On the surface, the claim that Iceland has eliminated Down syndrome among its population could be considered a good thing. Down syndrome occurs when an infant has an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. The syndrome comes with a number of physical characteristics, but the main and most concerning result is cognitive delays to one extent or another.

Advances in health care and adjustments by society have allowed people with Down syndrome to live into their 60s.

Nevertheless, eliminating the syndrome from the start would be a boon for humankind. The method that Iceland has used for their purpose is causing quite a bit of disquiet.

Iceland’s used of abortion as a means of eugenics

Iceland mandates an extensive genetic screening of all fetuses as part of prenatal care. Any fetus that is found to have a genetic abnormality, like Down syndrome, is aborted. The system is disturbingly similar to Nazi-era eugenics that involved the sterilization or outright murder of people judged not to fit the perfect Aryan ideal.

Indeed, if one is pro-life, then the Iceland system is exactly like that. Pro-life people regard abortion as the taking of human life, the same as if one took a live infant and killed it.

The Icelandic authorities apparently take an opposing view that an embryo or fetus is not a human being until some point in its development, which is viability outside the womb in most cases. In any event, most people in Iceland do not see any moral problem with using abortion as a means to improve the Human Species. Comparisons to Nazi practices have obviously not occurred to the Icelanders and would shock them if raised.

Technology will, in due course, eliminate the perceived need for abortion as a tool for eugenics

Recently researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University successfully used a tool called CRISPR to excise a disease-causing gene from a human embryo’s DNA. The experiment was considered a breakthrough that points to an age when genetic abnormalities and disease-causing genes could be fixed while the infant is still in the womb.

Abortion, a morally-fraught method of addressing this problem, would no longer be an option.

To be sure, it will be a while before the genetic editing of embryos is a standard prenatal procedure. Besides the technological challenges, some have raised ethical concerns. Using the technique to eliminate disease should be a no brainer, but what about giving the unborn child advantages, such as increased intelligence, enhanced athletic prowess, or even physical attractiveness?

The technology could result in a class of "designer" people who are superior in every way to ordinary humans.

Do we want such a future? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Some are asking these questions even though years remain before the answers become pressing.

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