WASHINGTON, DC -- A new federal law encouraging states to build a nationwide, computerized database of infants with birth defects is a chilling proposal that smacks of government eugenics research -- and should be opposed by every decent American, the Libertarian Party said today.
"Only a politician with a morality defect would support a database of babies with birth defects," said Steve Dasbach, the party's national director.
"This proposal is not only unconscionable, it also opens the door to frightening abuse by the federal government of our most vulnerable citizens -- tiny infants who are already handicapped by genetic bad luck."
Under the so-called Birth Defects Prevention Act of 1998, the federal government will provide states with $70 million to identify all infants born with a birth defect, label them by race and gender, enter them into a government database, and track and monitor them for five years.
Nevada has become the first state to try to qualify for the federal money: The state legislature is currently debating AB 238, which would require doctors and midwives to "immediately report" the name of any child born with what is termed an "adverse birth outcome" to government health officials.
Supporters of the bill claim such a database will allow researchers to better understand the causes of birth defects.
But the Libertarian Party opposes the plan, said Dasbach, because the federal government should not be in the "baby registration" business -- especially when it involves parents and infants who are struggling with tragic, possibly life-threatening medical conditions.
"On the face of it, this bill is appalling: The whole notion that government bureaucrats will maintain a database of deformed children, or children handicapped by genetic diseases, is repugnant," he said. "Even the language of the bill -- talking about 'poor reproductive outcomes' -- sounds chillingly close to the kind of 'master race' eugenics research done by totalitarian governments in the past."
But what's worse, said Dasbach, is the possibility of what the government may do with this information in the future.
"Once the government has its database of genetically handicapped children, how will it use that information?" he asked. "Can we trust federal bureaucrats not to use this data to try to control health care costs by pressuring women to have abortions against their will?"
"Might politicians mandate genetic testing of children in the womb?" asked Dasbach. "If they discover an incurable defect, would mothers be encouraged to have an abortion? And if parents don't comply, might the government sue them to recover the staggering costs associated with many genetic diseases? Or, if some lifestyle decision by the parents was found to contribute to the likelihood of a birth defect, might the government sue them to recover the costs of treatment?
"These are the kinds of questions that must be asked before we give the government the power to track and monitor infants, and put their names in a government eugenics-style database," he said.
Of course, if a private hospital or non-profit medical organization decided to do this kind of research with the willing consent of parents, the Libertarian Party would have no objection, he noted.
"It is possible that important knowledge could come from such a study; knowledge that might prevent birth defects in the future," he said. "But the way to conduct that research is with the consent of parents, using voluntary contributions, with adequate privacy safeguards, by private organizations with a history of helping children.
"That's more safe and more moral than allowing government bureaucrats to intrude into your child's cradle -- and build their chilling, government-mandated database of 'poor reproductive outcomes.'"