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5OME REFLECTIONS ON POSITIVE EUGENICS CATHERINE ROBERTS, Ph.D.* Man is still very much an unfinished type, who clearly has actualized only a small fraction ofhis human potentialities. . . . Man, infact, is in urgent need offurther improvement.—SirJulian Huxley, Galton Lecture, 1962 [1]. The words quoted above echo a sentiment which has been repeatedly expressed in a variety ofways for more than two millennia and, for all we know, may have been thought or uttered during untold ages before human desires were recorded. For the need ofself-improvement is life's challenge to each succeeding generation, and since an awareness ofthis problem and a desire to solve it seem to be an essential part ofour evolutionary development, we will in all probability ever continue to grope after the answer. For six thousand years the evolutionary progress ofcivilized man was based upon the slow, cumulative transmission ofthe cultural and ideological aspects ofhuman experience; only in the recent past has it become increasingly rapid through the acquisition and transmission of scientific knowledge. Yet any serious consideration ofhuman progress in the Scientific Age reveals that something is amiss. Being aware that our accelerating development during the last four hundred years has been primarily intellectual, and being unable to find the necessary balance and harmony between the realm ofthe intellect and that ofthe spirit, we are for the first time faced with the prospect ofself-annihilation or, perhaps worse still, of regression to a de-humanized state. Passive acceptance ofthe evolutionary concept ofautomatic and perpetual human "progress" no longer suffices in the second halfofthe twentieth century. Reflections on the future of Homo sapiens are required more than ever before. Many proposals for improvement ofthe species were offered to mankind in good faith by the most enlightened minds of the Pre-Scientific * Address: Lyngbakkevej, Holte, Denmark. 297 World and transmitted as part of our heritage. One such proposal, put forward nearly 2,500 years ago in a shockingly dogmatic way by Plato, was revived in a milder form in the nineteenth century when Sir Francis Galton suggested that our physical and mental condition could be best improved by what he termed eugenics, according to which the unfit were discouraged and the fit encouraged to reproduce. The enthusiastic interest which greeted Galton's proposal has continued down to the present. At the same time, advances in genetics, as in nearly all other branches ofscience , have been so explosive that the geneticist, in cooperation with the biologist, the biochemist, and the medical man, is now in a position to elaborate human breeding programs on a scale probably undreamed of by Plato or Galton. Swept along by the triumphant march ofscience and fervently believing in the necessity ofa scientific attack upon all oflife's unexplained aspects, the advocates ofpositive eugenics are vociferous, insistent , and very well-meaning. They sincerely believe that positive eugenics not only affords the greatest hope for man's improvement but that it would also tend to dissipate the perils which confront him. In their enthusiasm for science, they are led to the conclusion that the scientific regulation ofhuman reproduction by artificial means is the most rapid way we can realize our potentialities and that the day must soon come when world opinion will adopt this solution as a moral imperative. With equal sincerity , I believe that to adoptthis way out ofourdifficulties wouldnot only be immoral but would tend to efface our human potentialities. The purpose ofthis paper, which deals primarily with the views expressed in Sir Julian Huxley's Galton Lecture [1], is, therefore, to state my reasons for believing that positive eugenics, as advocated by twentieth-century scientists , would do mankind more harm than good. To avoid ambiguity, it is well to state at the outset that the eugenists' proposals which come under the heading "negative eugenics" and which include reducing man-made radiation and discouraging genetically defective individuals from reproducing as well as the attempt to reduce human overmultiplication—all of these have my deepest sympathy. But let us now turn to positive eugenics and consider it in the broadest possible perspective ^—that ofevolution. Near the conclusion of the Galton Lecture these words occur: "All the objections ofprinciple to a policy ofpositive eugenics...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 297-308
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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