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Neo-liberal eugenics? : prenatal testing and the "insourcing" of biopolitics Trawick, Richard Jonathan

Abstract

This essay seeks to address some of the social concerns surrounding the practice of prenatal testing in a preliminary fashion, through a review of the existing literature and research on the topic. The focus is placed on a discussion of the claims that prenatal testing constitutes a new form of eugenics in that it is primarily concerned with the diagnosis and therapeutic abortion of fetuses that have disabling, but not imminently life-threatening conditions, and a theoretical contextualization of how prenatal testing represents a larger shift in contemporary governance of health from the state as biopolitician to the individual as biopolitician. The essay begins with a summary of prenatal testing practices and terminology, followed by a brief history of eugenics, human genetics and genetic counselling. Next, an assessment of prenatal testing and the operation of biopolitics is made followed by a discussion of how prenatal testing exposes the limits of Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. Nikolas Rose’s reconceptualization of biopolitics as riskpolitics, molecularpolitics and ethopolitics under the prevailing ideology of neo-liberalism is then used to frame the new operation of biopower. Finally, the arguments for and against the characterization of prenatal testing as a eugenic practice are examined followed by a discussion of the concerns that surround this practice. This essay concludes that a clear historical lineage can be traced between contemporary prenatal testing and previous eugenic movements and that prenatal testing could be constituted as eugenic in that it is leading to a significant reduction in the number of children born with certain disabling conditions. However, the terminology of eugenics draws attention away from the ultimate discussion of whether or not this technology is discriminatory and how might the implicit forms of discrimination be rectified. A number of specific and realistic recommendations for doing this are suggested.

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