Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The Current Attitude toward Eugenics in France

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The Current Attitude toward Eugenics in France

Article excerpt


Les genes de l'espoir: a la decouverte du genome humain

Daniel Cohen, R. Laffont, Paris, 301 pp.

Regard sur la biologie contemporaine

Francois Gros, Gallimard, 1993, 318 pp.

Histoire de l'eugenisme en France

Anne Carol, Editions du Seuil, 1995, 389 pp.

Des grenouilles et des hommes:

Conversations avec Jean Rostand

Jacques Testart, Stock, Paris, 1995, 266 pp.

De l'eugenisme d'Etat a l'eugenisme prive

Jean-Noel Missa and Charles Susanne (eds), De Boeck University,

Paris/Brussels, 1999, 183 pp.

Les fondements de l'eugenisme

Jean-Paul Thomas, Que sais-je, Presses Univ. de France, Paris, 1995, 127 pp.

L'eugenisme en questions:

L'exemple de l'euginisme "francais"

Alain Drouard, Elilipses, Paris, 1999, 143 pp.

L'eugenisme on les geneticiens saisis

par la philanthropie

Andre Pichot, Hatier, Paris, 1995, 80 pp.

La societe pure: De Darwin a Hitler

Andre Pichot, Flammarion, Paris, 2000, 458 pp.

Faut-il vraiment cloner l'homme?

Jean Francois Collange, L-M Houdebine Claude Hurie4 Dominique Lecourt,

Jean-Paul Renard, Jacques Testart, Forum Diderot, Paris, 1999, 122 pp.

Hygienisme et eugenisme au XX* siecle

a travers la psychiatrie frangaise

Simmonot, Anne-Laure, Sili Arslan, Paris, 1999, 190 pp.

The cartographers of the human genome may only have begun their work, but so breathtaking is their progress that the old arguments over nature/nurture, the accuracy of testing, heritability, etc. now seem dated. With every day we improve our understanding of how biological beings function, and as we apply that knowledge to plants and animals, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the taboo of non-intervention with regard to one single species out of millions -- ourselves.

In 1993, in the early days of mapping the human genome, the geneticist Daniel Cohen published a book intended for the layman on the project: Les genes de l'espoir. a la decouverte du genome humain (The Genes of Hope: Discovering the Human Genome). Cohen wrote that he could not agree with the fears surrounding genetic interventionism and felt that alterations in human germ-line cells could be compared to the work of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. Why, according to Cohen, should we suppose the worst? Why could not modern genetic technology open new perspectives of freedom?

That same year Francois Gros, Director of the Pasteur Institute, responding to a UNESCO request, published his Regard sur la biologie contemporaine (A View of Contemporary Biology). While Gros did not treat eugenics per se in his work, he presented a relevant theoretical framework. Gros argued against what the biologist Ernst Mayr termed "constitutive reductionism." By way of illustration, Descartes described an animal as a machine with a skeleton that fulfilled the functions of levers, the muscles as pulleys, and the lungs as bellows. According to this view, nothing in biology is illogical or contrary to the laws of physics and chemistry, and all states and events have an explainable cause, even if we may not be aware of it. The biologist is thus compared to a child taking apart a toy. When he is done, he can understand perfectly how it functions and then reassemble it. Gros expressed concerns over "molecular tinkering," arguing that a machine is a perfect machine which is understandable only as an integration of all its physical parts and its environmental stimuli and past history. Gros went on to pose the question, not only of where we came from, but where are we headed. With a sigh, he conceded that "we (Alas!) are entering into the era of homo geneticus." Thus, the conclusions drawn by Gros revealed appreciably greater reticence with regard to eugenics than did those of Cohen.

Although some nuances of ideological and political postures have shifted since those two books appeared, the basic issues have not. …

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