Passing of Laws and the Rise of Bioethics

So, lest we assume that eugenics simply faded away with the passing of laws and the rise of bioethics, its ideology persists in many areas of life well beyond the field of genomics; it endures, namely, in how lives of White and wealthy people continue to be valued over others. Reproduction, in turn, is not simply about the act of procreation but about access to the full range of symbolic and material goods (things like respect and dignity, quality healthcare, and education) that affirm life.48 In that way, the Movement for Black Lives is implicitly an anti- eugenics movement. The aim is not just to stop premature deaths that result from police violence but to foster economic, social, and political power and resources that will sustain Black life more broadly.49

Fostering life, in turn, requires reckoning with the multiple ways science and technology can expose people to death – from Dr. Marion J. Sims’ experiments carried out on anaesthetized enslaved women and designed to hone gynecological techniques, to then President Barack Obama’s 563 drone strikes that killed hundreds. We have good reason to be skeptical of the way tech cheerleaders feign innocence when it comes to the racial dimensions of these harms.

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In 2016, the 20/20 television show on ABC released an image of a suspect in the murder of a woman in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The image was created by the company Parabon NanoLabs, which charges $3,600 to analyze a sample and to produce a composite sketch using technology funded by the Department of Defense. The director of bioinformatics at Parabon NanoLabs explained: “It’s not meant to be a driver’s license photograph. It’s really intended for lead generation, for prioritizing the suspect list. The people who match go to the top.”50

In this case, the image depicted a “Latino man, with likely olive skin, brown or hazel eyes and black hair … He is shown at age 25 years old and a typical body mass index of 22, which are default settings when the company does not have that information.”51 But, as Pamela Sankar insists, ancestry-informative markers (AIMS) are “associated probabilistically with a population, not predictably with an individual.”52 Yet, Parabon said it was 85.7 percent confident about the suspect’s skin shade and 93.8 percent confident about his eye color; so essentially this is a high-tech form of racial profiling that exemplifies the New Jim Code.

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