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Genetic aspects of population policy


Corresponding author: Newton E Morton, Department of Human Genetics, University of Southampton, Duthie Building, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK. Fax: +44 0 1703 794264; e-mail:


Every science begins in folklore and matures as it reacts against dogma and myth. Astronomy developed in the Neolithic, but it did not outgrow astrology until the sixteenth century. Chemistry discarded alchemy at about the same time. On the contrary, the short history of genetics has been concurrent with the pseudo-science of eugenics, which, at times, has been widely accepted and incorporated in population policy and directive genetic counselling, with rare opposition by geneticists. Societal pressures are likely to increase with the power of genetic technology, the fear it generates and the perception that population growth threatens human welfare. Without a pertinent ethical code, geneticists are vulnerable to both temptation and opprobrium. The intrusion of eugenics into genetic counselling has been a recent source of concern to societies and congresses of genetics. This review traces the causes of this concern and the manner of its expression in the absence of an international voice for genetics that could address ethical and other common interests.