News of the WeekMEDICAL ETHICS

Geneticists Debate Eugenics and China's Infant Health Law

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Science  21 Aug 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5380, pp. 1118-1119
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5380.1118

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BEIJING-- A freewheeling discussion last week at an international genetics meeting here may have cleared the air on a controversial Chinese law to reduce infant mortality. The 1994 law was aimed at improving pre- and post-natal health care. But it provoked a fierce outcry among some Western scientists when it appeared to forbid individuals with "certain genetic diseases" from marrying unless they agreed to be sterilized or take long-term contraceptive measures, and to encourage abortions for fetuses with abnormalities. A boycott of the meeting by the British, Dutch, and Argentine genetics societies had little effect on attendance, however, and there was a consensus that the law is less severe than feared and that, so far, it has not been enforced.