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"Interview with Linus Pauling."

"Interview with Linus Pauling." 1960.
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Problems Raised by Medical Research. (5:49)


Linus Pauling: I hope that in a few years, ten years or twenty years, that we'll be able to say eighty-percent of the mentally defective children who come into the world have an understood disease, and there's the possibility, since we understand the nature of the disease, that we can take some action that will cut down the number of children born mentally defective in the future.

Interviewer: And after ten or twenty years, what then?

Linus Pauling: Well, this is rather hard. I think that we are raising problems for the human race to solve. Medical research does raise problems, but the first step, of course, is to understand the problem, then you can work for its solution.

Suppose that we take phenylketonuria. One-percent of the institutionalized mentally defectives have this disease. We are working on a test that will enable us to say whether an individual human being carries the gene for phenylketolnuria or not. If this test is carried out, then the person will know that he must be careful about marrying another person who carries that gene. If he does marry a second person who carries that gene, a quarter of their children, on the average, will be mentally defective.

Well, suppose that we know that. What should he do? Should he refrain from having children, if two people are married and know that a quarter of their children will be mentally defective? At the present time the situation is that parents of a fellow phenylketonuric child can be told that the chance is twenty-five percent that any successive child they have will similarly be mentally defective. And so I ask, do they not have an obligation to refrain from having additional children?

The pool of human germ plasm is deteriorating now. We can see it in the case of the disease involving sugar in the blood that's treated with insulin. There are more and more diabetics being born in the world. The incidence of diabetes has increased because of the discovery of insulin. As medical progress is made we enable defective human beings who carry bad genes to live a good life and to have children and to pass the bad genes on to their children. Normally the bad genes exist in the pool of human germ plasm in a certain number. New ones are formed all the time by cosmic rays and natural radioactivity and medical x-rays and fallout - radioactive fallout now. But some are being removed from the pool of human germ plasm through the death of the carriers without progeny. Medical practice, medical discoveries, medical progress now enables these defective individuals, the carriers, to live a better life, a happier life, and to have children. Well, that means that the pool of human germ plasm is deteriorating. More and more bad genes are piling up in the pool of human germ plasm.

Our work, I'm sure, will lead to similar medical progress and to the possibility of further deterioration in the pool of human germ plasm, in the nature of the human race, unless something is done about it. I think that something needs to be done about it. I think that society has to attack this problem. That sooner or later we must find a way of removing the bad genes from the pool of human germ plasm by some method other than the birth of defective children, who lead a life of misery and suffering and are unable to have progeny. That is not the humane way to purify the pool of human germ plasm, but it's a very dificult problem. Hitler had ideas about purifying the pool of human germ plasm, which are, of course, to be rejected. They are wrong. So this is a very difficult problem, which now society will have to face.

Interviewer: But don't you think there's a threat such as Huxley foresaw in Brave New World, that we will attempt to control the intellectual and moral character of man by manipulating the physical basis of life?

Linus Pauling: Well, I think that for the foreseeable future - and this is probably thousands of years rather than just a few years - our control of the nature of man, as determined by his heredity, will be such an incomplete one that we have nothing to fear. I think that the genes that are most deleterious, that produce the diseases, that cause the suffering that I've been talking about, are not intimately intertwined with other aspects of the character of human beings. So that I believe that we can take steps to remove these deleterious genes from the pool of human germ plasm that will not interfere in the slightest with the moral and intellectual character of human beings, and emotional character of human beings.


Creator: Linus Pauling
Associated: Adolf Hitler, Aldous Huxley
Clip ID: 1960v.34-problems

Full Work

Creator: National Film Board of Canada
Associated: Linus Pauling

Date: 1960
Genre: sound
ID: 1960v.34
Copyright: More Information

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