On another blog I got into a discussion about the topic yesterday, after initially making a half joking remark about wanting to stop the likes of Karen Matthews and 'Alfie' popping out dozens of kids for the good of society, I could have mentioned the mother of octuplets as well. Come to think of it I referred to preventing prisoners from breeding as being good for society for explicitly genetic reasons the other day.
Eugenics is strongly associated with the savagery of the Nazis and is therefore pretty much the ultimate taboo. Personally I think the ethical problem with 20th century advocates of eugenics is that they had no respect for civil liberties and believed in the right of the state to forcibly restrict people's right to reproduce. It doesn't therefore follow that there is something intrinsically wicked about non coercive eugenics.
However you can get away with advocating eugenic theories and policies as long as you avoid calling them eugenic take for example:
- The theory that abortion cuts crime.
- Singapore's policy of helping graduates have children whilst discouraging the less well educated from doing so.
- Screening among people of jewish descent for Tay Sach's disease.
If it isn't morally wrong to try to improve the fitness of the population through selective breeding then the question will really come down to whether it is effective or not. For eliminating diseases with identifiable genetic markers- like Tay Sachs- it obviously is effective. When it comes to encouraging the well off to reproduce themselves and the less well off to not do so then it really depends to what extent socio-economic status is influenced by genes, which is altogether a murkier question.
Update: On the subject of how eugenics is socially acceptable as long as you don't call it eugenics see this-
A March of Dimes report released today says all 50 states and the District of Columbia now require newborn screening for 21 or more so-called core disorders recommended for testing. These core disorders, 29 in all, include many rare but potentially disabling or fatal metabolic disorders. Although all states have rules or laws requiring the screenings, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have yet to implement their expanded programs, according to the organization.Update 2: Cabalamat at Amused Cynicism had a post on this very subject a few months back which is worth a read.