Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-hsbzg Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-28T10:32:01.124Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Eugenics and the Genetic Challenge, Again: All Dressed Up and Just Everywhere to Go

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


Dashiell Hammett’s reaction was “sharp and angry, snarling” when he read, at her request, a work in progress by his friend and lover, Lillian Hellman. “He spoke as if I had betrayed him.” His judgment was absolute and his advice unsparing: “Tear this up and throw it away. It’s worse than bad—it’s half good.” That is exactly what I thought of Matti Häyry’s Rationality and the Genetic Challenge as, for the third time in the evening, I penned a note in its margins and sent it sailing across the room in disgust. Cambridge University Press knows its book binding, however, and the spine of the text was undamaged.

Special Section: Methodology in Philosophical Bioethics
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1. Hellman, L. Introduction. In: Hammett, D. The Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short Novels by Dashiell Hammett. Hellman, L, ed. New York: Random House; 1966:xivGoogle Scholar.

2. See note 1, Hellman 1966:xiv.

3. Häyry, M. Rationality and the Genetic Challenge: Making People Better? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2010CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4. See note 4, Häyry 2010:27.

5. See, especially, Glover, J. Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 2006CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6. See, especially, Harris, J. Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2007Google Scholar.

7. For example, Kass, LR, Wilson, JQ. The Ethics of Human Cloning. Washington, DC: AEI Press; 1998Google Scholar.

8. Sandel, MJ. The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 2007Google Scholar.

9. Habermas, J. The Future of Human Nature. Rehg, W, Pensky, J, Beister, H, trans. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press; 2003Google Scholar.

10. Green, RM. Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 2007Google Scholar.

11. See note 4, Häyry 2010:40.

12. Compare, for example, Häyry’s treatment of Habermas and that of Harris in his Enhancing Evolution; see note 7.

13. Here I take especial exception to Harris’s refusal to treat seriously the relationship between early and late 20th century eugenics, his posture, and that of the early American eugenicists discussed later in this paper.

14. Raz, J. Value, Respect, and Attachment. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2001:1CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15. See note 4, Häyry 2010:xii.

16. Mao, TD. On the correct handling of the contractions among the people. In: Kau, M, Leung, JK, eds. The Writings of Mao Tse Dung, 1949–1976, Vol. 2. New York: Sharpe; 1992:6–16Google Scholar. The 100 flowers campaign of 1956–1957 was advanced by Mao Tse Dung in China to encourage different ideas and perspectives in both art and the civil life of the nation. The campaign is generally said to have begun with Mao’s January 1956 Speech on the Question of Intellectuals. The precise translation of the phrase is: “Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”

17. See note 4, Häyry 2010:43.

18. See note 4, Häyry 2010:40.

19. See note 4, Häyry 2010:89.

20. See note 4, Häyry 2010:40.

21. Kittay, EF. Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency. New York: Routledge; 1999Google Scholar.

22. Shott, RM, ed. Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press; 1997Google Scholar.

23. For example, Held, V. The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political and Global. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006Google Scholar.

24. Sen, A. Inequality Reexamined. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1992Google Scholar.

25. Nussbaum, MC. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2006:155–216Google Scholar.

26. Tremain, S. Introduction. In: Tremain, S, ed. Foucault, Governmentality, and Critical Disability Theory. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press; 2005:4Google Scholar.

27. Reich, WT. How bioethics got its name. Hastings Center Journal 1993;23:S6–7Google ScholarPubMed.

28. Pernick, MS. The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures since 1915. New York: Oxford University Press; 1996:29Google Scholar.

29. Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927).

30. It is impolite in the bioethical literature to speak bluntly. Sometimes, however, bluntness is needed because those affected see these things without the covering language of polite collegiality with which we tend to mask our judgments. Here I use “dummy” to translate the effect to the concrete.

31. Koch, T. Life quality versus the “quality of life” assumptions underlying prospective quality of life instruments in health care planning. Social Science & Medicine 2000;51(3):419–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Koch, T. Future states: Testing the axioms underlying prospective, future-oriented, health planning instruments. Social Science & Medicine 2001;52(3):453–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32. McBryde Johnson, H. Unspeakable conversations. New York Times Magazine 2003 Feb 16Google Scholar; available at (last accessed 11 Mar 2010).

33. Koch, T, Singer, P. Point counter-point: The ideology of normalcy. Journal of Disability Policy Studies 2005;16(2):123–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34. See note 5, Glover 2006:29.

35. Caplan, AL. Misusing the Nazi analogy. Science 2005;309:535CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

36. Burstyn, V. Breeding discontent. In: Basen, G, Eichler, M, Lipman, A, eds. Misconceptions: The Social Construction of Choice and the New Reproductive and Genetic Technologies, Vol. 1. Hull, Quebec: Voyageur Publishing; 1993:171–96Google Scholar.

37. See note 28, Pernick 1996:163.

38. Wolbring, G. Where do we draw the line? Surviving eugenics in a technological world. In: Priestly, M, ed. Disability and the Life Course: Global Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2001:38–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39. See note 4, Häyry 2010:40.

40. See note 4, Häyry 2010:2.

41. Jacquard, A. In Praise of Difference: Genetics and Human Affairs. Moriarty, M, trans. New York: Columbia University Press; 1984Google Scholar.

42. Katsnelson, A. Odd man out: Do fish have personalities? The Scientist 2010;24(3):34–9Google Scholar.

43. Lewontin, RC. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. New York: HarperPerennial; 1994Google Scholar.

44. Glover, J. Choosing Children: The Ethical Dilemmas of Genetic Intervention. New York: Clarendon Press; 2006:61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45. Brosco, JP. More than the names have changed: Exploring the historical epidemiology of intellectual disability in the US. In: Commachio, C, Golden, J, Weisz, G, eds. Healing the World’s Children: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Child Health in the Twentieth Century. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press; 2008:205–34Google Scholar.

46. See note 45, Brosco 2008.

47. See note 4, Häyry 2010:34.

48. See note 4, Häyry 2010:84–6.

49. Sacks, O. Seeing Voices: A Journal into the World of the Deaf. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 1989Google Scholar.

50. Harris, J. One principle and three fallacies of disability studies. Journal of Medical Ethics 2001;26:383–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Koch, T. Disability and difference: Balancing social and physical constructions. Journal of Medical Ethics 2001;27:370–6CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

51. See note 6, Harris 2007:102–3.

52. Ridelsheimer, T. Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie. Waterville, ME: Shadow Distribution; 2005Google Scholar.

53. This would not have been my loss alone, of course. See, for example, Kasnitz, D. Life event histories and the US independent living movement. In: M., Priestly, ed. Disability and the Life Course: Global Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2001:67–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar.