Human Exceptionalism

Eugenic Pre-Natal Cleansing Spreads to Autism

More boys than girls have autism, so now, an Australian IVF clinic will search out male embryos for destruction before implantation, e.g., sex selection.

A bioethicist thinks that accepting pre-natal autism cleansing needs to be respectfully debated. From, “Prenatal Screening and Autism,” by Andrew Whitehouse:

The internet was ablaze last week with the news that health authorities in Western Australia (WA) have given approval for IVF clinics to ‘screen’ embryos to reduce the chances of a couple having a child with autism.

The Reproductive Technology Council will now allow certain women undergoing IVF treatment to be selectively implanted with female embryos only. The rationale for this practice is that autism is more likely to affect males than females (approximately 4 males for every 1 female), and by selecting female embryos, the chances of this child developing autism are reduced.

But there isn’t a genetic test for autism, and females may be under-diagnosed. Not to worry, there soon will be, and so we have to discuss the issue.

Showing which side his head is on, he first pitches the junk biology:

PGD [pre-implantation genetic diagnosis] is not the abortion of a developing baby in the womb. It is the screening of fertilized eggs prior to being implanted in the womb.

There is no such thing as a fertilized egg. Once fertilization is complete, a new human organism exists, possessing his or her own genetic makeup and sex–hence, the advocacy for sex selection to stop autism. Hello! 

The distinction to abortion is one without a substantial difference. An early embryo is a human organism, a developing human being. Ditto a later-stage embryo or fetus gestating in a womb. True, destroying embryos before implantation isn’t an abortion technically, but that is only because the woman’s body is not involved. The effect is the same–destroying a developing human life.

Whitehouse admits that it would be painful for a person with autism to see advocacy for preventing people like them from being born. Tough toenails:

The flip-side of the debate is that autism sometimes associated with significant disability that can affect quality of life. It is without question that a person’s life would be improved if they were free from intellectual disability, if they had the facility to communicate more freely, and if they had the capacity to live independently. To want a person to live without disability does not diminish in any way our love for people in these circumstances, nor their irreplaceable importance in our lives.

But, that isn’t the argument. If someone can be treated medically to overcome the effects of autism, I don’t know who would object. Whitehouse is saying that it is respectable to prevent them from ever being born.

And don’t think that a genetic test wouldn’t lead to calls for mandatory pre-natal testing and the promotion of eugenic abortion–just as now with Down syndrome and other gene-related disabilities.

Whitehouse says that debating autism cleansing is a “needs to be had.” That is like saying allowing eugenic cleansing for racial features is a debate we need have: Both are invidiously discriminatory and have no place in an enlightened, equality-believing society.

P.S. The great animal welfare advocate, Temple Grandin, has mild autism. Our food animals have benefited tremendously because she wasn’t selected out before birth.



Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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