I have some pretty strong feelings about eugenics (it's a good and necessary practice), but I find it very, VERY difficult to talk about it with anyone since I'm instantly labeled a Nazi for supporting it. I'm hoping the folks on Think Atheist will be more inclined to intellectual discussion than name-calling and dismissal.
The start off, some disclaimers: genocide is wrong; taking human rights away from people of a race/religion/hairstyle you don't like is wrong; concentration camps are wrong; violence in wrong.
There. Now to the actual discussion.
When I talk about eugenics, I'm talking about the practice of systematically removing debilitating genetic traits and defects from a population by means of regulating the reproduction of its citizens. Do you have Schizophrenia? Did you know that this ailment is genetic and very easy to pass on to you children? Please, do not punish an innocent child with this problem. Are you genetically healthy, intelligent, and talented? Do you have special immunities that make you less likely to get sick? By all means, spread these traits to future generations, either by having children yourself or donating to a sperm or egg bank. Do you want children but should not carry your genetic problems onto them? Adopt. Adoption will always be available no matter what the society (just because someone has good genetic material does NOT mean they would make a good parent). Do you say that adoption is not the same? Then I suppose you care more about satisfying your selfish desires than the well being of a child.
Eugenics is, at its base, very simple - think about the future first.
I'm leaving this post now for what I'm hoping will be thoughtful and anti-inflammatory discussion.
Autism is unlike other mental disabilities in several ways. First is that if the child is diagnosed and trained early, they can become far more functional. Since it was never diagnosed early until recently AFAIK there are no adults yet who were autistic children. (Aspergers is a less severe version and in general people with Aspergers are functional members of society.)
Second, there is evidence that someone with autism is indeed a person but they are overloaded with stimuli making every moment of life somewhat hellish. The behaviors the autistic person engages in help block some of the outside stimuli making things less unbearable.
So pretty much the worst thing you can do with an autistic person is to grab/shake/yell at them - you are only making things worse increasing their need to do whatever it is that you find annoying. Imagine for a moment that the annoying stimulus was happening every minute of your life. You would bang your head or scream or whatever too.
It could be argued that the autistic are more alive than anyone else - all their senses cranked up far too high.
That said, there is still the issue of those with brain damage who will never be able to function in society. That is very much an issue caused by the idea (usually religion based) that every life is sacred and must be preserved at all costs. Unfortunately medicine has progressed beyond religious morality and those with ethics have not stepped in to cut through the crap and point out the flawed mentality of preserving a human shaped non-sentient.
I, personally, find it more cruel to prolong the life of a severely deformed fetus (one which can never be repaired to full functionality of mind and body) rather than humanely terminating it as soon as it's deformities are determined. Similarly, I think people need to have the option to (self) terminate if they experience disease or injury rendering them too physically or mentally crippled for life to be bearable for them anymore. Even though I know this is the only life they will have, I still do not see any valid reason to put someone through hell. Especially not because someone else interferes - someone who is deluded enough to put an ancient book of mythology ahead of human and humane concerns.
The DSM-5 has brought about massive changes to the definitions of Autism and Aspergers, they are now much closer together. (That is if it's even worth using the DSM anymore, considering the MHAs are not feeling the DSM anymore and thinking of killing it) On functionality... my counsellor can not determine if I'm on the Asperger chart or not, because whatever the childhood challenges I had, I overcame partially overcame. The fact is that society is replete with people who don't quite fit in, people who've had tremendous childhood trauma and health issues, who later in life have learned to function appear functional... but we aren't really. There are so many people with mental health issues, that if we took off the veneer of all our learned "fitting-in" behaviours and just were ourselves in real life, the image of our "functional society" would completely disintegrate.
I have a friend of mine who's child is now 5, eyes half open, can not walk (muscle development simply does not happen, can't speak (and will never), teeth are a problem (therefore feeding's a problem), she's either in giggle (not connected to anything we'd recognize as funny, more of a motor reflex giggle) mode or scream mode or silence I can't remember the disease name, it's not one of the common ones. I think I can't remember it because I have a bit of a mental blockage on this issue. This friend of mine is a "good" person, in a decent marriage, and she loves her child (what choice does she have) disown her? But she has no life, the government provides a helper, to help my friend get through the day, chores, etc, because the child has zero autonomy (if awake), so the mom is in 100% service mode. It's no life, and it distresses me to see such a nice lady have her life so entirely broken. The docs did not think the child would live past 3-4... I think the parents secretly reckoned that this hell would only last a few years so they could handle that... but medical interventions and therapists are extending this child's life... extending... extending... how long can the parents sacrifice their life for?
Under natural selection, this child would have died within the first months, the parents probably would have had a new healthy child (it's not a genetic condition either is carrying) and their life would be so different. Medicine will never overcome the freak diseases. The greatest advances in medicine were done before BigPharma took over research directions and seeked profit instead of health
Surely we atheists can effect enough change onto society that we can fight the religious "life at all costs" mantra. Even within the medical community, there is a faction which feels that the Hippocratic Oath no longer is useful to us given the level of our technological abilities. :(