Date of Degree
Joseph W. Dauben
Bioethics and Medical Ethics | Biotechnology | Congenital, Hereditary, and Neonatal Diseases and Abnormalities | Genetics | Genetic Structures | Immune System Diseases | Medical Biochemistry | Medical Biotechnology | Medical Genetics | Medical Humanities | Other Genetics and Genomics | Reproductive and Urinary Physiology | Virus Diseases
racial hygiene, CRISPR-Cas9, He Jiankui, genetic engineering, gene editing, genome editing
Eugenics is the science of enhancing the human population through the management of breeding and hereditary traits. This thesis explores the history of eugenics and shows how eugenic practices continue in the 21st century with advancements in technology and positive eugenic goals that can result in adverse effects on the human body and society. When Sir Francis Galton coined the term eugenics in 1883, he intended to improve British society with the use of positive eugenics. Galton used positive eugenics to encourage people with good mental and physical qualities to produce more children. He avoided negative eugenics, which involved sterilization and contraceptive methods.
However, when other countries launched their eugenic movements, many incorporated negative eugenic practices and targeted people who were feeble-minded and physically impaired. Many countries enacted sterilization laws to decrease the likelihood of having mixed-race children and to prevent the spread of undesirable traits to offspring in the interest of improving their population. The eugenics movement in 19th–century Germany is reviewed carefully due to its misuse of eugenics and inclusion of human experimentation. The research performed on human test subjects by Nazi physicians in the Auschwitz concentration camp varied in methods and goals, but the harmful effects of controlling the human body are evident in testimonies and physical impairment. After Germany’s defeat in World War II, eugenics movements declined and became unfavorable because of its negative association with Nazi Germany.
Research to comprehend heredity continued until the discovery of the double helical structure for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and investigation on how genetic information is passed from cell to cell and from parent to offspring. Similar to a specific enzyme’s ability to cut DNA at precise points, the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats-(CRISPR) associated protein 9 (CRISPR-Cas9) device has made it possible to edit the genetic structure of species. With this advancement in technology, Chinese scientist He Jiankui has continued eugenic practices in the 21st century with the birth of twins who are claimed to be immune to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, after an examination of the available data from He’s research, it is evident that the experimentation includes unanticipated side effects. The effects noted to date are improved cognitive abilities, quick recovery from a stroke, and the presence of more than one type of cell in one of the twin’s genetic structure.
While these after-effects of human experimentation are not as horrific as those experienced by Auschwitz survivors, the human body’s response to other viruses is unknown. The twins may be immune to HIV, but without direct exposure to this virus or others such as West Nile, it is unclear what other effects may occur. Additionally, the twins’ genetic enhancements may convince parents who can afford gene editing to create designer babies and widen the existing social and economic gap. He Jiankui’s gene editing methods to make humans immune to HIV can be associated with eugenics because he has controlled human breeding and inheritance to “improve” the human population. However beneficial his research and goals may seem for human health and the population, the diverse effects are positive, negative, and unknown. Since the publication of He’s research, there have been many discussions among scientists and the International Summit on Human Genome Editing regarding human gene editing and He’s work. It is crucial to explore the possible outcomes of human genetic modification before other scientists continue He’s studies and human genome editing becomes an acceptable eugenic practice.
This thesis is divided into four chapters to explore the history of eugenics, examine the misuse of eugenics in Nazi Germany, observe the breakthrough research conducted to understand heredity, and view how eugenic methods persist in the 21st century with technologic development. The introduction outlines the progression of this thesis, as it reviews various eugenic methods in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Chapter one provides a brief overview of the history of eugenics and eugenic movements in a few notable countries. In chapter two, the development and establishment of eugenics in Germany are reviewed, and the inclusion of sterilization and human experimentation are analyzed through the research of a few notorious physicians. Chapter three reviews the studies of multiple scientists in pursuit of comprehending DNA’s ability to pass on and inherit genetic information. In chapter four, He Jiankui’s research is explained, and the potential effects of human genetic engineering are carefully examined. The conclusion provides an overview of the preceding chapters and compares the effects of human experimentation to improve the human population through the control of breeding and inheritance. Despite the different results of human testing between Nazi physicians and He Jiankui, it is apparent that there is always the potential for adverse, unintended, and even lethal results.
Chin, Jessica Linn, "Eugenics in the 21st Century" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.
Bioethics and Medical Ethics Commons, Biotechnology Commons, Congenital, Hereditary, and Neonatal Diseases and Abnormalities Commons, Genetics Commons, Genetic Structures Commons, Immune System Diseases Commons, Medical Biochemistry Commons, Medical Biotechnology Commons, Medical Genetics Commons, Medical Humanities Commons, Other Genetics and Genomics Commons, Reproductive and Urinary Physiology Commons, Virus Diseases Commons