Of mice and men and intelligence genes

Andrew Wayne Austin aaustin at SPAMutkux.utcc.utk.edu
Mon Sep 6 10:10:43 MDT 1999

On Sun, 5 Sep 1999, Macdonald Stainsby wrote:

>It is always different should it be done by the choice of the woman alone.
>BTW, how the hell is science ever going to determine race? The father does
>that, at least as far as I learned the birds and bees, anyway.

Race is determined socioculturally, not by the father biologically. This
is beside the point. Disfavored races are targeted for sterilization and
abortion as a means of diminishing their presence. Concerted efforts by
the state, medical institutions, and liberal groups in the United States
have managed to surgically sterilize 36 percent of black women of child
bearing age in the United States. When AFDC was in force, the percent of
surgically sterilized poor women of childbearing age receiving welfare
reached 50 percent. In one Harlem community, local elites managed to
sterilize 43 percent of African-American women. Sterilization of American
Indians has also been very high, as much as a quarter of women of
childbearing age when looked at two decades ago. More recently, there has
been an even greater emphasis on sterilization (and increasingly
abortions) of Indians as concern for FAS has arisen. Ostensively, every
single one of these sterilizations was and continues to be voluntary with
informed consent.

Sterilization by class, race, gender, etc. has the effect of and/or
reflects the desire for diminishing a particular group of people. US
efforts regarding race have been hailed recently for bringing the black
fertility rate down dramatically. The establishment, especially
conservative ideologues, celebrate the fact that fewer black babies are
born in America. "Less burden" is the slogan, and this reduced burden is
viewed as a benefit for both poor blacks and the white taxpayers who have
to feed them. If we can reduce fertility enough, the reasoning goes, maybe
we can avoid the "custodial society" depicted in The Bell Curve.

The *principle* of selective population reduction applies to
sterilization, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. The *means* are not
at issue with respect to this principle. The *goal* and the *effect* are
what at issue.

>It is a valid decision to leave up to the mother to-be. I know that many
>people simply could never carry a child to term and then give that child up,
>nor could the same parents be capable of raising a handicapped child.

We are dealing with a certain principle. Hitler argued that German society
could not afford to raise handicapped children. He embarked on a strategy
of sterilization, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia of disabled people
and fetuses. Yes, it is a valid decision to be left to the mother. But one
cannot abstract individual choice from the social and cultural pressures
that guide that choice. German men and women proudly sought these
procedures for themselves and their children. Hitler could argue that it
was their choice. Do you think it was their choice? As Marxists, are we
now to idealize choice like the liberal subjectivist?

>I realise the immense power in the statement that was made by the woman
>who Marta quoted, but let us remember that Marta is quoting a person-
>not a fetus.

It would be impossible to quote a fetus, therefore your point is

>Perhaps what frightens you is that it reminds us all just how vulnerable
>we once were when we were "potential" rather than "actual" people.

What frightens me is social and culture pressure to abort undesirables on
the basis of class, gender, race, disability (when it is not a fatal or
severely debilitating one), or other characteristics. Selection on this
basis raises an ethical concern. That is my point. Your psychologizing of
my argument is a blatant and pathetic attempt at ad hominem.

>Nonetheless, it is a decision that only one in the situation can
>make. Whatever you may say on the issue of "selectivity", it is a form of
>judgement. As well, your post makes no reference to the immense amount of
>struggle that goes into raising a mentally handicapped child, not to mention

Are we going to make a decision about whether human beings are going to be
permitted to exist on a financial basis? Have capitalist imperatives
permeated your thinking so much that you are now doing cost-benefit
analysis with respect to human lives? It is a struggle to raise any child.
And capitalism makes it harder for some to do this. But these are problems
beyond individual choice. The ostensive rationale for promoting chemical
and surgical sterilization among the poor and minority is because women
and society cannot afford the babies; rather than the problem being
societal constraint on reproductive freedom, the emphasis becomes
controlling problem individuals. And because this system of tyranny is so
total, people are socialized into supporting the goals of the ruling class
in reducing their numbers voluntarily. This is very sad. We should be
having this debate.

>We already live in a society where the most underpriveliged get the most
>gobbledy-gook about "morality" and Christ, etc. It is important to smash
>these notions, and the people who can least afford (physically and
>financially) the task of raising such people will grow, while the rich
>will remain "unburdened".

You have it backwards. The ruling class wants the poor and minority to
diminish in numbers so that the system will look better and taxes will be
lower. The elite want the poor and minority to go away. They hate them.
The ruling and middle classes are increasingly entertaining euthanasia,
saying it is an expression of individual freedom, so that insurance will
be cheaper and government services less. Poor sick people are seeking
euthanasia to save their family money. Noble individual gesture;
completely horrible decision from an ethical standpoint.

>The fetus IS NOT HUMAN, anymore than an egg is a chicken, or a seed is a
>tree. It has no rights outside of the woman, regardless of the reasoning
>behind termination.

The fact that a fetus is not human is irrelevant to my point. The fact
that the fetus has no rights outside the woman is irrelevant. The
reasoning behind termination does not bear on these questions, but it is
relevant to my point.

>You should not be concerned about "status" for any reason.

This conclusion does not follow from your argument. When somebody decides
to abort a fetus based on the sex of the fetus then the fetus's status is
precisely what is at issue. Therefore, the point of ethical concern is
raised about the reasons behind the decision being made based on the
status of the fetus. This is a legitimate matter to raise. No answer is
provided for the problem I identify simply by you asserting the obvious
fallacy of claiming the fetus's status is irrelevant in those instances
when the fetus's status is directly at issue.

>I know that you do not question legality, so your argument seems to lead
>towards some form of counselling, be it before or during said pregnancy.

I think counseling is important before any medical procedure. Patients
should be told the risks involved in the procedure. They need as much
information as they can be possibly be given. In the case of poor people,
abortion providers, just as with any other surgical procedure, need to be
extra certain that the woman understands what is involved. This is
standard form in any medical procedure. I do not advocate anything beyond
what is normally required. I do not favor waiting periods. I do not favor
parental or spousal consent. I favor none of those things.

There are some ways doctors in countries where sex selection is widespread
have been able to frustrate selective abortion. For example, in India,
women get ultrasound to determine the sex of the baby. When they find out
it is a female, they abort. What doctors there are doing to thwart this
practice is performing the ultrasound but then refusing to disclose the sex
of the fetus on ethical grounds. These doctors support abortion when it is
an individual choice. What they oppose is the force of culture in reducing
the number of females in the population. This practice raises an
interesting ethical issue. It is this issue that I have raised here.

>From a capitalist mentality, it might be argued that since she paid for
the service she was entitled to the full service. But from a point of
larger ethical concern, one that includes the collective along with
individual preference, the doctor exhibits a sense of responsibility to
women as a group, rather than the individual woman. It is an interesting

>I also must object to the down's syndrome womans use of the idea: "The world
>is a little more dangerous for people like me". No, this would be true in
>the case (as has happened so many times, and so recently) of infanticide,
>sterilization or murder. It is not a dangerous place for non-existent human
>beings, as such an argument puts the potential on the same plane as the

Potentials are really existing things. If a people selects sex in abortion
and reduce the number of females in a population, this has real
consequences for society. Aborting potential humans has a real effect not
a theoretical one. If selective sterilization reduces black fertility, and
there are fewer blacks in a white society, this has real consequences for
society. The principle holds across means; sterilization also acts to
restrict and release potentials, hence both are analogous.

>I ask this: If women have abortions of potential females at, say, two weeks
>in China today, is that not more humane than to kill directly after birth?

It is very difficult to tell the sex of a baby at two weeks. Ultrasound
only works at the earliest around 19 weeks; most medical professionals
recommend waiting until the 22nd week to be sure (this is for several
reasons, but mainly because the phenotypic sexual characteristics have not
fully developed until around this time). One could, I suppose, do very
expensive (and relatively risky) blood work to determine the genotype of
the fetus at an earlier stage. However, this will not be absolutely
determinative of phenotype, since it is often the case (more often than
you think) that phenotype differs from genotypic. Typically, the fetus is
aborted after sex is determined, so this is a late abortion.

So the realistic question is, is it more humane to kill a baby at birth
than to abort at five months? Infanticide has been widely practiced in
history, and still is (we call it by a different name in the Western world
to hide its widespread existence). Personally, I oppose all of these
prosecutions of women and men (typically young women and men) who kill
newborns. The outrage over this is unwarranted. This is not to say I
support infanticide, but I do not hold the same feeling for an infant who
is not a human being and a two year old who has definite characteristics
of humanity. Putting a young mother in prison for throwing a newborn in a
dumpster is an instance where an actual human being is destroyed for the
sake of moral indignation.

But all this is beside the point. What is at issue is the reason why the
infant should be killed. If it is because it has a birth defect, or
because it is a female, then I think there is an ethical concern. If it is
just because the mother does not want the infant, then this is more
analogous to abortion--not legally, of course, but ethically.

>Without engaging a debate on what the magic number is (I don't think we have
>reached it yet), there is a certain level where the population of the world
>will have reached it's futhest point.

We are so far from reaching the point of overpopulation that the reduction
in numbers of people by sterilization, abortion, infanticide, etc., is
overkill. The crisis is not the number of people in the world but the
global economy that does not distribute means and surpluses evenly.

However, population is irrelevant to the point I raised except where it is
used a justification for the selective elimination of groups of

>When said limit is reached, would it be preferable to simply starve or
>select those that should die? How about a forced sterilization plan? The
>advent of "seeing ahead of time" will be the most humane solution for a
>very undesirable position when we reach it.

What happens in population reduction strategies is that poor people and
the racially undesirable are targeted for selective reduction. I oppose
efforts to control population that involve any of the things we have
talked about, including chemical sterilization. If women and men decide to
use birth control then they should be permitted to do so. Birth control
measures should be widely available and freely provided. But any state
policy of selective reduction in population is problematic.

>If we even discuss this, then we must allow for the "only rape"
>arguments to be considered.

Why? How does assertion follow from the logic of the argument?

>It is someone's valus as per another's body. Your values about the
>always equal value of human life (which I share) are yours. Not "hers".

Are you now arguing from the vantage-point of a liberal-pluralist world
where what only matters is an individual's preference? From such a
subjectivist perspective no ethical or moral judgments can be made at all.
Why then should you post me? This doesn't stand the test of reality.
Selective abortion affects more than the fetuses being selected. This
doesn't mean that abortion should be restricted, of course, but it does
mean that an ethical concern is raised. A side issue is the absurdity of
assuming moral neutrality on any matter; the best one can do is admit to
moral confusion.

>The number is irrelevant, not to be kept. The only people who would want
>such statistics shot Dr Slepian.

What an incredibly absurd statement. In this country, we record the number
of medical procedures as a matter of course. And we should. This is a very
good idea. For example, because we have kept track of surgical procedures
we have been able to determine that the US has twice as many unnecessary
surgeries than Britain, thus exposing widespread physician fraud. To take
another example, because we have records of the number of surgical
sterilizations performed, we can show who black women of child bearing age
are overrepresented in those selected for sterilization. This has led to
studies which have exposed widespread criminal activity by medical
institutions and professionals. Why would we not want to keep track of
these numbers? It would be stupid not, especially concerning women.

Your crack about the murderers of Dr. Slepian is so incredibly hyperbolic
that it takes my breath away. You desire to taint my discussion not engage
it. I cannot read any more of your post.

Good Day,
Andy Austin

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