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The E Word

Monday, 23 June, 2008

Is it right to call someone a eugenicist, or to say their ideas are just like eugenics (even if they truly are)? In the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Stephen Wilkinson of Keele University (that’s in Staffordshire, which is itself in the UK) contemplates that question in his piece titled “Eugenics talk” and the language of bioethics.

His conclusions are as follows:

[E]ugenics talk per se is not wrong. However, there is something wrong with using its emotive power as a means of circumventing people’s critical–rational faculties: a process that is analogous to the use of gruesome images of fetuses and animals to persuade people to oppose abortion and animal experimentation. Such methods can bypass or distort people’s reasoning processes and, when this happens, there can be a failure fully to respect their autonomy.

In other words, it’s bad to use very emotive language because that sort of argument relies on intuition, which is a bad way of determining morality, and therefore it may be manipulative to do so. If your argument relies heavily on the emotional and is very light on reason, that is a very manipulative way to argue. It’s demagoguery, plain and simple. People have the right to be given the facts with as little emotive baggage as possible, so that they can make up their own minds without being influenced unduly.

To be fair, he does say that the use of such sly methods may be justified if that person would never have used their critical-rational faculties to consider the issue, provided the issue really is important enough for such “shock tactics” to be an acceptable tactic.

But otherwise, stop with the rabble-rousing and leave Mengele out of it.

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