Growing up you believe the world is meant to be the way it is. The older I get the more I realise that this is not the case. The world is full of injustices and atrocities that governments and the voice of faith expect us to accept, though with each passing year they grow fewer and fewer, at least one would hope. I have created this blog as a space for me to rant about all things science, politics, philosophy and religion, before it’s too late and the vessel of new atheism propelled by a growing surge in secularism solves all of the world’s problems for good.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Is incest immoral?


When incest is brought up in conversation it is normally met with utter revulsion. What are the main reasons for this and are they connected with morality at all? Is incest immoral?

From an evolutionary point of view the avoidance of incest as well as communal condemnation makes a great deal of sense. If you have children with a close relative then there’s a higher chance of the children dying at birth or suffering from some form of congenital disease that may have previously lain dormant within a family’s genes. The chance of this occurring decreases as relatedness decreases, though it never reaches 0 (I will comment on this later).

For instance, if one’s father was heterozygote (had two different alleles) for a gene that when homozygote (having two same alleles) gave its owner a congenital heart disease that was terminal. That is to say that he had one normal allele (dominant) that prevented the expression of that disease, as well as one deleterious mutant allele (recessive) that when in duplicate (homozygosis) gave its owner the disease. If he has two children, there is a 50% chance that either child receives the recessive allele. If both children end up heterozygote for this gene like their father and decide to have children together there is a 25% chance that their child will receive 2 of the recessive alleles (homozygosis) from its parents, and the will then suffer from the disease.

It’s almost a certainty that everyone has a recessive allele in his or her genes that would express a disease if it were in duplicate, homozygosis. This is one of the main reasons it has become culturally unacceptable in almost every corner of the globe to commit incest.

But is this a moral issue? Incest doesn’t necessarily entail the production of children. Incest is the act in and of itself and not the result. So if two consenting adults for whatever reason decide to delve into an incestuous relationship without the wanting of children, taking adequate steps to actively avoid this. Is this still immoral?

You may argue most incestuous relationships aren’t consensual. You may be right, but such relationships aren’t immoral because they are incestuous. They are immoral because one person is taking advantage of the other. Such relationships are immoral because of the abuse incurred on one of the persons involved, physical and/or psychological. Whether they are related or not isn't what defines it as immoral, it's the abuse of power used to hurt another.

Thus I don’t believe it is immoral for consenting adults to enter into and incestuous relationship, assuming the absence of abuse and if they avoid having children. However, that raises another question. Is it immoral to have children even if there is a higher than average chance that the children will receive a debilitating disease or could die at birth?

There are many people out there who have acquired homozygosis for certain congenital diseases. There are also many people who know they may carry one allele for a specific disease that has run through their family, some may know that they carry it. There are women out there who have trouble finishing pregnancy, where their children die early on, though they continue to try to have children. There are also plenty of women who cause their children to suffer disease and addiction when they use drugs irresponsibly while pregnant. Nonetheless, in most of the aforementioned cases it's not regarded as immoral to keep trying to have children, let alone illegal for them to do so. Yet it is illegal and judged immoral for close relations to attempt a similar act, where the fetus or child is at the same amount of risk.

Who would dream of denying a couple the ability to have children even if there's a large chance their children will be disabled or have a disease? Especially if the parents are willing to care for the child anyway. Who would tell these people that it's immoral for them to have children knowing that there’s a risk of disease or disability? If it’s not okay for close relatives to produce children because there’s a higher risk of disease or disability, then why is it okay for people to do the exact same thing with non-relations? If we were to follow the same line of logic, wanting to prevent children being born with disease or disability, then it would be as illegal for non-related couples carrying bad genes as it would for closely related couples. 

I just find it a little bizarre that two couples could carry exactly the same allele for a disease in each one of their genetics. Both couples, should they have children, would have the same 25% chance of having a child with the disease. However, if one couple is brother and sister it is a jail-able offence, whereas for the other couple it is perfectly legal.

It would then be reasonable to conclude that the resulting act of an incestuous relationship by consenting adults, even if they choose to have children, is not in and of itself immoral. Especially when you consider that a non-related couple with the same chances of passing on the disease are considered far from immoral if they choose to have children. Incest may not be immoral, however, it is much more likely that circumstances surrounding incidences of incest make the relationships immoral when compared with non-incestuous relationships.

What are your opinions?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks.

    Once someone agrees that consensual sex is not immoral, there is little substantial reason to condemn consensual incest, or what I call consanguinamory or consanguineous sex.

    Some people try to justify their disapproval of consanguineous sex and marriage by being part-time eugenicists and saying that such relationships inevitably lead to “mutant” or “deformed” babies. But you correctly point out that this is flimsy.

    Some consanguineous relationships involve only people of the same gender. Not all mixed-gender relationships birth biological children. Most births to consanguineous parents do not produce children with significant birth defects or other genetic problems; while births to other parents do sometimes have birth defects. We don’t prevent other people from marrying or deny them their reproductive rights based on increased odds of passing along a genetic problem or inherited disease.

    Unless someone is willing to deny reproductive rights and medical privacy to others and force everyone to take genetic tests and bar carriers and the congenitally disabled and women over 35 from having children, then equal protection principles prevent the "mutant babies" argument from being a justification to bar this freedom of association and freedom to marry.

    Anyone concerned about these things should have genetic testing and counseling. People who are not close relatives can pass along health problems, too.

    Other objections include...


    “It is disgusting.” Easily refuted as a reason to prevent other people from doing it.

    “It goes against tradition.” Likewise.

    “My religion is against it.” Likewise.

    “It ruins, confuses, or distorts family relationships.” First of all, this does not apply to adoptees who reunite as adults, or people who resulted from gamete or embryo donation. They already have families. People only say this about sex and marriage. They don’t say it about friendships, working together, or any number of additional relationship dimensions family members might have with each other, or at least this objection is not enshrined in law, as it is with laws that deny marriage equality. It is as if these people think sex and marriage are bad things and about doing bad things to the other person(s). Are those who oppose equality frustrated? Are they doing sex wrong? Many people have many relationships that have more than one aspect. Some women say their sister is their best friend. Why can’t their sister be a wife, too? When someone gets married, nobody from the government asks if this will ruin their friendship, or their business, and it should not ask if it will ruin their fraternity, either.

    “There is a power differential.” This applies least of all to siblings or cousins who are close in age, but even where the power differential exists, it is not a justification for denying this freedom to sex or freedom to marry. There is a power differential in just about any relationship, sometimes an enormous power differential. One person is more emotionally needy than another. One earns more than the other. One is more educated than another. One has more friends and family than another. One has more life experience than another. On and on it goes. To question if consent is truly possible in these cases is insulting and demeaning. There are sober, functional, healthy adults who consent to consanguineous sex with an older relative. It shouldn’t be illegal or questioned, unless you would do the same to any intergenerational relationship between adults.

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