Retrouvez les coulisses de ZigZag sur logo FB

Home > Edito > Eugenics: An Example of Ethical Progress?


Eugenics: An Example of Ethical Progress?

by Théophane Le Méné

A new test promises to eradicate all those afflicted with Down Syndrome

March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. A chance to consider the plight of those affected by the condition and the people close to them. And an opportunity to reflect on the kind of society we want to live in. One which finds a place for individuals of all kinds, however unusual they may be, or one which weans out all imperfection?

A few months ago, Professor Jean-Claude Ameisen, President of the French Ethical Committee (CCNE) published a long advisory report on a new set of medical tests designed to diagnose Down Syndrome in foetuses based on a blood test administered to women. This pre-natal test, already current in a number of European countries, is not yet available in France. However, the positive judgment of the CCNE suggests that it soon will be, and this for a number of reasons. In effect, the test would enable women to avoid having to undergo amniocentesis, an invasive procedure used to detect Down Syndrome which can in some circumstances cause the loss of the fœtus – not a problem when it’s afflicted with the condition, since that’s the aim of the exercise – but which implies the risk of killing foetuses that are not afflicted by the handicap. Called upon to deliver their opinion about the possible eugenicist implications of the new blood sample test, the CCNE observed that it represented “progress from the ethical point of view,” and suggested that it “would probably reduce the number of births of Down Syndrome children.” According to the report – which suggests that the procedure be paid for by the taxpayer – if the blood sample test were introduced and administered to the 800,000 women who fall pregnant each year in France, the cost of the operation would amount to somewhere in the region of €1 billion. A little under a thousand Down Syndrome children are born every year in France. Well, they do say that desperate situations call for drastic remedies!

Pre-natal tests have been administered for many years now. And Down Syndrome foetuses have paid a heavy price. In 96% of cases in which the condition is diagnosed, the pregnancy in question is terminated. And the remaining 4% cause a certain sense of unease. French Socialist Party député, Olivier Dussopt, gave voice to this feeling on January 25, 2011, in a review of the parliamentary bill to introduce a new law on bio-ethics, expressing himself as follows: “When I hear that 96% of Down Syndrome pregnancies are terminated, the real question that comes to mind is, why not the other 4%” The representative for the Ardèche should take heart: the new test should make it possible to hit the 100% target pretty soon. However, in 2007, Professor Didier Sicard, then President of the CCNE, sounded the alarm about the eugenicist turn involved in the generalisation of pre-natal tests for Down Syndrome. “The central truth about pre-natal testing is that its objective is termination and not treatment. Thus, these tests leave us to confront a terrifying perspective, that of eradication.”

This said, it is troubling to observe that what moves the Committee to describe the test as ethically progressive is that it nullifies the risk of losing a healthy child. This is the expression of a veritable anxiety, namely that of saving, come what may, normal children from the sometimes lethal consequences of the amniocentesis procedure. The more pessimistic amongst cannot fail to be reminded of the frightening documentary by Sonia Rolley and the Ramonet brothers [1] about the macabre goings on at the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Strasbourg between 1941 and 1944. Against a backdrop of atrocities and massacres, a handful of scientists, directed by SS supremo, Heinrich Himmler, set out not only to confirm the theory of “scientific racism,” but also to conserve a trace of the “Jewish race” after its planned extermination. Interviewed in the documentary, the historian Yves Ternon offers an explanation for their grotesque activities. “They [the Nazis] were practically obsessed with finding out who was Jewish and who wasn’t. Paradoxically, their approach meant that they had to make sure they got things right. They didn’t want to kill anyone who wasn’t Jewish. So, their scientific research – in reality, their pseudo-scientific research – was a priority.” At which point, the narrator sums up the essence of the Institute’s research question: “How could Jews be defined scientifically with a view to ensuring that they could all be tracked down and destroyed?”

The French Ethical Committee’s report makes no mention of eugenics other than in terms of future developments of the test, which will become increasingly accurate as it is aligned with the map of the human genome. At that point, the report claims, we must be vigilant and ensure that DNA analyses do not encourage a kind of unnatural selection in regard to which child has the right to be born and which child does not. All this implies that up to and including Down Syndrome, eugenics is not an issue. After that, we’ll see.

Théophane Le Méné

    [titre] => Eugenics: An Example of Ethical Progress?
    [texte] => 
    [nom_site] => 
    [url_site] => http://
    [modere] =>  
    [table] => 
    [config] => Array
            [afficher_barre] =>  

    [_hidden] => 
    [cle_ajouter_document] => 
    [formats_documents_forum] => Array

    [ajouter_document] => 
    [nobot] => 
    [ajouter_groupe] => 
    [ajouter_mot] => Array
            [0] => 

    [id_forum] => 0
    [_sign] => 163_163_article_
    [_autosave_id] => Array
            [id_article] => 163
            [id_objet] => 163
            [objet] => article
            [id_forum] => 

    [mailsubscriber_optin] => 
    [_pipelines] => Array
            [formulaire_fond] => Array
                    [form] => forum
                    [args] => Array
                            [0] => article
                            [1] => 163
                            [2] => 0
                            [3] => 
                            [4] => 
                            [5] => 
                            [6] => 

                    [je_suis_poste] => 


    [formulaire_args] => fQ3Y2QDJdkyD3WB11QSrD8qQqLZqFUg6lQyU/OjE9K4yir230+fhfG0KYFjsOSV5LSeXZx17kUiqJ45eqsR5BWkN/8sDXyPyDW6QAXd6bkcEXNSNEHPQkEY0S4OdIUWm8yt5fACzIl+vKiXWHQ==
    [erreurs] => Array

    [action] => /spip.php?article163
    [form] => forum
    [id] => new
    [editable] =>  
    [lang] => en
    [date] => 2019-11-12 07:10:57
    [date_default] => 1
    [date_redac] => 2019-11-12 07:10:57
    [date_redac_default] => 1

Any message or comments?


This forum is moderated before publication: your contribution will only appear after being validated by an administrator.

Who are you?
Your post
  • To create paragraphs, just leave blank lines.