On a not too distant horizon, advances in human biotechnology may enable us to engineer the specific genetic makeup of our children. Only a few months ago, the headlinemaking Italian doctor Severino Antinori claimed to have implanted cloned embryos in several women. We are already at the stage where we can selectively terminate our offspring if certain genetic criteria are not met. Soon it may be possible to discern, and ultimately select for or against, individual traits in our children.

It is at this juncture that the promise of biotechnology runs head-on into the history and the horrors of eugenics— the quest for biological “improvement” through reproductive control.

At the start of the 20th century, British scientist Francis Galton coined the term eugenics, from the Greek eugenes, for “well-born.” He later distinguished two major kinds of eugenics, positive and negative. “Positive eugenics” was preferential breeding of socalled “superior individuals” in order to improve the genetic stock of the human race. “Negative eugenics” meant discouraging or legally prohibiting reproduction by individuals thought to have “inferior” genes and was to be “achieved...