The New Eugenics: Sex selection and beyond
This spring a young woman from India named Angelique Guarneri told members of the state’s Assembly Health Committee that her pregnant mother had brought her to California to be killed. The reason? She was a girl. But outside the door of the abortion clinic, sidewalk counselors persuaded her troubled parent to not have the procedure and instead give her up for adoption.
With that and like stories in mind, Assemblymember Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) introduced AB 2336, which prohibited abortions for the sake of knowingly ending the life of a female in the womb — i.e., for sex selection. “I hope that women across California, regardless of political beliefs, will join me in condemning this attack upon girls,” stated Grove.
But the bill never made it out of the lower house’s health committee. On May 6 it was defeated.
Still, AB 2336 raised serious concerns about a new round of eugenics in the Golden State, which was a leader in the human eugenics movement from the early 20th Century until World War II. Luther Burbank, the famous botanist and horticulturist, stressed, “The human weed should be removed and the unfit members of the community should be prevented from propagating their kind.”
California, in fact, did follow Indiana in enacting compulsory sterilization laws in 1909. And until the 1960s, nearly 20,000 residents, mostly housed in state hospitals and prisons, were forced to be sterilized. Californians made up one-third of the estimated 60,000 Americans who went under the surgeon’s scalpel to stop them from propagating.
Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, 70, is not only a nationally known neurologist, with a practice in Arcadia, but also a prominent bioethicist and — with Archbishop José Gomez — a board member of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The center, he stresses, regards the biotechnology Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening and Selection (“PIGSS”) as one of “greatest dangers” to the Church’s moral teaching, legal independence of its hospitals, schools, churches and other institutions, and economic viability.
But the vast majority of Catholics, he adds, have never heard of PIGGS, including members of his own family.
A close 41-year-old male relative came to him, confiding that he and his wife wanted to have another baby but were concerned about its health. “And I know you know what we can do in order to have it healthy,” he said.
Fortanasce looked at him and said, “You’re not asking me what I think you’re asking me, because that’s ethically problematic.”
“Look, that’s all I want is to have a healthy child. Don’t you?”
Giving him another look, the physician, who studied neurology at the University of Southern California, said, “Well, what you’re asking me is I’m going to have 20 new [relatives], and you’re going to keep one and kill the other 19. That’s what you’re really asking me. In case you don’t know, a human embryo is a human being. You were one. I was one. Everybody was one.”
PIGSS, points out Fortanasce, has been around since 1981, when the biotechnology was developed so parents with Huntington’s Chorea would not pass the severe disease onto their offspring. It involves in-vitro fertilization, which happens in a glass dish outside of the body. After a single cell is extracted from the very early, eight-cell embryo, it’s tested for defects. If there are any, the fertilized egg is discarded, often winding up in some researcher’s lab. If it’s healthy, an attempt is made to implant the embryo in the mother’s womb.
By the end of the 1980s, 150 diseases were being genetically tested for. Today that number is up to 400. “But the problem is that 98 percent of them are not being selected for terrible diseases,” he reported. “What they’re being selected for is gender identification. So that is by far the overwhelming use of Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening and Selection right now.”
Genetic ‘report card’
The neurologist and bioethicist calls it a “microscopic” kind of eugenics, with its full-blown cousin soon to follow. At first, he believes, the American Medical Association is going to recommend, as a standard of care, that everybody of child-bearing age get genetic testing. With that “report card,” the physician will inform patients about PIGSS and, specifically, which are the best fertilized eggs — babies — to select for a variety of reasons.
The slippery slope will then lead to active eugenics’ “designer babies.” Fortanasce says insurance companies and government agencies will likely be soon to follow, mandating that all embryos be screened and selected. And he points out how biotech firms are already lining up to reap the lucrative benefits of this new bio-business, potentially bringing in billions of dollars of income.
What are the ramifications of this Orwellian “Brave New World” birthing technique for the Catholic Church?
Fortanasce says, of course, the Church will continue defending the rights of the unborn, probably at considerable costs from lawsuits and other legal actions (“Why did you let me come into the world with my medical condition or the way I look?”) But what worries him most is the overriding issue of life itself.
“PIGSS, like embryonic stem cell and cloning research, interferes with the natural order and makes man the creator. It impugns the inherent value of life at its very core. It further creates a new type of human,” Fortanasce declared in a statement this year for the California Catholic Conference. “There will actually be a difference between those enhanced as a result of Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening and Selection and those not so enhanced by genetic manipulation.”
He implored the bishops to fight PIGSS for what it is, “simply eugenics for profit with disregard for its dangers. In California, we need to address this issue because the main biotech industry is here in this state, and we will certainly be the first state in which it will be tested.”
Fortanasce told The Tidings that AB 2336 was an example of “misplaced compassion,” because it only addressed the rights of women and not the unborn. He said the central issue was the latter.
“This is, in fact, a human embryo, a human being with utter medical certainty,” he stressed. “Because the definition of a human embryo versus a frog embryo is its DNA. And it’s unequivocal that if we had a hundred different types of species there, we would be able to agree with 100 percent accuracy on which one was human.
“The main question,” he concluded, “should be ‘What are the rights of the unborn?’ Our country is full of inequities. Is humanity determined by legislature, judicial decisions, decisions by men, or by biology? If it is by man, Who is human? will go down a slippery slope. If it is biology, the inherent worth of who we are is in our DNA — the DNA created by God, not created by man.”
Dr. Vincent Fortanasce will present a day-long lecture on PIGSS and eugenics July 26 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. Information: (626) 445-8481; 665 W. Naomi Ave., Suite 201, Arcadia, CA 91007.