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Recommending Human Life Review [Updated below the fold]

In a world of blog posts and hat tips, there is still a pro-life journal that publishes on paper with copious footnotes. The Human Life Review, published by the Human Life Foundation, is a resource that no pro-lifer should be without.

I say this as a person who hates having paper journals around. And some years ago I did give my back issues of HLR to the local Catholic Information Center.

But the truth is that HLR remains an excellent and sometimes appallingly informative resource. In the most recent issue to come out (Fall, 2009), the journal contains two articles on disabilities and eugenics that are hair curling. I had not realized until I read Mark P. Mostert's "Eugenic Death-Making and the Disabled" just how blatant doctors and others were a century ago about killing the disabled. Alfred Nobel, for example, said of himself that he was a "pitiful creature [who] ought to have been suffocated by a humane physician when he made his howling entrance into this life." One Sigmund Engel in Hungary argued that "cripples, high-grade cretins, idiots, and children with gross deformities...should be quickly and painlessly destroyed [when] medical science indicates...that it is impossible for them ever to become useful members of society..." In 1915, Dr. Harry Haiselden made big-time propaganda out of refusing to treat disabled children and letting them die, beginning with baby Allan Bollinger, who died over a period of five days of a blocked bowel. When a family friend pled with Haiselden to operate and save Allan, Haiselden laughed and said no: "I'm afraid it might get well." When asked if his decision was eugenic, he said, "Of course it was eugenic." Haiselden thereafter gave press interviews and displayed dying "defective" babies to reporters.

It is mildly interesting to me that during the succeeding century we should once more have become rather squeamish about this sort of thing. Peter Singer is, of course, notorious for recommending active eugenic infanticide, but it's not as though society in general would be likely to appreciate news stories displaying dying Down's Syndrome babies who needed only minor surgery to survive.

It seems to me that we have gone through a revulsion of feeling on this subject, so that it is only now that infanticide and deliberate, open eugenics are once more beginning to become acceptable. Only in one area have they been acceptable all along--in the area of abortion.

In another article in the same issue of HLR, we hear of what mothers face who choose not to abort their disabled children. One mother tells of playing at the park with her Down Syndrome little girl and hearing a nearby mother, a complete stranger, saying to her companion, "Isn't it a shame that everyone doesn't get amnio?"

What we can do with all this information is something I'm not entirely sure about, but I believe that we need to have the information. Realizing the blatancy of eugenics in the past and the comeback it is making, starting with eugenic abortion, may help us to sound an alarm. It also tells us--if we did not already know--the depths to which ostensibly civilized people can fall. When Dr. Haiselden began his publicity campaign for eugenic non-treatment, he was actually contacted by parents asking him actively to kill their children. Said one father of a child with a misshapen mouth and jaw, "Unless someone does kill the baby, I'll have to."

It is salutary to realize that under the veneer of civilization, hatred and revulsion for the disabled remain part of fallen human nature, ready to spring out and take advantage of whatever social approval they are given.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom--and humanity.

HLR can help in keeping that vigilance well-informed.

Update: Dr. Mostert has sent me two additional links in an e-mail. These may be of interest to readers. Here is his article in American Thinker on prenatal screening as the new eugenics. Here is his blog, Alive and Kicking.

Comments (39)

I say this as a person who hates having paper journals around.

This is a fine post but, really, what is it with you and books that can be held in one's hand? I guess you make exceptions in the good cases.

Maybe it's the whole 'having to shelf them' thing. I could totally go for more digital copies of much of the stuff on my shelves.

Blame my husband. He _loves_ books that can be held in the hand, and our home is filled with them. I had to draw the line somewhere, or the house was going to fall through the earth to China. Besides, the thing about journal subscriptions is that they keep on coming and keep on coming. If you keep them all, they fill many cubic feet of space after a few years, with no end in sight. _Human Life Review_ is only quarterly though, which helps.

This old CT post airs a liberal dispute with Singer. Yet it is still very pro-choice, so his objection is limited to the specific point about expectations for Down's Syndrome.
http://crookedtimber.org/2008/12/01/more-on-peter-singer-and-jamie-berube/

I have been studying for an article I am working on about Margaret Sanger and I have been similarly disgusted in the outspoken and inhumane nature of the early 20th century eugenincs movement. Hair raising and hair curling both are accurate.

This old CT post airs a liberal dispute with Singer. Yet it is still very pro-choice, so his objection is limited to the specific point about expectations for Down's Syndrome.

You can say that again. I also went to the linked post by the same author about prenatal screening for Down syndrome, which basically amounts to: "My son has Down syndrome. And it would have been _our right to choose_ if we had wanted to destroy him before his birth because he has Down syndrome. Some people feel they just can't handle that. But maybe we can persuade some people not to do it anyway. And also we should be really, really accepting of people with Down syndrome after they're born if their mothers choose not to destroy them. And who says the pro-lifers have a corner on moral arguments? See how moral we pro-choicers can be?"

Faugh.

Lydia,

I have a friend who has three offices. The reason, he claims, is that having all his books in one office would cause irreperable structural damage.

Funny, I've been thinking about subscribing to Human Life Review. Thank you for the review and for the reminder!

Kamilla

It is mildly interesting to me that during the succeeding century we should once more have become rather squeamish about this sort of thing.

I may be out to lunch here, but I am going to hazard a notion on this. Over the period of the 1800's into the early 1900's the general notion of scientific and general "progress" became a catch-all standard that everyone believed in and most everyone learned to believe in as being separated from morality, but judged rather by the standard of utility (after all, what good is progress if it isn't useful?). So whatever "science" taught as being the next area of progress and utility was, by that fact, not judged under the light of basic morality.

There had always been, in human society, a certain amount of allowing the disabled to die, but it took science to declare the notion one of progress, by reason of eugenic improvement to society. Once the idea was shown to be more than merely convenient for the family who no longer bears the burden of care for the disabled, it could catch the utility bandwagon and become a respectable idea, something that could be spoken about in public.

But that all went into the trash can with the Nazi movement. Once Nazism was defeated, all of the notions that were trumpeted by the Nazis became verboten, and eugenics was high up on the list. So from 1945 through at least 1980, speaking about eugenics publicly with anything other than revulsion was quickly associated with being soft on Nazism (at the least), and so was not socially acceptable. Now that the self-proclaimed "greatest generation" is almost completely in the ground, the level of social revulsion to Nazism is significantly muted, and is mostly reserved to the genocidal murder of Jews. Other areas of Nazi theory can come out from their hiding places without an immediate repudiation as being associated with Hitler.

In another article in the same issue of HLR, we hear of what mothers face who choose not to abort their disabled children. One mother tells of playing at the park with her Down Syndrome little girl and hearing a nearby mother, a complete stranger, saying to her companion, "Isn't it a shame that everyone doesn't get amnio?"

Comments like this are why I have no problem telling people of average intelligence who make such hateful remarks that as someone whose IQ is in the 131-141 range, I could just as easily regard them as being as subhuman and disabled as they see that child.

Now, I do tend to regard them with that contempt, but it is entirely due to their belief that they are arbiters of who should live.

So from 1945 through at least 1980, speaking about eugenics publicly with anything other than revulsion was quickly associated with being soft on Nazism (at the least), and so was not socially acceptable.

Although eugenics was muted, it went underground and sprang up in a thousand different ways as social suggestions. Some of the backstage panning would frighten the most hardened conspiracy theorist. Here is a nice summary site.

The Chicken

Blame my husband. He _loves_ books that can be held in the hand, and our home is filled with them. I had to draw the line somewhere, or the house was going to fall through the earth to China.

So, how many books does it take to fall through to China? Let's take a poll: how many hand-held books do you own?

Me: between 2500 to 3000. Yes, both bedrooms and living room are filled and I have no furniture. Ha! Take that.

The Chicken

Ahem:

Some of the backstage panning...

should read:

Some of the backstage planning...

Opps.

The Chicken

Tony, I think you're definitely right about the association with Nazism making eugenics unpalatable for a while. What's happening now is that it's coming back without the name, in particular, with prenatal genetic testing and counseling. In one of the posts I found following links from Step2's link above, I found that Orthodox Jews are all on board with it to eliminate (ahem) Tay-Sachs. What's happened now is that we find talk about lowering the number of people born with _______, where it's hard to get people to admit that this is because we are doing search-and-destroy on the unborn with _________.

The casual attitude to all destruction of the unborn on grounds of not being perfect is really strong. I know I've told this story before, but I have a minor genetic anomaly myself, and some years ago I was finding out more about it. I was talking to a doctor about it who was telling me about in vitro testing for the anomaly--discarding the embryos that had it. I told him I would never consider that. He was fine with that. Hastened to assure me that people with this anomaly "have a good quality of life." So it was just whatever I wanted. If I wanted to destroy any children of mine pre-birth who are like me, that would be fine. If I don't want to, that would be fine. Whatever floats your boat. It was pretty horrifying.

I imagine, from anecdotes I've heard, that if the problem were more severe, he would have been less easy-going, though, especially if I'd actually been pregnant at the time of the conversation (which I wasn't).

If I wanted to destroy any children of mine pre-birth who are like me, that would be fine. If I don't want to, that would be fine. Whatever floats your boat. It was pretty horrifying.

Our society calls people who have that attitude toward adults "sociopaths." More evidence, IMO, that so much of psychiatry is the medicalization of spiritual evil that just HAPPENS to manifest itself with some mental problems.

I seen a blogger somewhere (I can't remeber where) say that to have the ability to stop your children from getting a hereditary disease and not doing it is an act of evil. He was trying to turn the idea on it head the genetic engineering was playing God, and said not using gentic engineering to help people when we have the knowledge and technology to do it is playing the Devil.

Also on another point, I was wondering if you would be ok with Genetic Vaccines (there not possible at the moment but may be in the future). It would work by a Vaccine, that would stop the hereditary disease from affecting the person without having to change there genetics, and wouldn't lead people to use genetic engineering as a form of self-improvement, to make people better looking, smarter, more atheltic etc.

Note the "Free Trial Issue" page on the HLR website. I hadn't cracked open an issue since college when I received my copy.

The issue contained a note on how Rep. Henry Hyde would casually call abortion "a killing procedure." As a writer who needs multiple words to describe abortion, I now try to use that phrase when appropriate.

P.B., any such vaccine's legitimacy would be a matter of prudence, since as far as I can tell you are not describing something that would deliberately kill anybody. My own strong suspicion is that a) there will never be such vaccines and b) if there were, it would be highly imprudent to use them. But obviously one can't actually decide on a hypothetical with so little actual data on side effects, long-term effects, and the like, as well as effects on society of misuse of the technology, which you briefly mention.

Yes sorry, I suppose I was coming at it from the perpective of Genetic engineering as a form of eugeneics, rather than the idea of killing, or weading out the weak or sick as eugeneics. What I was trying to ask, is would you be ok with the general concept itself (of Genetic Vaccines), or do you thing its overstepping a line.

I think there are multiple major questions and warning lights about it prudentially but wouldn't say more until and unless I had a concrete proposal with data.

There is a famous Star Trek Voyager episode that address the idea of correcting prenatal "defects" by altering the genome of the fetus. It is called, Lineage, and is one of the best summaries I have seen.

It is difficult if not impossible to alter one set of genes without rewriting others in the process because of something we are now discovering: the epigenome. You may correct the defect, but you will nothave the baby minus defect; you will have an essentially different baby.

The Chicken

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_vaccination

I can't find the essay I read on the topic and the Wiki page doesn't seem to have all the same information and layout of theory, and it's slightly different from what I described, but it gives you the general idea.

"It is difficult if not impossible to alter one set of genes without rewriting others in the process because of something we are now discovering: the epigenome. You may correct the defect, but you will nothave the baby minus defect; you will have an essentially different baby."

It wouldn't have to involve altering ones genes it would just involve blocking disease from forming through those genes, in the way that a vaccine does, through creating immunity to the disease, and it would take place after the child was born rather than inside the womb.

PB, it doesn't look to me from the Wiki page you link as though this would have anything to do with helping genetic diseases such as CF, Tay Sachs, or Downs (for example). It just looks like another way of creating an immune response to a pathogenic disease. But true genetic diseases are not caused by pathogens, though of course they may make a person especially vulnerable to various "ordinary" diseases like pneumonia, etc.. An immune response to the genetic disease is therefore not relevant. If you gave the person an immune response to the mutated gene responsible for his genetic disease, you would be deliberately creating an auto-immune disorder, as far as I can tell.

Phantom B, I had (rather casually) come to the conclusion that genetic modification, strictly in order to remove genetic defects, is not only OK but highly laudable if done with appropriate precautions. (Setting aside, for the moment, prudential questions of how far attempts to develop such techniques will lend themselves to genetic modification for social or convenience reasons.) However, I came across a Church document that suggests that altering the germ-line may not be OK even in the context of removing a specific deformity. Apparently, playing around with the inheritable genome of the human person may have moral implications that require some heavy-duty thinking.

Germ-line modification has the potential to permanently alter the human genetic heritage by changing the genetic structure of individuals in ways which can be inherited. Its safety cannot be guaranteed without putting future generations at risk, and thus it contravenes the principles of respect for the dignity of human life and protection of the vulnerable (unborn generations).

http://www.catholic.org.nz/statements/9804_ahrt.php

I thought that there was a document form the Vatican that put similar brakes on the idea, but I cannot find it.

Personally, I would be more confident if the rationale given were not founded solely on "safety" for future generation. Although that is a very important consideration, it is hardly one in which the bishops have any special insight or capacity to judge. There may be a point at which the proposed change is safe for future generations - as safe as altering the germ-lines of plants and animals that we depend on, as safe as breeding programs and other intrusions into nature.

With genetic modification, strictly in order to remove genetic defects, at the moment its only possible to do this in the situation where the baby is created artifically in some form (IVF, and other such techniques) if a baby is created naturally through normal conception this is not possible. The defects have to be removed form the genetics of the sperm and egg before conception and at the moment can't be done afterwords. This is why the vaccine would be needed, because in order to have people without defects and hereditary disease they would all have to have be created artifically (at least at the moment)and natural procreation would itself be seen as immoral, almost as if it is the deliberate giving of disease to your children when you didn't need to, so the vaccine could solve the problem of hereditary disease without having to make all children, be created in a artifical enviroment.

There is no such thing (that I know of) as a vaccine that can correct a genetic defect. The article you linked to, PB, is not about such a thing. It is about DNA-based vaccines to create immunity to pathogenic agents such as the virus that causes West Nile virus.

I never said there was, I said there trying to create them (they don't correct the genetic defect, they just give you immunity from it forming into a disease, like in the way a vaccine blocks and immunizes against a disease, but in this case one that is in your genetics), and there using some of the ideas and techniques used in that article.

As I said I can't find the Essay I orginally read on the topic.

"like in the way a vaccine blocks and immunizes against a disease, but in this case one that is in your genetics"

But that doesn't make medical sense. There has to be an agent against which the immunity is created--something to which the vaccine sensitizes the immune system which is then targeted and eliminated from the body by the immune system.

Yes it targets whatever diseases the person has in there genetics, it goes after the mechanisms that let these pre-existing conditions and diseases form and take hold, through stoping them functioning. Its a vaccine against letting these mechanisms form into a disease, it blocks them from being able to function so they can't have negative affects. It doesn't get rid of the condition it just stops it from being able to work and form properly.

If somebody has a history of Heart Disease in there family, then the vaccine should block that pre-existing condition from functioning so its almost like it been removed. This would not however mean, that if the person engaged in behaviour that increased there risk of heart disease that the vaccine would protect them, because a new disease would form that would not be protected by this vaccine. In the same way that artifically created baby's can still get diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc even though all pre-existing genetic links to these diseases have been removed from there genes.

(I'll admit that the word vaccine is not quite adequate because this functions differently in many ways from conventional vaccines, but thats what they referred to it as in the essay.)

The work on this if I remember correctly is in its very early stages so it may not come to much.

I apologise for taking this thread off course, the only reason I brought it up was to see if you thought some forms of genetic engineering and manipulation are ok.

You said

"I think there are multiple major questions and warning lights about it prudentially but wouldn't say more until and unless I had a concrete proposal with data."


I don't really get this point what I was asking was were you ok the the general idea, the concept of distorting genetics for a positive benefit with genetic vaccines. I don't see why you need to have data, information, and a scientific understanding about it to have a general belief about the morality of the concept. I'am sure you have an opinion on Human Cloning and the morality of it, a belief on the Rightness or Wrongness of that idea, and an opinion on the topic, without understanding the benefits, data and science behind it.

Yes, that's because I think human cloning is intrinsically immoral. As far as I can see, the idea you are bringing forward would not be intrinsically immoral. But then again, to be brutal, I don't think you have a very clear empirical idea of what you are talking about, especially given the way that you keep talking about something that is like a vaccine, only it really isn't, etc., giving the unfortunate impression that you don't actually know anything at all about how a vaccine actually works, so to me, we are in the realm here of vaguely described science fiction, and if I can't definitely see that the vaguely described science fiction scenario is intrinsically immoral, then I'm going to wait for more data before giving a definite opinion.

"I don't think you have a very clear empirical idea of what you are talking about, especially given the way that you keep talking about something that is like a vaccine, only it really isn't."

Your just distorting what I said to now. It's like a vaccine in the sense that it blocks genetic conditons and diseases, stops them from forming or being able to take effect, you now have a immunity to these pre-existing conditions because they are no longer any danger and won't develop into anything, but it is unlike a vaccine in that it doesn't work directly through the immune system.

But it seems unlikely your going to understand what I'am saying. Lets just say, do you think there's something wrong with the concept of manipulating genetics in general, or is there certain situations in which you think it is ok.

I apologise for the misunderstandings here, and I'am sorry if I didn't explain the ideas and concepts adequately, I seem to have turned what was supposed to be a simple question into something long and overwrought.

I have to go now.

Lets just say, do you think there's something wrong with the concept of manipulating genetics in general, or is there certain situations in which you think it is ok.

I'm not convinced that it would always be intrinsically wrong, but I suspect it would always be so seriously imprudent as to be wrong in practice. How's that for a succinct answer?

Lydia, do you mean altering human genetics, or genetics all across the board including plants and animals?

It seems to me that we engage in a kind of ham-fisted altering of genetics when we do breeding programs on plants and animals. We certainly produce new strains for specific characteristics, and these new strains are encoded in special gene groups.

In a much more limited and much less refined manner, we also engage in a kind of genetics -based "breeding" program when we humans occasionally say "I wouldn't marry him, his defects and my defects together would be too awful for the kids." For example, thalicemia is a form of anemia in which the body fails to produce sufficient C-type red blood cells. It comes in a minor form (if you get the gene from only one parent), which is mildly inconvenient for the bearer. The major form (if you get the gene from both parents) results in death when you hit late teens. If two who have the minor form marry, they have a 25% chance of producing the major form in the child. Not so good.

I am not suggesting that scientific genetics is on the same moral plane as just being thoughtful about how we pick potential mates. I too have frightful visions about experimentation with the genome gone horribly awry, such as defects that NO human should have to bear. It just seems to me that if we experiment with plants and animals for a couple centuries, and get REALLY GOOD at the mechanics of making the changes and predicting the results, then eventually there is unlikely to be a sound reason (rooted in the safety of the genome, that is) to preclude fixing genetic defects.

I am also sensitive to the prudential aspect of encouraging an industry that already does promote intrinsically immoral birth practices, and most probably will promote immoral choosing of personal characteristics for the children. Unfortunately, I don't think there is any realistic prospect of putting that genie back in the bottle: IVF is here to stay short of world-shaking Divine intervention. More's the pity.

I was responding to what I took to be a question about direct altering of the human genome.

I just wanted to throw my support behind Human Life Review. I first came across a copy in summer 2005 (I believe), and it had an excellent essay by James Hitchock on the Schiavo case. "Appallingly informative" and extremely insightful.

Can't recommend Human Life Review enough.

Also, the planned parenthood group on campus when I was in college would celebrate "Margaret Sanger Day" by passing out various contraceptive items. We would hand out pamphlets informing people of Sanger's various eugenic (and racist) ideas. And though most historians give her a pass because her ideas were popular at the time, it doesn't make those ideas any less reprehensible.

Hitchcock* that is

Thanks, Mulder. I think you might appreciate this post of mine from last year on eugenics, population control, and liberal sentiment:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/07/utterly_beyond_the_pale.html

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