One of the biggest concerns we hear at pgEd is that the advances in genome sequencing may lead to “designer babies” and a future in which diversity is lost because parents will genetically engineer their child to be the “best” child possible. Many people have seen the movie ‘Gattaca’, where it is predetermined at birth what careers will be open to people based on their genes, and wonder if this is possible.
Our new lesson “History, Eugenics and Genetics” looks at the history of the eugenics movement in the US and the safeguards that have been put in place to prevent such events from ever happening again. Eugenics is the philosophy and/or social movement which argues that it is possible to improve the human race and society by encouraging reproduction by people or populations with “desirable” traits, and discouraging reproduction by people with “undesirable” qualities. It was supported and encouraged by a wide swath of people who shared a goal of reducing the “burden” on society. The eugenics movement began in the US in the early part of the 20th century; it was the first country to have a systematic program for performing sterilizations on individuals without their knowledge or against their will.
Many people fear that the new advances in genetics, particularly embryo screening and, soon, genome sequencing of fetal DNA could lead to a new era of eugenics. The goal of this lesson is for students to start discussing these topics so that they can understand the complexity of the issues, and to experience dialogs that contrast the dangers of eugenics with the benefits that can come from genetic information. Students will see how debate and discussion can be illuminating even though complete consensus at the intersection of genetics and society will be difficult.
The lesson is available on our lesson plans page. It introduces students to the concept of eugenics through an interactive slideshow and discussion that raises and explores the complex issues that led to the eugenics movement, and how people in the genetics community can work to prevent these ideas from gaining acceptance in society at large. Check out the links below for more information and related articles: