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Manufacturing eugenics : the role of scientific norms and liberal values in the debate over prenatal genetic technologies Iannitti, Valerie E.


This thesis examines the dominant and influential role of scientific norms and liberal values in the legitimization of access to prenatal testing. In providing mothers with genetic information regarding the health of their foetus, the use of reproductive genetic technologies (RGT) coupled with access to abortion, results in a devaluation of the lives of persons with disabilities. Yet, the individual has complete autonomy of choice in this matter; accordingly, these discrete decisions, when taken in aggregate, have profound social implications. A person has the right to exact this individual agency without regard to the externalities that develop in consequence, namely, a new way to socially select for 'good genes'—a process known as 'liberal eugenics'. This paper asks the question: Why has access to RGT not been curtailed, given the negative externalities of use thereof? Two prevailing social norms emerge as the forces that drive and legitimize liberal eugenics. Liberal societies (1) embrace science as good and (2) view the rights bearing individual as primary. This paper argues, first, that these two social norms transform genetic tests into an instrument of eugenics, and second, that society's belief in the importance of individual choice has roots in the history of liberal political theory. I show how Locke's theory of the body as self-owned property acquires new meaning in this era of genetic progress and, in turn, strengthens the influence of J.S. Mill's theory of the free-choosing individual. In doing so, I set up my ultimate argument: that the successes of the principles of the body as self-owned property' and 'the free-choosing individual' in ensuring individual autonomy have resulted in their societal 'normalization', validating and legitimizing individual rights, while simultaneously and ironically engendering a liberal eugenics by permitting access to prenatal reproductive technologies.

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