He studies health and human rights

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“With increasing powers of genetic manipulation, diagnostics, and trait selection, eugenic thought and practice in considering human variation is not a thing of the past.”

Photo courtesy Kirk Allison

Kirk Allison teaches about health and human rights at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. He's interested in the history of eugenics—a term coined by Francis Galton (1883) concerning "the cultivation of race." In Greek, eugenic means "good in stock, hereditarily endowed with noble qualities" (Galton). As a new science, it advocated studying processes to improve inborn physical and mental properties in future generations.

Allison explores the history of the eugenics movement as well as today's ethical debates. "Are we headed away from the abyss or toward a new eugenics?" he wonders. Modern medicine allows us to identify some traits, conditions or probabilities prior to pregnancy or birth. Whether to choose traits, on what basis, and who chooses, are ethical questions our society will increasingly face.