Article by Brian Cowan
"The History of Eugenics" Acrylic and Pastel on Canvas,
On a few occasions Teilhard uses the term "eugenics"
in his writings. His references to eugenics are brief and do not offer
much in the way of an in-depth and systematic treatment of the subject.
So far as I can determine, all of what he has to say directly about eugenics
fails to fill even a dozen paragraphs. He does disclose enough, I think,
to give us at least some indication of his thinking regarding the topic
under consideration. Nonetheless, as I will also try to show, we do seem
to end up with some inadequately answered questions, with some ambiguities
arising out of his compressed discussion of eugenics.
WHAT DOES TEILHARD MEAN BY EUGENICS
The Jesuit thinker does offer a definition of
eugenics when he tells us that he is using the word 'in its general and
etymological sense of "perfection in the continuance and fulfilment of
the species".' (1) This definition, as I understand it, refers to an ongoing
process of improvement as regards both the prolongation and actualization
of the human species. Teilhard is enthusiastic about such an ameliorative
process. Indeed, he sees the possibility of a certain nobility in the pursuit
of the betterment of the human condition. In this connection he writes:
'In the course of the coming centuries
it is indispensable that a nobly human form of eugenics, on a standard
worthy of our personalities, should be discovered and developed.' (2) At this point the question arises as to what exactly
is meant by a eugenics which is "on a standard worthy of our personalities".
From a Teilhardian perspective I think at least part of the answer lies
in the fact that human personality is reflective, is capable of sophisticated
thought. It is the opinion of the Jesuit paleontologist that 'reflective
substance requires reflective treatment.' (3) As he sees it, we humans
are reflective substances or entities, and so, in accordance with our mode
of existence which is that of beings endowed with cogitative personalities,
we are capable of acting in a fashion appropriate to persons who think.
Further, in his view, we do engage in action appropriate to our cogitative
mode of existing when, with due regard to ethical considerations, we bring
our powers of thought, of foresight, of planning to bear on our handling
of the problems and challenges which confront us. Peoples of the early
Neolithic age acted in an entire appropriate and worthy manner when they
thought through, and carried out, engineering projects such as the digging
of irrigation ditches which brought river water to their crops and so increased
Few of us doubt that our ancestors acted appropriately
when they reflectively figured out the agricultural problem of how to efficiently
bring water closer to their crops by constructing irrigation ditches. What
Teilhard is saying, I believe, is that we who live today need to overcome
our doubts that human beings are acting in a worthy manner when they reflectively
and thoughtfully tackle an eugenic problem such as figuring out ways to
optimize the global population numbers. From the Jesuit paleontologist's
perspective the population explosion is a eugenic matter because it is
one that is associated with "perfection in the continuation and fulfilment
of the species".
Those of us who accede to evolution will agree,
I think, that eyes evolved for the purpose of seeing, that ears evolved
for the purpose of hearing, that genes evolved for the purpose of coding
information and that neurons evolved for the purpose of transmitting and
storing data, and so on and so forth. Why then should we hesitate before
the proposition that thought evolved for the purpose of thinking, that
is to say for the purpose of reflecting, deliberating, planning and opting
vis-à-vis the challenges and opportunities that face our species.
It is Teilhard's view that we are well advised not to hesitate when it
comes to accepting the validity of this particular proposition.
Now, as the French Jesuit sees it, one of the
functions of thought is to impose a certain control over what is more or
less random. Neolithic irrigation ditches, the consequence of thoughtful
planning, imposed some measure of control over water flow vis-à-vis
fields of planted crops. Family planning, also a result of cogitative foresight,
is, in our day and age, exercising some degree of control over the increasing
world population. Teilhard's position is that thought emerged in the course
of cosmogenesis, at least in part, for the purpose of imposing some level
of reasonable control over a whole multitude of phenomena born of evolutionary
forces. And among such phenomena are to be found those involving water
flow and population growth. He speaks of
'the duty and the clearly-defined hope
of gaining control (and so making use of) the fundamental driving forces
of evolution.' (4) In Teilhard's view we have failed, up to the present
time, to exercise all that much governance over the more less haphazard
unfolding of humanity on the surface of our planet. He writes:
'So far we have certainly allowed our
race to develop at random, and we have given too little thought to the
question of what medical and moral factors must replace the crude forces
of natural selection should we suppress them.' (5) I would now like to reflect on some aspects of the
medical and moral factors which the French Jesuit foresees as having a
role to play in controlling, to some extent, the future development of
MEDICAL AND MORAL FACTORS
As Père Teilhard sees it, our application
of medical and moral considerations is already beginning to put us in a
situation wherein 'eugenics applied to individuals leads to eugenics applied
to society.' (6) A present day example of what the French Jesuit seems
to be talking about can be found, I believe, in connection with infantile
Tay-Sachs disease, a genetically inherited childhood illness that involves
a progressive destruction of the central nervous system and that ends in
death usually before the age of six. For infantile Tay-Sachs disease to
occur, in a child, both parents must be carriers of a defective, recessive
gene that is unable to code for a particular life-sustaining enzyme called
On both medical and moral grounds an engaged couple,
who, subsequent to genetic screening, find themselves to be each carrying
the genetic mutation that is productive of infantile Tay-Sachs disease,
may, among other options, decide to eschew marriage to each other or, if
they do marry each other, to remain childless.
Now a decision by a couple, both of whom are Tay-Sachs
carriers, not to bring offspring into the world can affect not only the
two individuals forming the couple but also the larger social grouping
in which that couple find themselves. How? Well, were the couple in question
to produce children, each pregnancy would involve one chance in four of
bringing to term a child afflicted with infantile Tay-Sachs disease. That
is to say there would be a 25 percent probability that each baby born to
the couple would turn out to be a very sick infant needing a great deal
of attention and care, during his or her brief life, from society's health-care
institutions. The medical/moral decision, apropos of reproduction, in the
circumstances under discussion, is a decision that can affect not only
individuals (e. g. the wife, the husband and any children they may bring
into the world), but also society as a whole (e. g. via a tax funded, public
Of course, Teilhard passed away long before a
genetic screening program was made available to populations at risk of
transmitting infantile Tay-Sachs disease to their offspring. But my sense
is that he would approve of such screening. He would, I believe, regard
it as one small step in the reflective process of replacing, with thought
out programs, "the crude forces of natural selection" that, over the ages,
have largely governed the development of the human zoological group. Further,
I think he would view our ability nowadays to exercise some control over
the incidence of infantile Tay-Sachs disease as one feature of the "nobly
human form of eugenics" which he was advocating.
QUESTIONING NATURAL LAW ETHICS
If I have understood Teilhard correctly what he
seems to mean by eugenics is the rational, reflective harnessing, in an
ethical fashion, of the forces of nature which tend to impact unpredictably
on the ongoing well-being and self-fulfilment of humankind. Further, he
appears to be suggesting that the aim behind the thoughtful harnessing
of these somewhat erratic natural forces ought to be that of orienting
them in planned directions with a view to developing 'a reasoned organization
of the earth.' (7)
The Jesuit thinker is aware, of course, that,
in urging greater control over the natural dynamics which affect the human
species, he is courting the disfavour of certain traditional, natural law
moralists. As these moralists see it, the characteristic operations of
an entity (including a human entity) disclose its divinely ordained nature.
Further, these same conservative moralists state that it is unethical (because
contrary to the ordinance or law which the Divinity has infused into nature)
to rein in, alter or take control of the characteristic operations of natural
entities. As pertains to the human zoological group, these cautious ethicists
declare that, in terms of theology and morality, it is wiser and safer
'to leave the contours of that great
body made of all our bodies to take shape on their own, influenced only
by the automatic play of individual urges and whims.' (8) There may be implied, in this traditional theologico-ethical
stance, the notion that to take some sort of reasonable control of our
future is beyond our abilities as human beings, and so we are better advised
to leave that control to God who acts through the laws which govern the
forces of nature. From the French Jesuit's perspective the motto of these
natural law theorists is: 'Better not interfere with the forces of the
Teilhard is unwilling to go along with the sort
of conservative natural law moralism which we have just been considering.
To his mind, such ethical thinking is faulty in that it erroneously brings
us 'up against the mirage of instinct, the so-called infallibility of nature.'
(10) From his perspective the forces of nature (be they instinctual or
otherwise) are not infallible when it comes to our own best interests as
a species, and so it is ethically appropriate, in some circumstances, for
us to exercise some planned control over these forces. Further, certain
aspects of this planned control, in his opinion, turn out to be ones that
involve eugenics. One domain, from his standpoint, in which eugenics needs
to come into play is the one which pertains to world population. Let's
direct our attention to this topic now.
Writing in 1948, and relying on the demographic
statistics available to him at that time, the Jesuit scientist states:
' ... after rising slowly until the seventeenth
century, when it reached about 400 millions, the earth' s population began
to shoot up again in an alarming fashion. It was 800 millions by the end
of the eighteenth century, 1,600 millions by 1900 and over 2,000 millions
by 1940. At the present rate of increase, regardless of war and famine,
we must expect a further 500 millions in the next 25 years. This demographic
explosion, so closely connected with the development of a relatively unified
and industrialized earth, clearly gives rise to entirely new necessities
and problems, both quantitative and qualitative.' (11) Teilhard does not think we ought to sit idly by,
face to face with a bourgeoning global population, saying to ourselves
that nature, on its own, will take care of such problems as those associated
with the escalating numbers of human beings and the low quality of life
experienced by multitudes of these people.
No, in his view, we find ourselves under the moral
obligation of both facing the population problem and then doing our best
to manage it. We need to ask ourselves, he tells us:
'How are we to prevent this compression
of mankind on the closed surface of the planet (a thing that is good in
itself, as we have seen, since it promotes social unification) from passing
that critical point beyond which any increase in numbers will mean famine
and suffocation?' (12) It is hard to see how the sort of prevention which
the Auvergnian Jesuit favours can avoid some sort of planned intervention
in the spontaneous workings of human nature, an intervention which aims
at artificially slowing down what he regards as a runaway birthrate. Interestingly,
his stance here would seem to put have him at odds with his own Church
which, in the 1940s (when the above passage was written) even more so than
today, taught that any sort of intervention (except abstinence) for the
purpose of controlling the birthrate is immoral.
In any event, whatever measures (for example,
the development of a societal culture which encourages family planning)
we humans may opt for in order to slow population growth, such measures,
in the eyes of the Jesuit thinker, constitute an aspect of eugenics.
INDIVIDUAL AND RACIAL EUGENICS
Teilhard encourages us humans to try to find a
'to ensure that the maximum population,
when it is reached, shall be composed only of elements harmonious in themselves
and blended as harmoniously as possible together'. (13) He goes on to advocate two ways of reaching this
goal of a harmonious social order, and these involve what he calls "individual
eugenics" and "racial eugenics". Let's proceed to consider his twofold
approach in more detail.
1. Individual Eugenics:
For Teilhard, 'individual eugenics' involves 'breeding
and education designed to produce only the best individual types'. (14)
Perhaps worth noting, at this juncture, is the fact that, from his perspective,
education can be considered a facet of eugenics. What is left unclear here
what is meant by "the best individual types". We seem to be left wondering
just what criteria are to be used to determine which individuals belong
to the particular types in question. I do find myself disappointed by this
lack of clarity.
2. Racial Eugenics:
As Teilhard de Chardin sees it, 'racial eugenics'
involves 'the grouping or intermixing of different ethnic types being not
left to chance but effected as a controlled process in the proportions
most beneficial to humanity as a whole'. (15) His notion of the intermixing
of ethnic types is clear enough, but what does he mean by the grouping
of these types? Is there a hint of segregationism here? And who is to be
in charge of deciding about, and controlling, the grouping and the intermixing?
Again a lack of clarity seems to be apparent in what the Jesuit thinker
is advocating, and this is disappointing to me. I am most reluctant to
admit segregationist tendencies in the French Jesuit's thought because
such tendencies would, in a serious way, run counter to one of his guiding
principles -- that of human convergence. But I cannot deny that his assertion,
apropos of racial eugenics is, at the very least, ambiguous.
Teilhard's goal in advocating individual and racial
eugenics appears to be the promotion of a healthy humankind. We will now
turn our attention to what he has to say on this topic.
A physician acts correctly when, by a variety
of planned measures, he or she tries to improve the health of an ailing
patient. So too, from Teilhard's perspective, does humankind as a whole
act appropriately when, as its own doctor, so to speak, it endeavours to
improve its collective health by a variety of planned measures.
He expresses his concern about the sickly state
of the human species when he writes:
' ... the problem of building a healthy
mankind already stares us in the face and is growing more acute every day.
With the help of science, and sustained by a renewed sense of our species,
shall we be able to round this dangerous corner?' (16) The same worry about the insalubriousness of the
human condition is articulated in the passage, from 'The Phenomenon of
Man', which I cite below.
'It has been said that we might well
blush comparing our own mankind, so full of misshapen subjects, with those
animal societies in which, in a hundred thousand individuals, not one will
be found lacking in a single antenna.' (17) I must concede that I find myself unsatisfied with
Teilhard's approach to individual and racial eugenics in the sense that,
to my mind, it is overly brief, overly cursory and leaves not a few questions
unanswered. As I see it, these unanswered questions, in addition to the
ones alluded to earlier, include the following.
- What, approximately, is the optimal
human population number that we would do well to aim at in our demographic
planning vis-à-vis planet Earth? Also, apropos of the healthiness of humankind, my
suspicion is that there are factors, not entirely within the domain of
eugenics, that contribute to the many mental and physical ailments which
beset quite a few members of our species, for example:
- As regards individual eugenics, what are some
of the appropriate modalities to be utilized as regards the breeding and
the education which are mentioned?
- As regards racial eugenics what are some of
the suitable modalities to be utilized as regards the grouping or intermixing
to which allusion is made?
- poverty, SOME TROUBLING NOTIONS
- dysfunctional/abusive families,
- dysfunctional/abusive governments,
- environmental pollution,
- non-hygienic living conditions,
- a shortage of affordable health care,
- chronic stress,
- economic exploitation,
- unemployment and under-employment,
- and so on and so forth.
In 1937 Teilhard wrote an essay entitled 'Human
Energy'. In it we encounter a paragraph in which, from my perspective,
a number of troubling notions appear. At this juncture, let me quote part
of the paragraph in question.
' ... the apostles of birth control ...
have rendered us the service of opening our eyes to the anomaly of a society
that concerns itself with everything except the recruitment of its own
elements. Now eugenics does not confine itself to a simple control of births.
All sorts of related questions, scarcely yet raised despite their urgency,
are attached to it. What fundamental attitude, for example, should the
advancing wing of humanity take to fixed or definitely unprogressive ethnical
groups? The earth is a closed and limited surface. To what extent should
it tolerate, racially or nationally, areas of lesser activity? More generally
still, how should we judge the efforts we lavish in all kinds of hospitals
on saving what is so often no more than one of life's rejects? Something
profoundly true and beautiful (I mean faith in the irreplaceable value
and unpredictable resources contained in each personal unit) is evidently
concealed in persistent sacrifice to save a human existence. But should
not this solicitude of man for his individual neighbour be balanced by
a higher passion, born of the faith in that other higher personality that
is to be expected, as we shall see, from the world-wide achievements of
our evolution? To what extent should not the development of the strong
(to the extent that we can define this quality) take precedence over the
preservation of the weak? How can we reconcile, in a state of maximum efficiency,
the care lavished on the wounded with the more urgent necessities of battle?
In what does true charity consist?' (18) There are, I believe, unclarified points in the foregoing
passage which can leave us puzzled and concerned. Let's consider three
such points by way of the three questions which I ask below.
1. What is meant by ethnical groups which
may be fixed and unprogressive, and what are the criteria for identifying
them? In my opinion, it is to be regretted that Teilhard
has not given us greater clarification here. I am loath to attribute to
him an exclusionary outlook, an outlook that excludes certain ethnic, racial
or national groups from full and equal participation in the human commonwealth
because such a standpoint would seem to fly in the face of one of his key
tenets -- that of the unification, confluence and convergence of the human
zoological group. Further, the exclusion of the gravely and incurably ill
from the best possible care available to them, on the grounds that they
constitute life's rejects, is something that appears to run counter, in
a serious way, to the Jesuit thinker's views on the importance, within
the terrestrial noosphere, of human affinity, love and solidarity. So,
again, I repeat that I do wish he had accorded more clarity to these troubling
points and notions.
2. Which are the racial or national areas that
may be less active than they could be, and what are the criteria for identifying
3. Who, physically or psychologically, is incurably
disabled enough to be considered one of life's rejects, and what are the
criteria for identifying him or her?
At the end of the paragraph, from 'Human Energy',
which I partially quoted, Teilhard asks: "In what does true charity consist?"
In another essay of his, written in 1929, in the course of discussing charity
or the love of neighbour, he writes:
'Love of our neighbour would wither were
it to lose that flower of compassion from which sprang the rich harvest
of the Hospitallers and the nursing orders; but it needs to give itself
a more solid structure in some passionate attachment to the collective
work of the universe. We have not only to ease but to develop; not only
to repair but to build. For our generation, love of mankind can have but
one meaning, to devote oneself with all one's energies and all one's heart
to man's effort.' (19) Applying this notion of devoting oneself to humankind's
effort makes a strong case, I believe, not for excluding less active and
less progressive groups of people from humanity's evolutionary advance,
but for working cooperatively with them so that they might become more
active and more progressive. A point we need to bear in mind when thinking
about this topic is the fact that not a few groupings of human beings are
less "evolved" than others because their development has been deliberately
curtailed, by dominant political and economic powers, as a matter of policy
-- the policy of imperialism or of colonialism, for example.
Likewise, it seems to me that Teilhard's thoughts
about devoting ourselves to the common human effort can encourage us to
adopt a philosophy of inclusion, to the degree this is possible, vis-Ã -vis
the gravely and chronically disabled. As I see it, if we permit ourselves
to view those who are severely and incurably crippled in mind or body as
life's rejects, we run a real risk that we will be led to relate to them
with less support and respect than is their due.
I must admit that I am much more comfortable seeing
Teilhard in an inclusionary light than in an exclusionary one. I am happier
reading passages of his which seem to stress the bringing of all people
fully into the human fold than I am reading passages which might hint at
excluding some groups or individuals. Some lines of his which, like the
quote about neighbourly love cited above, do appear to emphasize inclusion
are the following.
'If men could love one another, if they
could reach the pitch of loving, not with the love of husband for wife,
of brother for brother, of countryman for fellow-countryman, but of element
for element of a world in process of convergence, then the great evolutionary
law that ever since the beginning of the earth has continually caused more
spirit to appear upon more complexity, would operate again with new vigour.'
AN ETHICALLY APPROPRIATE CONTROL
In an essay which he wrote in 1951 the Jesuit
thinker asserts that the time has come to, among other things,
'lay the foundations of a technics (both
biophysical and psychological) of ultra-evolution'. (21) Further, from his perspective, these technics should
aim, both 'in general research' and 'in eugenics', at the goal of producing
'an ultra-arrangement of the noosphere.' (22) As PÃ¨re Teilhard,
sees it, then, eugenics, along with science in general, has as one of its
legitimate objectives the arrangement or organization of the noosphere
in an ultra or advanced fashion. Now to arrange or organize is to exercise
a measure of control over what is arranged or organized.
We will recall that, for the Auvergnian Jesuit,
the term "eugenics" means "perfection in the continuance and fulfilment
of the species". At this point, it seems to me, a major question arises:
that of what is ethically appropriate and what is ethically inappropriate
when it comes to the measures or controls we are to put into place for
the purpose of perfecting or improving the human species. Unfortunately,
the Jesuit paleontologist's treatment of eugenics is so brief that, so
far as I can tell, he does not offer us very much in the way of detailed
help in responding to this question. However, in the light of his overall
outlook, I would like to suggest three eugenic (using the term in Teilhardian
sense) approaches which I think he might regard as ethically appropriate
as well as three which, to my mind, he would view as morally unacceptable
or, at least, dubious. I wish to stress that these are my personal views
as to what Teilhard's approach might be, and, of course, some list members
may disagree with me on this point or that. I have no problem with any
At this juncture a moment of reflection on what
we regard as ethically appropriate or inappropriate may be warranted. I
do not believe we can deny that our insight into what is morally right
and wrong is an insight that evolves. Some examples:
- The ancient Carthaginians, like the
Aztecs of old, considered that it was right and pious to offer human sacrifices
to their gods. Virtually no one holds a similar ethical view today. In our present era, pretty well everyone admits that
human sacrifice and slavery are wrong. Further, almost everybody acknowledges
that there is nothing morally reprehensible about vaccinating people against
diseases or about using anaesthetics to ease the pain of childbirth. Those,
in times past, who, apropos of the moral issues we are discussing, regarded
as right what most of us consider to be wrong and who regarded as wrong
what most of us consider to be right were, the majority of us will agree,
mistaken no matter how honestly and sincerely they held to their points
of view. It is worth our while, I believe, to keep this observation in
mind as we ponder the six examples which we will shortly encounter. People
of tomorrow, standing, so to speak, on our ethical shoulders, may well
see farther than we do as they gaze out upon the moral landscape. In any
event, let us now turn to our examples.
- Some two centuries ago a number of devout Christians
held that that vaccination against smallpox was a serious offence against
the moral law. These Christians claimed that carrying out the immunization
procedure was reprehensible because it interfered with God's plan. The
claim was made, even in learned ecclesiastical circles (23), that if, from
all eternity, the Divinity had willed someone to sicken, and perhaps die,
from smallpox, any physician who practiced vaccination against that disease
was carrying out a serious transgression against the divine will. At the
present time most of us are convinced that a deliberate refusal to arrange
for the immunization of our offspring against the common preventable diseases
would constitute a serious ethical failure on our part.
- Many Victorians believed that it was a sin to
ease the pains of childbirth with anaesthetics. This thinking began to
change significantly when, in 1853, Queen Victoria, during labour, accepted
chloroform from her physician, Dr. James Simpson. In our day and age, hardly
anyone objects, on ethical grounds, to the use of anaesthetics during childbirth.
- Well into the nineteenth century, not a few
Jews, Christians and Muslims were satisfied that slave ownership was morally
acceptable. Nowadays, as we know, none of these religions sanctions slavery.
FORMS OF EUGENICS WHICH TEILHARD MIGHT WELL
REGARD AS ETHICALLY APPROPRIATE
1. Family Planning:
A couple may take the decision to limit the number
of their offspring to, say, two or three, as opposed to producing, say,
a baby a year for ten or more years. This couple may reason that, by so
limiting the size of their family, they will have a better chance of, among
other things, assisting all of their children to a acquire a reasonable
education, than would be the case were they to produce ten or more children.
Our couple here may be influenced by the ethical notion that the quality
of the offspring which they send out into society is more important than
the mere quantity of the said offspring
Such a couple will perhaps also see themselves
as acting in a socially responsible manner as regards the world population
situation. They might, for example, agree with Teilhard de Chardin when
he states that 'we are beginning to be too numerous to share the earth
between us' and that '"living space" is running out.' (24) Producing two
or three children, as opposed to ten or fifteen, in the eyes of our couple,
may appear as the ethically appropriate thing to do in order to make a
small contribution to slowing down what they consider to be a population
explosion on our globe.
2. Genetic Screening:
A couple who consider themselves to be at some
risk of passing along to their offspring such genetically inherited maladies
as infantile Tay-Sachs disease or cystic fibrosis (25) may consider that
they are morally obligated to undergo genetic screening for these maladies.
If such screening discloses that both parties to the couple are carriers
of either of these genetically inherited diseases, the parties, may, among
other options, decide to remain childless so as to avoid a one in four
chance that any child born to them will suffer from the ailment of which
each party is a carrier.
3. Gene Therapy:
In the not too distant future it may become possible
to replace defective genes, in human gametes, with healthy ones. By so
doing, it might be possible to prevent the genetic transmission of such
maladies as beta thalassemia (26) or Canavan disease (27). In that this
sort of gene therapy has, perhaps, the potential to prevent the emergence
of grave ailments, many of us will, I think, consider that the use of this
sort of therapy, as ethically approriate in some circumstances.
FORMS OF EUGENICS WHICH WOULD BE ETHICALLY
UNACCEPTABLE, OR AT LEAST DUBIOUS, FROM TEILHARD'S STANDPOINT
1. Promoting the Decline or Extinction of a
Particular Human Group:
Here I am talking about what amounts to genocide
such as that practiced, in the twentieth century, against the Armenians
by the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, against the Ukrainians by Stalin and
against the Jews by Hitler. These genocides, as well as others, are pretty
well universally condemned from an ethical standpoint.
2. Enforced Sterilization:
Most of us will balk morally at the suggestion
that consideration be given to cutting off state welfare payments to mothers
receiving social assistance unless they agree to be sterilized subsequent
to the birth of their second or third child. The requirement of sterilization
as a condition for continuing to receive social assistance would, in the
eyes of many, constitute a violation of human reproductive rights.
3. The Use of Gene Therapy for Frivolous Reasons:
Not a few persons would consider gene therapy
on human gametes to be immoral if it were done for such frivolous reasons
as determining hair or eye colour.
Teilhard's treatment of eugenics is cursory and
abbreviated. What he seems to mean by eugenics is the thoughtful and ethical
harnessing of the forces of nature for the purpose of promoting the future
well-being of human species. He stands in opposition to the views of certain
conservative natural law moralists who are of the opinion that, as regards
humanity's future, the forces of nature should be allowed to run their
course free of interference from human beings. There are some troubling
notions which arise in the course of his brief remarks about eugenics,
notions, for example, about "unprogressive ethnical groups" or about perceiving
severely disabled persons as "life's rejects". It is to be regretted, in
my opinion, that the Jesuit thinker did not clarify these notions which,
at first glance at least, appear to run counter to his overall philosophy
of human convergence and solidarity. He provides virtually nothing in the
way of concrete examples of eugenic practices which he regards as appropriate
and inappropriate ethically. Due to this lack, I have tried to offer three
examples of eugenics (as Teilhard defines the term) that might meet with
his ethical approval and three which, I believe, he would find morally
unacceptable or, at least, dubious.
(1) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in 'The Future of Man' (Harper & Row, 1969), p. 243
(In footnote # 5).
(2) 'The Phenomenon of Man' (Fountain
Books, 1977), p. 310.
(3) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(4) 'The Convergence of the Universe',
in 'Activation of Energy' (Harvest Book, 1970), p. 295.
(5) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(6) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(7) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(8) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(9) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(10) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(11) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in 'Future', pp. 242-243.
(12) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in 'Future', p. 243.
(13) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in Future', p. 243.
(14) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in 'Future', p. 243.
(15) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in 'Future', p. 243.
(16) 'The Directions and Conditions
of the Future', in 'Future', p. 243.
(17) 'Phenomenon', p. 310.
(18) 'Human Energy', in 'Human
Energy' (Collins, 1969), pp. 132-133.
(19) 'The Sense of Man', in 'Toward
(Harvest Book, 1975), p. 33.
(20) 'The Rise of the Other', in
'Activation', pp. 71-72.
(21) 'A Major Problem for Anthropology',
in 'Activation', p. 318.
(22) 'A Major Problem for Anthropology',
in 'Activation', p. 318.
(23) In this connection we may
quote the words of the learned Protestant divine, Rev. Timothy Dwight,
who served as president of Yale University from 1795 to 1817. Rev. Dwight
is on record as stating: 'If God had decreed from all eternity that a certain
person should die of smallpox, it would be a frightful sin to avoid and
annul that decree by the trick of vaccination.' [Cited in John Shelby Spong's
book, 'Why Christianity Must Change or Die', (Harper Collins, 1999), pp.
(24) 'The Rise of the Other', in
'Activation', p. 64.
(25) Sufferers from cystic fibrosis
possess a defective gene which leads the body to produce excessive mucus
or phloem which clogs the lungs and causes serious respiratory difficulties.
The thick mucus secretions can have adverse effects on other bodily organs
as well. More than 50 per cent of cystic fibrosis patients die before reaching
the age of eighteen.
(26) Beta thalassemia, a blood
disease, is the consequence of a genetic defect which results in an inadequate
production of haemoglobin, a protein that permits the red blood cells to
transport oxygen and carbon dioxide. A child suffering from a more severe
form of this ailment may have to depend on ongoing blood transfusions for
his or her survival. Sufferers from this malady, particularly in its severer
forms, may die from it, or from complications arising from it, prior to
the lapse of a normal life span.
(27) Canavan disease is a rare
inherited neurological disorder involving the degeneration of the brain.
The white matter in the brain gets replaced by tiny fluid filled spaces
giving the brain a spongy consistency. Symptoms of the illness include
mental retardation, poor motor skills, paralysis, blindness and deafness.
Death usually occurs before the age of ten.
Posted at 16 Dec 2003