Monday, June 29, 2009

eugenics and cannibalization are alive and well in the united states

Foundation | You hear on a daily basis of the cannibalization of body parts in the US for transplant operations. This cannibalization (“harvesting body parts”) is promoted because of the large amount of money it generates for the medical establishment. The practice of eugenics – genetic modification or culling to reduce unwanted traits or promote desired ones – is also thriving. One hears more and more of “selectionization” of embryos to destroy undesirable traits. What the agricultural sector has practiced for a long time – selective breeding – is now standard practice in the US medical establishment.

These practices, once frowned upon, are now thriving in the US because the medical establishment makes “big bucks” from them. When they were not so lucrative, they were discouraged or even proscribed.

It is interesting to observe the changing moral status of these and other practices, and how they are determined by economics. Slavery was once widespread because it was economically profitable. When the Industrial Revolution occurred and slavery become economically inefficient, it was banned by the economically developed nations. Cannibalization and eugenics were once banned, when there was little money to be made from these practices. Now that the medical establishment can profit handsomely from them, they are not only condoned, but encouraged. The charging of interest was once proscribed by all three Abrahamic religions (although Jews could charge interest to enemies). When, half a millennium ago, society desired large-scale lending to promote world trade, Christianity and Judaism promptly dropped their objection to it.

Now that the country is very wealthy, incredible amounts of money are spent to keep highly defective children alive. When I was a boy, this was not done. Joan Tollifson, author of Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life (Bell Tower, 1996) recounts the following interesting personal story, which illustrates well how mores have changed in just the past half-century.

“I was born in Chicago in 1948. I was born without a right hand. It had been amputated in the uterus by a strand of ruptured amnion. Newborn, I was brought to a room where there was a large pillow. My father was called out of the waiting area and taken to this room by the doctor. My father was left alone in there with me and the large pillow. He understood finally that he was being given the chance to smother me. But he didn't do it.

“The doctor knocked. "Are you finished yet?"

“My father didn't answer. The doctor came in and my father was still standing there. Together they brought me to my mother. I don't know what she felt. She has told me that this was the only time she ever saw my father cry. He wept. And then he went out and got drunk. It was probably the only time he ever got dead drunk.

“My aunt Winifred had a psychotic breakdown at the sight of me, and my uncle Harold insisted on always photographing me from the left side. In some of my childhood pictures my right arm is outside the frame or in the next room.

“People want babies, and females in general, to be unblemished. I soaked in everyone's responses to my imperfect reality. I was a kind of oxymoron. Sometimes strangers on the street would tell my mother that we were being punished by God.