead become utilitarian means. Coupled with the continuing prevalent belief in genetics-as-destiny, people will increasingly be seen as genetically superior or inferior. A new eugenics, driven by the free market and technological innovation, will be ushered in. Worse yet, if advocates succeed in reframing reproductive cloning as a matter of choice, and human inheritable genetic engineering as eradicating disease, this may occur with the consent, if not blessing, of liberals and progressives.
Of course, in the market of genetic improvement, only the wealthy would have access (Yuppie Eugenics, March 2002, Z Magazine) and the already socio- economically privileged will then be the genetically privileged. Those who struggle for human rights, equality, and social justice must oppose this horrendous future of genetic castes. It is worth noting that the eugenics movement of 100 years ago was largely the product of progressives and advocates of reproductive freedom. Yet it resulted in hundreds of thousands of forced sterilizations in the United States and, after being mixed with the evil logic of fascism, far worse in Europe. Barbara Katz Rothman, a professor of sociology, has warned, The lessons of history have shown us what happens when people are ordered as better and worse, superior and inferior, worthy of life and not so worthy of life.... What can happen when the technology used in support of genetic thinking is not the crude technology of shackles and slave ships, of showers that pour lethal gas and of mass ovens, or even the technology of surgical sterilization, but the fabulous, fantastic, extraordinary technology of the new genetics itself?... My children will not be led to genetic technology in chains and shackles, or crowded into cattle cars. It will be offered to them. As much as both progressives and liberals might shudder at this prospect, mustering their opposition to the new techno-eugenics clearly presents unique challenges.
As we have seen with agricultural genetic engineering, biotechnology and related industries hope to utilize intellectual property claims and neoliberal trade structures to privatize the genetic commons. We can expect them to continue to strive for this goal and to enter the lucrative market of designer babies for the wealthy, by using the tactics honed in the cloning debate. Imagine this future:
- Reproductive cloning is dubbed temporally offset twin birthing
- Potential bans are recast as infringing on a womans right to choose and discriminating against future clones
- Somatic (non-inheritable) human genetic engineering is offered to cure disease
- After a few accidental inheritable genetic modifications, such practices are defended and later marketed by the biotechnology industry as ending diseases forever and removing dangerous genes from the human gene pool
- Since there is no clear line between curing disease and genetic enhancements (e.g., removing the gene for the propensity for obesity), before long wealthy parents are designing their childrens genome for good looks, intelligence, athletic ability, and economic competitiveness
At each of these stages, the proponents of the new eugenic technologies will try to normalize them, despite widespread impulses of repugnance, by making stepwise arguments. More ominously, they will try to manipulate traditional political conflicts to divide their opponents. Most progressives and many social conservatives share a worldview envisioning humanity as a set of inherently equal beings that are members of a community more important than the economic transactions therein. However, the biotechnology industry has two cards to play in order to fracture this coalition, both seen with recent cloning debates.
First, by arguing that reproductive technologies open up more choices for women and that any bans violate a womans right to control her body, they not only win over liberals, but cause opponents on the right to wave the pro-life flag even higher.
Second, biomedical research remains a sacred cow, largely immune to much of the criticism traditionally hurled towards other similar industries. Few critics of corporate power will pause at accusations of irresponsibility of the nuclear power, chemical production, or even the pharmaceutical industry. But highlighting the drawbacks to certain medical research, such as its focus on profitable cures for the wealthy and its patenting of the biological commons, is often equated with halting medicine and thus tantamount to murder.
The issues surrounding these new technologies, with their horrendous potential impacts, fail to fall into the traditional progressive boxes and arguments. This leaves opposition to their use, particularly from progressives and liberals, vulnerable to political manipulation by their proponents. The imposition of a false right/left dichotomy by the biotechnology industry and radical libertarians causes the critics of excess corporate power to be divided, margin- alized, and ultimately defeated, despite their majority.
Increasingly, major issues of concern to progressives can be better understood in the context of tensions between a communitarian worldview based in social justice and solidarity, and that grounded in libertarianism. This has resulted in new coalitions. For example, in the case of global investor-rights agreements, such as FTAA and WTO, some social conservatives joined with Greens, socialists, and labor unions to oppose the agenda of corporate economic liberals, both Democrat and Republican. Clearly, the libertarian sentiments on the Left have been manipulated by the rhetoric of economic elites and corporate interests to divide and conquer their critics. This will surely be attempted again and we must be cautious when prioritizing these libertarian values at the expense of social justiceespecially when those that are speaking the loudest for freedom are in positions of socio-economic privilege.
The present deliberations at the United Nations are a step in the right direction and an opportunity that should not be missed. No nation has expressed opposition to a ban on human reproductive cloning. However, as in the U.S. Senate, the issue becomes muddled over research cloning, in which human embryos are created by cloning and then used for research into stem cell technologies. Some are concerned that allowing research cloning would make a ban on reproductive cloning impossible to enforce. In contrast, anti-abortion rights activists view research cloning as abortion in the name of science. Presently, a small block of nations with anti-choice leaders are threatening to derail the entire cloning convention. They would apparently prefer no ban over one that prohibits only reproductive cloning. This would be unfortunate, since it is the UNs first bioethics treaty and enjoys otherwise unanimous support.
Jesse Reynolds is on the staff of the Center for Genetics and Society, a nonprofit information working to encourage responsible uses and effective societal governance of the new human genetic and reproductive technologies (www.genetics-and-society.org).
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.