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Throughout history, people have sought to improve themselves and society by reducing suffering, eliminating disease or enhancing desirable qualities in their children. The dark side of this ambition is a desire to impose control over who can marry, who can procreate and ultimately who is permitted to live.
At various times in history, eugenics has been embraced around the world: forced sterilisations and sex-selective abortion were enacted in dozens of countries, including the great superpowers and some of the most progressive countries in the twentieth century, not to mention the two most populous countries on Earth. It was also a cornerstone of the policies of the Third Reich and forged a path that led directly to the gates of Auschwitz.
But eugenics is not merely historical. Today, with new gene editing techniques, conversations are happening about tinkering with the DNA of unborn children, to make them smarter, fitter, stronger.
It’s a tough conversation, but would eugenics work, or was it always a harmful pseudoscientific fantasy?
editor and invited experts
Dr Adam Rutherford
Scientist, writer and broadcaster. Author of ‘Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics’