Andrew Sullivan just linked to a post fellow Atlantic blogger Ross Douthat accusing liberals of supporting eugenics. When I follow his links, what do I discover? He's getting worked up about abortion of babies with genetic defects and screening of IVF embryos. Above all else, he asks liberals how they could dare object to the use of the term "eugenics" for these things.
A little history: in the early 20th century, eugenics meant forced sterilization (and, in Nazi Germany) killing of adults by the state. Whatever you think of the practices under dispute, they involve future parents, embryos, and fetuses, not the sort of massive infringement on individual liberty by a central government that we were talking about a century ago.
It reminds me of smear attacks by the anti-birth control people who claim birth control was originally part of a campaign to exterminate the poor. When you look at the original literature, though, you find some surprises. I once read a lecture by Robert G. Ingersoll, in which he argued that birth control among the poor would reduce poverty and crime, but not through compulsion, but because poor women would chose not to have children they couldn't support, and crime, Ingersoll believed, was mainly a result of children not being well cared for. I suppose the anti-birth control folks could hold Ingersoll up--for those who hadn't read his lecture--as someone who wanted to use birth control as a weapon against the poor, but plainly what he advocated was perfectly reasonable.
Douthat seems to be doing little more than trying to erase a distinction for polemical gain.
Tags: abortion, in vitro fertilization, birth control, Robert G. Ingersoll, eugenics