Genetic Counseling: For children of mixed racial ancestry

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2011-09-27 04:55Z by Steven

Genetic Counseling: For children of mixed racial ancestry

Biodemography and Social Biology
Volume 8, Issue 3, 1961
pages 157-163
DOI: 10.1080/19485565.1961.9987478

Sheldon C. Reed, Director
Dight Institute for Human Genetics
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Esther B. Nordlie
Dight Institute for Human Genetics
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis


The editors of this journal have been interested in genetic counseling because it is a major practical application of the results of research in human genetics. It is reasonable to assume that genetic counseling may also have some relationship to eugenics, though there is nothing known as to exactly what this relationship may be.

Genetic counseling should be helpful to those who ask for it. The understanding of any problem is the first step toward its solution. Understanding of the problem removes some of the attendant anxiety, even if the solution is unpleasant. There should be less anxiety after genetic counseling than before it has occurred, and the clients indicate in many ways that it is useful to them. The relationship between genetic counseling and eugenics is certainly ambiguous. It is my impression that the relief of anxiety concerning the likelihood of a repetition of an abnormality results in increased reproduction of the parents of the affected children. If this is true, the frequency of any genes responsible for the abnormality would be increased, though slightly, in the population, which would be a dysgenic process. The increased reproduction of the parents of the anomalous children should also increase the frequency of any genes related to the attributes of responsible parenthood which should have positive eugenic benefits. It is not clear to me whether the net result of these opposing tendencies is eugenic or dysgenic. The dysgenic effect is to increase slightly the pool of rare genes for abnormalities which are infrequent, while the slight increase in the supply of genes related to responsible parenthood would be less significant percentage-wise because such genes arc presumed to be more frequent in the population. If genes related to responsible parenthood do not exist, one can only conclude that genetic counseling may well be dysgenic Genetic counseling at present would seem to be liable to the suspicion that it is dysgenic. This effect may be too trivial to warrant consideration. Hopefully, the obvious benefits to the parents who come for counseling outweigh the possible dysgenic costs to society as a whole. The only alternative to genetic counseling is the refusal to impart whatever information research in human genetics has discovered; such a philosophy would be deplorable. Genetic counseling has a function and is here to stay. It is the intention of the editors to present articles by other genetic counselors from time to time. Presumably these articles will cover particular areas of counseling with which they have had extensive experience.


Wc have had considerable experience at the Dight Institute in working with adoption agencies in the placement of children of mixed racial ancestry. Mrs. Esther Nordlie (1961) and I have just completed a follow-up of the results of the placement of such children and will summarize the results here, as this is the first study of its kind. It is probable that genetic counselors will be increasingly occupied with this topic as interracial unions are likely to continue in the United States. The casual unions often result in children who become available for adoption. . . .

The problem of placing “pure” Negro, Indian or Mexican children is difficult only because few families of these minority groups request children for adoption. Ordinarily, no attempt would be made to place these babies in Caucasian families as the child or the adoptive parents would probably find social adjustment too difficult. However, children of mixed racial origin may “pass for white” or resemble the Caucasian adoptive parents sufficiently so that placement in a white family is feasible. Such placement is desirable for the child as the socioeconomic environment is assumed to be more favorable there. This would be true only if the racial appearance of the child would permit acceptance in the white community. Many white couples are desperately anxious to adopt children. Some are sufficiently free from racial prejudices to be able to adopt children of mixed racial ancestry, if a reasonable “match” between child and adoptive parents can be made. The critical prediction rests with the geneticist (or anthropologist) who must project the appearance of a small baby ahead to the child of five or six when entering school…

One would suppose that predicting the chances for a child to “pass for white” would be quite simple. Such, however, is not the case. The main difficulty is that these traits, when present in the racial hybrid, may not be apparent in an infant but develop over the years. Hair texture and skin color are the most important traits and at the same time the most difficult to predict. The baby may have no hair; it is well known that babies with considerable Negro ancestry may look quite light at birth and darken considerably during childhood. The geneticist is thus vulnerable to mistakes in his predictions as to the future appearance of the baby. One could take the attitude that unless the geneticist can make his prediction with certainty he should not enter the picture at all. Such reasoning is absurd. The baby is in the custody of the adoption agency and the agency must make some provision for this child.

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