The United States has committed billions to a controversial human genetic research project that could have tremendous international importance, but surprisingly little public debate has taken place.
The Human Genome Project, as it is known, was started about five years ago, winning a $31 million grant from Congress to the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Library of Medicine. In 1989, the project's budget was increased to $53 million. The projected cost of the program over its 15-year life span is $3 billion, and it is expected to involve dozens of government agencies, university laboratories, and private data centers by completion.
The purpose of the project is to identify and "map" all of the individual human genes that make up the person, or, as a writer in Time magazine described it in 1989, to "decipher the complete instructions for making a human being."
In fact, according to the Grolier Encyclopedia, the word "genome" means "the totality of genes making up [the] hereditary constitution,"
And what do scientists hope to accomplish with this ambitious project? "It's going to tell us everything," says George Cahill of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "Evolution, disease, everything..."
Other advocates of the program insist that the research could lead to cures for genetic diseases or cancer, or that it might prove to be the first step toward developing the capability for "gene therapy," a process in which the genetic code can be manipulated to eliminate defects.
The project "will revolutionize the way biology and medicine are done in the laboratory," said Charles Cantor, director of the Human Genome Center at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, in a December 1990 article in the Washington Times.
But the research raises a wide range of ethical questions, too. It is asserted in a guest column appearing in the New York Times in February, for instance, that "the dangers of attributing too much power to the genes are profound."
The writer of the column, Dorothy Nelkin, is a professor at New York University and co-author of a book on genetics and popular culture. "Faith in genetic testing on the part of both the public and scientists reflects the technocratic dream of controlling the accidental, anticipating the unpredictable, and eradicating the risk," Nelkin writes. But no cure exists for most genetic problems, and Nelkin is doubtful that research will ever fully succeed in this respect. "Ultimately, the only way to eliminate genetic conditions is through controlling reproduction," she concludes, "and here lies the risk."
In other words, the $3 billion Human Genome Project may do little more than provide a new, high- tech basis for population control.
This is not a question of detecting and preventing the causes of congenital abnormalities like those that may occur when an expectant mother gets German measles, for instance. For that we don t need the Human Genome Project. Rather, "gene-mapping" research is intended to gather information about familial traits, hereditary human characteristics that are passed from one generation to another. The "cure" in this case -- absent the equally frightening reality of genetic engineering -- is to halt the reproduction of entire families so that persons likely to possess the unpopular trait are "bred out" of the society, leaving no nephews, no sisters, no offspring who might come back to haunt us.
Already, such intentions are suspect. A conference on the topic of "Genetic Factors in Crime: Findings, Uses and Implications," was planned in the Washington, D.C. area for the fall of 1992 with the specific goal of exploring possible links between heredity and criminal conduct. The meeting, which had been assured a $78,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, was abruptly canceled when members of the academic and scientific community denounced its theme as racist. Indeed, there is little that such a proposed linkage between crime and "bad genes" could offer in terms of public policy except a rationale for curbing fertility among entire classes of people.
But while the "crime connection" proved too controversial -- at least for now -- other theories have met with less resistance. During the past few years alone, scientists have taken credit for "discovering" a genetic basis for a variety of human conditions ranging from the tendency toward alcoholism to homosexuality.
Potential applications for such theories provide the grounds for yet another controversy. A December 1992 report in the Washington Times described the case of an expectant couple who requested a diagnostic test to determine if their child would have a genetic abnormality. According to the report, they were told by officials of the health maintenance organization (HMO) to which they belonged that if they had the test done and a fetal defect was detected, they would be obligated to opt for abortion. If they refused, continues the report, "not only would the HMO not pay for the test or provide health care for the child, it would also cap the benefits for their already existing child."
Theoretically, at least, the Human Genome Project holds the key that may one day enable scientists to identify every imaginable genetic trait, raising the question of how far such coercive medical policies could go in promoting abortion, sterilization or Norplant to prevent the continuation of certain genetic strains.
Indeed, who would define the point at which diversity becomes disability? And would it not be possible -- perhaps even "reasonable" in the right political climate -- to insist that all persons undergo some kind of genetic evaluation?
As Nelkin notes in her New York Times op- ed, knowledge itself tends to influence government policy, and such inevitable considerations as cost- cutting "can encourage policies that border on eugenics."
The legal basis for "genetic cleansing" already exists. It has long been recognized in the United States, for instance, that the government has a legitimate interest in public health and welfare, and may regulate or even compel certain behaviour to protect it. Mandatory vaccinations are a case in point. Anti-smoking legislation is another.
As a general rule, population control advocates also base their public rhetoric on a vague perception of "the common good." For the most part, they insist that individuals and couples are at least theoretically free to "choose when and if they will have any children," to use the language of a draft plan of action prepared for the upcoming International Conference on Population and Development. But this freedom is far from unqualified. Adds the same population conference document: "The right to bear children implies responsibility to care for children and to consider their interests and the interests of the larger community." And it might just as well imply that they take into consideration the "health" of future generations, when the means to do so become available.
It is not an excess of cynicism that leads people like Nelkin to express concern that the findings of a $3 billion research extravaganza will simply have to be put to some practical use. There is a human tendency to set aside qualms about discrimination and human rights when "new" social policies come packaged as progress, as absolute truth, and as the reward for awesome new medical discoveries. Worse yet, for government to fail to make use of such expensively- acquired knowledge would be to commit the unpardonable sin of squandering public funds.
The Human Genome Project was explicitly intended by Congress to be international in scope. The implications of the studies in a world in which population control can be inflicted on entire nations can be nothing less than terrifying. If the United States government -- and the leaders of other wealthy, powerful nations -- can ruthlessly impose fertility limits on persons far beyond their shores, they will almost certainly be willing to place new genetic technologies at the service of other, equally devious ends.
Still, one may argue that projections about the future are pure speculation. The past, on the other hand, is history. And history, too, has quite a bit to say about the inherent abuse potential in genetic manipulation.
Consider, for instance, this criticism of the health care system: "Modern medicine is responsible for the loss of appreciation of the power of heredity. It has had its attention too exclusively focussed [sic.] on germs and conditions of life. It has neglected the personal element that helps determine the course of every disease... It has forgotten the fundamental fact that all men are created bound by their protoplasmic makeup and unequal in their powers and responsibilities."
This argument was made, not during legislative hearings on the Human Genome Project, but in the preface to a 1911 book titled Heredity in Relation to Eugenics by Charles Benedict Davenport.
But the connection to the contemporary issue is undeniable. Simply stated, applied genetics is the "scientific" belief in human inequality -- exactly what the Davenport book says it is. And because such research affirms the idea that people are by their very nature unequal in their abilities and potential, it is effectual mainly in forging unjust and oppressive public policies.
The notion of "natural" inequality between groups appears even more dramatically in foreign relations, where the stereotype of dark-skinned natives unable to make advancements without the help of the benevolent developer -- formerly the "white man s burden," and now western-defined "sustainable development" -- hangs over foreign "aid" operations from Asia and the Pacific across Africa and on to Latin America.
Enemies, too, are routinely subjected to charges of hereditary worthlessness on a national or regional scale. The concept of the biological menace of the Bolshevik entered the U.S. consciousness a generation before the official declaration of the cold war. Lothrop Stoddard, a prolific author and advocate of both strategic and eugenic birth control, wrote his influential critique of the Russian revolution only six years after the overthrow of the czars. The book, called Revolt of the Under-Man, explained that the "Under-man" (the revolutionary) "wreaks his destructive fury on individuals as well as on institutions. And the superior are always his special targets."
To Stoddard, the overthrow of the czar was the triumph of a class of hereditary inferiors -- and more. He called social equality nothing less than the domination of "the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements," and wrote that this dangerous concept threatens both east and west: "No land is immune," proclaims Stoddard s premature cold war manifesto. "Bolshevik Russia is merely the standard- bearer of a revolt against civilization which girdles the globe."
Today, similar things are said about the developing world. The nations of the south, complains a report on world population trends prepared in 1991 for the U.S. Army Conference on Long-Range Planning, do not share America s "respect for individual rights and private property." The imminent rise to power of new blocs, the inevitable result of high rates of population growth in the developing regions, could bring with it "a progressively weaker constraint on the exercise of force," says the study, hinting both that the people of these areas are somehow ill-suited to peaceful civilization and that political pressures caused by their rapid increase might trigger increasing military actions on the part of the north.
An even more outrageous and explicitly genetic theory is examined in the Summer 1992 issue of Mankind Quarterly, a journal that deals with demographics and "social" biology.
After a lengthy discussion of programs in force to curb "over-population" around the world, the author, J. W. Jamieson of the Virginia-based Institute for the Study of Man, writes: "But there is another aspect of the problem we shall face if we seek to breed a population which will be content to avoid over- reproduction in the future. Most personality traits seem to have a high heritability, and it would seem reasonable that such a trait does influence family size."
Jamieson continues in the following paragraph, "it seems quite probable that evolution has already established a heritable trait corresponding to a desire to produce a large number of offspring." Indeed, under Jamieson s bizarre concept, one need look no further than average household size to find evidence of an inherited attribute which is distinctly racial and regional in scope and which, by its very nature, causes "over-population." Because it is a hereditary characteristic, it will be transmitted from one generation to the next, making it necessary to eliminate entire ethnic strains if the world is to belong to those who are "content to avoid over- reproduction." Again, emphasizing the need for global population control, Jamieson concludes: "Evolution does not guarantee that the wisest will survive, it only guarantees that the more fertile will predominate..."
This kind of reactionary thinking, unfortunately, may gain credibility among scientists as a result of projects like Human Genome. And its
implications in a world where economic and political inequity have long been preserved by force and exploitation are almost too frightening to contemplate.
Genes and Public Policy
In a recent number of the Eugenics Review, many pedigrees were given of families, members of which generation after generation
fill the workhouse, the infirmary and the prison. The women are prolific, and return to the maternity wards again and again. Their children grow up, if they grow up at all,
with hereditary defects which cause the evil to spread in ever-widening circles at an ever-growing rate. Here is one part of the problem of destitution the cause of which
is known with certainty, the cure for which is clear. It needs but the courage to assume the permanent cure and control of these defective members of the community for one
generation to prevent all the misery and degradation in themselves which follows their so- called liberty, and to cut off for ever the evil strains of blood which
uncontrolled they will disseminate through the nation. The expense would be saved in a very few years in the lessened cost of poor- law and police, while, infinitely more
important, the contamination with which they threaten the race would be prevented. The problem of destitution is complex; but there is one section of it which can be, and
ought to be, solved once for all.
Verbatim from "Heredity and Destitution" by W. C. D. Wertham, in The Eugenics Review, July 1911.
The idea that people should be selectively bred to improve the gene pool found favour during the 1920s and 30s among legislators and the medical community who used the "evidence" to justify withholding economic assistance from the poor and compulsory sterilization to minimize the breeding among disadvantaged classes.
In May of 1932, Dr. C. O. McCormick delivered an address on the topic of charity and genetic selection before the Indiana State Medical Association. McCormick s speech, called "Fewer and Better Babies," was reprinted in the October 1932 issue of the Birth Control Review. Following are exerpts from his presentation:
"From all beginnings of human progress, people and nations start with a primitive setting and develop in accordance with environmental and hereditary forces with survival of only the fittest, the weak and defective being either permitted or forced to perish... Thus history has recorded it until the advent of sociology and charity of modern civilization which have since interfered with nature s plan by nurturing the weak and defective to maturity and procreation of their kind. Upon such a system the weaker sooner or later compete with the stronger and a point may be reached where progress upward not only ceases, but retrogression is inaugurated. Feeble-mindedness, degeneracy, criminality and diseases become so thoroughly intermingled and affect so large a part of the constituents of a nation that the nation itself may degenerate and finally crumble. By conforming to natural laws and planning selective breeding, there should be no reason why a nation could not live forever and improve its racial strains.
"Under the present scheme the citizens of the upper strata of society are not only sharing equally their earnings for the rearing and education of their own offspring with that of those of the lower strata, but in order to be able to do so are to a definite degree forced to limit their own number of children.... These [upper income] families are limiting themselves to an average of 2.1 living children, slightly more than one-half required for racial increase. At the same time there is no check being placed upon the number procreated by the inferiors, and it is seriously true that our growing population is being increasingly maintained by the moron group. This is most obviously contrary to permanent and staple progress, and every sensible and public-spirited person must admit that propagation of the unfit should somehow be checked...
"We of the [medical] profession with our improving skill, assisted by increasing state and private charity, are more and more enabling the weaklings to survive and propagate their kind, and therefore are prominently instrumental in the production of a weaker race. Certainly not a credible or patriotic achievement... The great philosopher was correct in his assertion that, A nation which fosters and cares for its good-for-nothings will sooner or later find itself a good-for-nothing nation. If we are to fulfill our obligation to society, we will first of all establish the doctrine that social betterment must work hand in hand with race betterment...
"It is most obvious that eugenic sterilization lends itself as a strong preventive agent, and that it applies to public health the same as does vaccination for typhoid or smallpox. Guarded by efficient laws it is a wise and efficient method to protect society from degeneration, and to insure progressive racial evolution."
More, More, More.....
In 1920, the Macmillan Company of New York published what was to become a widely used textbook on the social aspects of genetics. It was called Applied Eugenics, and its authors were Paul Popenoe, editor of the Journal of Heredity in Washington, D.C., and Roswell Hill Johnson, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. The writers concluded without ambivalence that "the Negro race in Africa has never, by its own inheritance, risen much above barbarism," and that the black race, in America as in Africa, "is in the large eugenically inferior to the white."
In a chapter of the book called "Increase of the Birth-Rate of the Superior," the writers declared that every woman belonging to a superior racial or genetic group (also excluding most immigrants) should bear more than three children on the grounds that, "unless every married woman brings three children to maturity, the race will not even hold its own in numbers." At the same time, they argued, births should be restricted among others. "It is at once evident that a decline, rather than an increase, in the birth-rate of some sections of the population, is wanted."
With the end of World War II and revelations of atrocities committed by the Nazis in the name of "race purity," theories about racial pollution were replaced by arguments more acceptable to the contemporary world. But the goal remained the unchanged.
In September of 1964, the journal Eugenics Quarterly published a study on "White and Nonwhite Fertility" which concluded that the higher fertility of black women could be reduced by "social and cultural integration" with whites, and that, "as racial integration continues, the difference between the white and nonwhite levels of fertility will disappear." The interest of the researchers was obviously not civil rights, but rather an understanding of factors that might undermine the higher fertility of minorities with its implications for increasing their representation in society. The journal carefully avoided making direct reference to the superiority or inferiority of any racial group.
On the other hand, an article by Dr. T. C. Reed of the Dight Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Minnesota appearing a few months later in The Eugenics Review ("Toward A New Eugenics: The Importance of Differential Reproduction") focused on the issues of inferiority and superiority, while avoiding explicit mention of race. Reed also substituted Malthusian ideas about population, the then-popular "IQ" myth, and the obsolescence of manual labor to call for precisely the same goal that had previously been recommended on ethnic grounds.
"The need for eugenic concern is greater today than ever before because of the population explosion, and the automation explosion, " announced Reed. "It is not realistic to encourage the more intelligent to increase their birth rate greatly because of the menace of overpopulation. It is imperative that the less intelligent be discouraged from reproducing as much as at present because machines are rapidly taking over the jobs previously held by the least able of our fellow men." In fact, wrote Reed, "the less intelligent will have to be discouraged from almost any reproduction because of the serious consequences of ... the two ex- plosions. "
The themes have evolved over the years, but "over- population" has remained the scapegoat that allows wealthy individuals and nations to explain poverty and unemployment in ways that pose no threat to privilege. Witness this contemporary explanation for lack of schooling in poor countries: "One hundred million children of primary school age in developing nations are not enrolled in schools; they represent the potential adult illiteracy of the twenty-first century,.. With few exceptions, the inability to read and write directly parallels poverty and rapid population growth." So says a 1990 newsletter from the Population Institute in Washington.
Today, the differences between average fertility in developed and developing regions of the world are vastly greater than such inter-racial differences ever were within the United States itself. Birthrates are, overall, below two children per family in the industrialized world, which is populated mainly by persons of European ancestry. In much of the southern hemisphere, particularly Africa, the Middle East, and some Latin American nations, birthrates may be as much as four times higher. So the effort to prevent a swelling of the earth s black and brown populations is taking on new urgency.
A December 1992 newsletter of the Carrying Capacity Network asks, "with population growing by 95 million every year, is there time to wait until
people voluntarily choose to limit family size?" The same publication argues for a system of rewards and punishments to literally compel people in the south to stop having
children -- granting housing subsidies and even cash payments to people who efficiently use birth control, while withholding the same benefits from those who don t. "An incentive
and disincentive program may persuade couples to make decisions they would not otherwise make," advises the newsletter, which concedes that the idea is a form of coercion. But it
asks, "what are the alternatives?" We may, it says, provide family planning on a voluntary basis, after which we could "passively watch while the many cultures and
countries in the world continue to unsustainably grow," or we might launch a "desperate, last-ditch use of coercive mandatory sterilization or other such programs."
Was population control a motive for the February 25 massacre of at least 50 Palestinian Muslims near Jerusalem? According to a story published in the New York Times the day after the incident, the killer, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, was known to be an anti-Arab fanatic who openly worried that high Palestinian birthrates would compromise the Jewish identity of Israel.
In a letter to editor which was published by the Times on June 30, 1981, two years before Goldstein migrated to Israel, the doctor demanded that Jewish leaders "act decisively to remove the Arab minority" from the occupied territories. "According to statistics published by the Israeli Government in 1980," Goldstein wrote, "the Arabs of Israel have an average of eight children per household, as compared with an average of 2.9 children per Jewish home in Israel." Referring to a demographic situation in which the Palestinian population appears to be replacing itself at a rate two-and-a-half times higher than the Jewish population, Goldstein added, "Before instinctively defending democracy as inviolate, Israelis should consider whether the prospect of an Arab majority electing 61 Arab Knesset members is acceptable to them."
The Times reprinted the letter on February 26, as part of its coverage of the slaughter that took place the previous day when Goldstein opened
fire on hundreds of worshipers at the mosque near Jerusalem. The gunman was reportedly killed in the melee that followed.
The new president of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, is eager to embrace it. And U.S. Agency for International Development officials have been anxious to make up for time lost under Corazon Aquino's leadership. Nonetheless, a massive birth control campaign in the Philippines has stalled.
According to a report in Popline, a publication of the Washington-based Population Institute, USAID Mission Director Thomas W. Stukel has not signed the papers necessary for launching the program, despite a Congressional increase in funding for population activities and assurances from the White House that population issues remain a high priority.
USAID officials in Washington had named the new Philippine population project "A Formula for Success."
Population control suffered an important setback in the Philippines after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986. Among the Filipino population, only about one in four married women of reproductive age has ever used an artificial family planning method, which is about half the rate for Asia generally.
Ramos, however, has indicated a willingness to accept population aid from the west. In a speech delivered at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, Ramos called for "an earnest family planning program that will provide our people room for choice in planning their families."
No explanation has been given for USAID's change of heart on the population aid package for the Philippines. However, last summer a Philippine senator attacked the planned campaign, particularly a major component which consists of an extensive "information, education and communication" effort. He called the scheme anti-Philippine propaganda, and charged that it set up a slush fund to "bribe" journalists and other influential people.
The population plan again came under fire about a month later after the contents of a secret National Security Council study about the population program were published in newspapers during the month of August. That study, written after the 1974 world population conference in Bucharest and not declassified until 16 years later, is considered the primary theoretical document on U.S. demographic intervention overseas. It advised that population control is in the political and economic interests of the United States because large populations in developing countries could jeopardize American foreign investments, provoke rebellions, and threaten access to important raw minerals and other resources. It recommended that several strategically- important countries, including the Philippines, be targeted for massive efforts to reduce birthrates.
According to a report about the incident in the Washington Post, the controversy about the secret memorandum was provoked by a working paper
published and circulated by a U.S.-based organization that opposes foreign birth control "aid."
Egyptian rebels have stepped up their campaign to overthrow the pro-western regime of Hosni Mubarak. In late February, a group of militants shot at a train near the tourist center of Luxor, injuring four persons, including two foreign tourists. Since the attacks on tourists began in March of 1992, about 300 people have been killed and another 600 have been injured. Western embassies in Cairo have advised visitors to "keep a low profile," in the words of a recent Reuters wire service report.
But the International Conference on Population and Development, scheduled to take place in Cairo from September 5-13 of this year, is still on schedule. UN officials have promised to have extra security measures in place for the meeting.
Anti-Mubarak forces hope to establish a new government in Egypt based on Islamic law. They oppose western intervention generally, and population control in particular.
Tired of seeing its name in reports about detested structural adjustment schemes, the so-called "third world debt crisis," and other bad news, the World Bank has hired the New York public relations firm of Herb Schmertz and company to clean up its image. The Bank has come under increasing fire from non-governmental organizations and wants a "new look" for its 50-year anniversary celebration this year.
The Schmertz contract is worth $2 million says a report in BankCheck, a quarterly newsletter that tracks World Bank activities. It adds that Schmertz is known as an aggressive promoter who once advised, "if you engage in confrontation when the situation calls for it you'll not only feel better, but you'll also be more effective in your job."
BankCheck also reports that, in what may have been a less-rehearsed move to boost the institution's image, Bank security staff trashed a whole shipment of BankCheck newsletters which were on hand for the annual meeting in September. Conference guards had deemed it "an unofficial and unacceptable publication," says a recent issue of the newsletter. But the publications were later retrieved and distributed, after all, and Erik Friis, Assistant Secretary for Conferences, ended up writing a letter of apology to BankCheck.
In the future "we shall ensure that our publications and security staff are more thoroughly briefed," the Friis letter said. "BankCheck thinks this sounds like a good idea," the publication responded, "and offers to help brief any member of the Publications and Security Staff with a free subscription."
Speaking of the World Bank...
Bank officials and other dignitaries were shocked to get a dose of their own medicine last spring when Thailand's legendary birth control promoter
Mechai Viravaidya barged into a World Bank international financial conference in Bangkok and tossed fistfulls of condoms in front of government officials and bankers attending the
meeting. Viravaidya is well-known for the bizarre tactics he has employed to promote condom use in Thailand. He is the founder of a Bangkok restaurant called "Cabbages and
The Clinton administration has proposed an increase in direct subsidies for population programs for fiscal year 1995 which is 14 percent higher than under the current budget, and advocates of food and nutrition programs are protesting.
The population program will receive $585 million under the new international affairs budget, while funding for refugee assistance and food aid will decline from previous levels. The international banking establishment will also gain. A total of slighly over $2 billion will be allocated to multilateral development banks such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and for "debt reduction" under the FY 1995 plan -- an increase of about 30 percent over the old budget. Another $252 million of the foreign activities budget will be placed in the category of "narcotics, terrorism and crime prevention," which constitutes an increase of nearly 50 percent. And "information and exchange" activities, including propaganda and the promotion of American culture around the world, will be raised slightly from $1.35 billion in FY 1994 to $1.43 billion under the Clinton proposal.
This extravagance comes largely at the expense of humanitarian assistance efforts, say critics, including the Maryland-based Alliance for Child Survival.
Refugee programs will receive $37 million less in FY 1995 than under the current budget. Disaster assistance will remain approximately the same at $170 million. And food aid will decline by six percent. Among the projects which may be cut to make way for more birth control are a community health program in El Salvador which has been credited with raising child immunization rates from 25 percent of the population to 98 percent and virtually ending deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea. Also jeopardized under the proposal are a village-based school project in Bangladesh which provides basic education to rural children at an annual cost of $20 per child -- ironically about the same amount of money as is required to pay the clinical costs of one female sterilization in a developing country.
Copyright 1994 U.S.A. / I.P.F.A.