Human Genetics Alert
Phone/Fax: 020 7502 7516
For immediate release October 4th 2010
HGA condemns Nobel award to supporter of eugenics
Reacting to today's news of the award of the Nobel prize for medicine to Robert Edwards, Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert (1) said, "I find it shocking that the Nobel Foundation should honour a man who has been a lifelong supporter of eugenics. That is immensely hurtful to millions of disabled people, like myself."
Robert Edwards was President of the British Eugenics Society in the 1970s, during the period when he was working on the development of IVF, and it seems that his views have not changed. In 1999, he said, “Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children." (2) Less well-known are his 1994 comments to the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee (3). In 2004 he organised a conference at the Royal Society in London, which was picketed by disability rights activists, because of the overtly eugenic views of many speakers. Neither has the Eugenics Society changed its views, despite its renaming as The Galton Institute in 1989. In 1999 its conference was disrupted by protesters after it invited several speakers known for claiming that black people are genetically inferior in intelligence to white people (4).
It will no doubt be argued that it would be wrong for the Nobel Foundation to refuse to award prizes to scientists because it does not like their political views. But, said Dr King, 'That argument does not apply here, because the issue of eugenics has been so totally intertwined with the whole history of genetics and reproductive technology. This is no better than giving the Peace Prize to a racist."
In fact, it can be argued that, like his predecessor, Marie Stopes, whose pioneering work on birth control was driven by her desire to prevent the birth of disabled people, and to reduce the fertility of the lower orders, Dr Edwards' scientific work was at least partly driven by his convictions. It has often been noted that whilst IVF has helped many infertile women, it has also provided the platform technology for an impending techno-eugenics, based on the genetic selection of embryos (preimplantation genetic diagnosis, PGD) and even the creation of genetically modified babies. Prof Edwards was referring to PGD in the quote mentioned above.
Dr King added, "We will be writing to the Nobel Foundation to protest this award, and we expect that the international disability rights organisations will want to do the same."
For more information contact Dr David King on +44 (0)20 7502 7516.
Notes for editors
1. Human Genetics Alert (www.hgalert.org) is an independent watchdog group based in London. It is a secular organisation that supports abortion rights.
2. Edwards was speaking at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (Sunday Times, 4 July 1999)
3. “When people say PGD is expensive, I always say what is the price of a disabled baby who is born. What is the cost for anyone to bear? That is a terrible price for anybody to bear, and the financial cost is immense. A PGD by comparison is a very small sum of money.” (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmsctech/7/4112404.htm)
He also said, “One of my ambitions is to take a sample of blood and take a white cell in place of a gamete for patients who do not have their own gametes. That would be wonderful and, by the way, that would involve cloning and that is why I do not agree with abandoning cloning either. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmsctech/7/4112404.htm)
4. These included Prof Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster, ProfArthur Jensen (whose famous article in the Harvard Educational Review in 1968 argued that spending money on programs to increase the educational achievement of black students was money wasted), and Dr Glayde Whitney who has made similar claims and wrote the foreword to a book by David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.