12. Selective Eugenics and Eugenics through Genetic Modifications

Eugenics aims for improving the genetic quality of human populations. This aim does not inevitably apply to all of mankind. Eugenic actions up to now tended to aim for selectively favouring certains groups (certain ethnic groups, “races”). The genetic quality of the chosen group should improve in the long run also in relation to other groups of identity and outperform their genetic quality. Negatively selecting eugenic action impeded the reproduction of undesired groups, even murdering them. An example is the murderous genocides during the National Socialist regime.

Positively selecting eugenics supported the reproduction of members of a group (“race”) considered more worthy to procreate, for example by supporting mating between men and women, whose traits satisfied certain criteria of the “breeding plan”, and also provide economic benefits to these groups. An example for positively selecting eugenics are the Lebensborn actions of the National Socialists, promoting the reproduction of Germanic-Arian partners and collecting Germanic-Arian children in Lebensborn facilities.

Meanwhile, a new form of eugenics emerges: eugenics by targeted genetic interventions, which if they affect the egg cell or the sperm cell, would act on the germline and be passed on to the next generation, thus become eugenically effective.

Negatively Selecting Eugenics (Eugenics by Murder)

Notoriously infamous examples for negatively selecting eugenics by murdering humans, whose genetic value was considered inferior are the racism-motivated mass-murder by the National Socialists. A wrong-headed Social-Darwinistic, racist ideology was used for letting henchman of the system select humans and decide over life and death with the blink of an eye.


When new freight wagons that were overloaded with humans arrived in concentration camps, doctors were already waiting at the ramp and sorted humans on arrival in categories such as able to work or still somehow useful and exploitable and not able to work, which often meant dying in the gas chambers on the same day. This selection was inhumane and cruel. As an example, for the brutal aspects of eugenics it is only of limited validity. This selection was hardly eugenical anymore. Those who were classified as being able to work and thus live on, were not meant to reproduce. They were only allowed to live longer in order to economically exploit their workforce. The negatively selecting eugenic act had already taken place, with the abduction to the concentration camp. The whole programme of murder was surely motivated by eugenic objectives. The selection at the ramp in Ausschwitz served only for get the maximum economic output out of humans, who had already been negatively selected and sorted out.

Positively Selecting Eugenics (Eugenics through Reproduction Support)

In Victorian England Francis Galton propagated a population policy (today one would say family policy), which should give incentives for reproduction of accomplished, honoured families to promote their reproduction. This is a typical example for concepts of positive eugenics. A family policy that is motivated by positive selecting eugenics, distributed social benefits not according to need, but according to criteria that incentivise reproduction of “eminent” families. Criteria for preference are race, class, religion or proficiency of the family clan or the individuals, who want to (shall) reproduce. Eugenic population policies emerged in several countries in the beginning of the 20th century. In the USA, several states passed laws that legitimized forced sterilisations. These laws were mainly applied for sterilizing prison inmates or disabled people. Forced sterilisations are negatively selecting eugenic measures.

Eugenics through direct Gentechnological Optimisation of the Human Genome

The direct genetic optimization of the human genome brings about a non-negligible conceptual difference compared to positive and negative selection eugenics with selective breeding: In selective breeding approaches, injustice is an embeded characteristic oft he procedure as the eugenics measure consists of the favouring or disfavouring selection of human beings. Genetic optimization could in principle be used on all humans, then no favouring or discriminative selection of humans is required. (However, applying it to all humans would breach other ethical principles especially with regards to rights of self-determination).

Genetic optimization can also be focused on the individual, without genetic optimizations being passed on from generation to generation. This is the case in individual gene therapy. If only the genome of body cells (somatic cells) is being modified, the modification does not enter the germline. For genetic optimizations being integrated into the germline, so that they are passed on to the next generations and become eugenically effective (“designer babies”), modifications have to target the genome of germ cells (sperms, ovules).