Discussion Today, Eugenics Tomorrow

There is wisdom in the old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." The Reverend R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is arguing that parents should take advantage of technological advances (hormone therapy) to identify and alter fetuses that will grow up to be gay. We can ill afford to let his ideas stand unchallenged.

Mohler, who also serves on the board of the evangelical leader James C. Dobson's conservative group, Focus on the Family, published "Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?," addressing the implications for a world where sexual orientation is a matter of genes and not choice.

In the article, he summarizes and accepts scientific evidence to date, showing that there is a genetic component to the determination of a baby's sexual orientation. He argues that it would be a moral obligation to "treat" fetuses with hormone patches to prevent them from "developing" into homosexuals, tempted by sin.

There is a long history of treating homosexuality as a disorder or disease, a perverse tactic that dresses its bigotry in the garb of science. Yet, Mohler's "proposal" is markedly different from the "treatments" of the past since its goal is nothing less than the systematic elimination of LGBT people. Critics are quick to point out that his position on engineering sexual orientation is an obvious attempt to substitute his judgments for God's or Nature's. But beyond the hubris, his plan is also a form of genocide.

It might be difficult to think of an act as genocide when there are no bodies, no bullhorns, no brownshirts — when there are apparently no victims. This difficulty does not reduce the gravity of the moral crime proposed by Mohler — it merely underlines the difference in the technological sophistication of the nightmare that Mohler has proposed for us as compared to previous tyrannical regimes.

Throughout history, there have been attempts to eliminate people based on various characteristics. Even so, the seemingly obvious analogies are fraught with dangerous intellectual conceits that fail to convey the true danger of the situation. In Europe, millions of people were exterminated with an elaborate system of ovens, camps and guns. The Khmer Rouge had their re-education centers and Killing Fields.

In contrast, the proposed "treatment" of gay fetuses would be conducted in quiet, sanitary hospital rooms by professionals whose oath is to do no harm. Protected by the confidentiality of medical care, only a hushed conversation between mother and doctor and a small hormone patch would stand as a testament to the wrong that had been committed.

Eugenics is the face of 21st century violence. This is a quiet war, waged in the context of hospital rooms and doctor's visits. As our ability to watch, monitor, tweak, and adjust every aspect of life grows, we can see violence spreading to the womb. In India, the government has been forced to intervene in the use of ultrasounds to prevent parents and doctors from aborting too many of their fetal daughters.

The MIT community will play an important role in defining the future development of bioethics. We must help to create a world where biomedical technology is used to tackle medical problems, not social preference. Sadly, it may be easier to subscribe to this view as an abstract guiding principle — I believe that individuals will be much more reluctant to forgo selection technology when the particular situation involves the sexual orientation of their son or daughter. Even a parent typically tolerant of gay rights arguments will find too many seemingly reasonable rationalizations for this "treatment."

We live in the twilight of the coming eugenics nightmare. We can't let those that speak of "treatment" use sanitary language today to disguise their malicious plans for tomorrow. We need to commit to respecting the dignity inherent to all persons. We must recognize that there is no moral ground for any actor (especially the government and even parents) to destroy or alter fetuses based on the actor's preferences for characteristics such as gender, physical attributes, personality or sexual orientation. We must love our children as people, not property. And we need to adopt these values not only as a community and a society, but also (and more importantly) as future parents.

Dwight M. Chambers '07