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Thursday, October 22, 1998 Published at 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Chinese scientists back eugenics

China has introduced controversial laws to deal with its vast population

A survey of Chinese scientists working in the field of genetics suggests they overwhelmingly support eugenics to improve public health.

The theory of eugenics - which is considered highly controversial in the West - suggests that the human race can be improved by selective breeding.

The survey, which was conducted in 1993 among 255 geneticists throughout China, was reported in the British magazine New Scientist.

Genetic testings

Almost unanimously - by 91% - the scientists said that couples who carried the same disease-causing genetic mutation should not be allowed to have children.

More than three-quarters believed that governments should require pre-marital tests to detect carriers of hereditary disease.

They also supported the routine genetic testing of job applicants by employers.

There was also strong backing for the genetic testing of children to see if they are susceptible to problems such as alcoholism.

'Cultural differences'

The survey was carried out by Xin Mao, a scientist from West China University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu.

Xin Mao, who now works at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, in south-west London, defended Chinese attitudes, saying cultural differences should be taken into account.

"The Chinese culture is quite different, and things are focused on the good of society, not the good of the individual. It would shock people in the West, but my survey reflects cultural common sense," the researcher said.

The scientists' attitudes were reflected in action later taken by the Chinese authorities.

The year after the survey was held, China introduced the controversial Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, which makes pre-marital check-ups compulsory and allows doctors to order abortions of foetuses with serious defects.

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