Blue Eyes and Contemporary Eugenics

Episode: 
23

Blue eyes run in our family. Of all my siblings and in-laws, only my husband is brown-eyed. Our three children are the only grandchildren who lost out in the blue eyes lottery.

Blue eyes are one of the more memorable aspects of the eugenics that was birthed in the United States, and nurtured by our Supreme Court’s approval of involuntary sterilization. Eugenics then ravaged Europe. Hitler’s relentless, savage campaign to create a super-nation of blond, blue-eyed Aryans was conducted according to a scientific justification. The Darwinian slogan of “more from the fit, less from the unfit” morphed into a medically-sanctioned program of targeting those who should not reproduce at all. In fact, they should not even exist. First, mentally impaired children. Then, gypsies and other dark-haired, dark-eyed “social deviants.” Finally, as I don’t need to remind you, all Jews were in the crosshairs of the Nazi’s efficient killing machines.

We may think that eugenics is a thing of the past. So we say, “We’re enlightened, well beyond the dark ages of government cruelty and extermination.” In one sense, we are. We don’t round people up for the gas chamber. But, let’s not congratulate ourselves too quickly. The impulse behind Hitler’s eugenics—to create a race of strong, healthy, attractive people—has not been conquered. Instead, it has traded brown shirts for white lab coats.

Today, potential parents, especially moms, are pressured to do all we can to have the healthiest possible child. We exhaust ourselves with rounds of T-ball, piano lessons, space camp and park district theater programs. But, technology, individualism, consumerism, and economic realities have converged to apply a new pressure on parents. It goes beyond giving every advantage to your born children, to selecting which children you will have. As bioethicist Julian Savulescu puts it, “we should select the child who is expected to have the best life.”[1] Parents thus postpone identification with their newly conceived child until they are certain that they want not just a baby, but this baby. Whether in a petri dish or in a womb, that tiny human being is at risk until he or she passes the genetic test. Tsipy Ivry writes that in Israel, pregnant women are offered regular genetic tests and abortion throughout pregnancy.[2] Bonding doesn’t begin until after the baby survives repeated screenings and birth.

In American doctors’ offices and IVF clinics, healthy embryos are discarded because they might get breast cancer forty years later, or simply because they are female. Today’s abortion for Down syndrome is tomorrow’s justification for termination due to club foot or cleft palate . . . or the wrong eye color.

Our society is trading the harsh eugenics of Hitler’s regime and our history of forced sterilization for the soft eugenics of parental choice. As Christians, we know that this is evil. A seductive evil, but evil nonetheless. There is no place for eugenics disguised as “choice.” We must fiercely protect and welcome all children, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Blue eyes, brown eyes, or cross-eyed.



[1] Julian Savulescu, “Procreative Beneficence: Reasont to Not Have Disabled Children.” The Sorting Society: The Ethics of Genetic Screeing and Therapy, Loane Skene and Janna Thompson, eds. (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[2] Tsipy Ivry, Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel (Rutgers University Press: 2010).

 

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