In the current zeitgeist, and even for the past couple of decades, "that's eugenics" has shut down conversations among intelligent people about important topics like behavioral genetics, reproductive technology and subsidized contraception. "Eugenicist" has been leveled against everyone from Darwin to EO Wilson, to Margaret Sanger, to Bill Gates to Nick Bostrom as a way of signaling that we should ignore everything that person has to say and see everything they do or think as evil and illegitimate. Communist or communism isn't used in this way and communism doesn't have this sting. Maybe during the McCarthy era an essay like this could have also been necessary.
And of course people respond angrily if called a eugenicist- it's a term, as you said, that means "evil" in the current Western zeitgeist (but not in much of the rest of the world, as one commenter noted). This essay isn't meant to be dispassionate, it's meant to provoke the reader into rethinking how this term shuts down conversations about ideas and people.
Looking at the agree votes it seems that
most many people think a different word should be substituted for eugenics. I pointed out the problems with this in the piece, that eugenics already has a definition that both encompasses Nazi atrocities and things that most people agree with. And other words, like reprogenetics, liberal eugenics and procreative beneficence haven't caught on. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that many reasonable people decide to phase out 'eugenic' and instead use a word like epilogenics (like @aella suggests here.) How would that work rhetorically?
EA Bioethicist: Depression costs a huge number of QUALYs so I suggest the government subsidizes polygenic screening of embryos for depression for people who have suffered from depression and who are going through IVF.
Critic: That's eugenics.
EA Bioethicist: Yes, technically it is. But we don't use that word anymore. It's actually "epilogenics" because people have free choice.
Critic: The fact that it also qualifies as a word you just made up doesn't stop it from being eugenics.
This is a toy example but what if we freely used the word eugenics to describe all the things that it describes rather than putting a new label on just those things we agree with (without getting into the fact that it's difficult to draw a bright line between coercive and non coercive interventions)?
EA bioethicist says the same thing about depression screening as above
Critic: That's eugenics.
EA Bioethicist: Yes. But eugenics also encompasses many things you probably endorse, like genetic counseling for people with debilitating genetic diseases and laws against close relatives having children etc. So, "that's eugenics" isn't, by itself, an argument against my position.
I didn't advocate for any particular policy regarding abortion. And, I'm not reanimating the abortion is eugenics argument myself, Clarence Thomas and the prolife movement in America make this argument regularly. It's just that progressives rarely come across it.
I completely agree with free contraception and giving people inexpensive reproductive autonomy. I'm in favor of legal abortion. But I know enough people who think abortion is morally abhorrent and a crime that it's difficult for me to uncritically endorse legal abortion in places where pro life citizens are the majority.
I'm not sure I agree with free abortions for everyone. As I said in the piece, Israel subsidizes abortions for unmarried women and women whose children are likely to suffer disability. I don't know if this targeted subsidy "implying it's better for some people to have kids than others" has the kind of bad social effect that you are alluding to. From what I know of Israel, it seems not to.
The argument you are making is that abortion and free contraception will have eugenic effects anyway, so why not just give people full reproductive autonomy without nudging anyone in particular. I think this is a good argument.
Let's apply the reversal test to your assertion that you'd be "against even mild "eugenicist" interventions aimed at making mentally ill people have fewer children". Would you be in favor of an organization that gave drugs to people with mental illness that made them more fertile?
All I'm endorsing in this essay is that interventions should be discussed, not any particular intervention. Personally, I would also be against the government intervening in the reproduction of people who want to have children. At the moment, someone with serious mental illness can have multiple children in foster care, have no desire to have children and still, as an accident of sex, have children they cannot care for who, moreover, are more likely to have inherited their problems. This is the basic idea behind Project Prevention- $300 is likely enough of a nudge that it incentivizes someone to take contraception who already does not want children. $300 is unlikely to convince someone who wants to have a child not to. Moreover, most PP clients choose reversible contraception.
There are countries that subsidize IVF. In the near future it could be possible for the government to subsidize polygenic screening for people with heritable conditions who do not want to pass these conditions down to their children. As I know many people with mental illness who choose not to have children because they don't want their kids to share their misfortune, this could be an intervention that would help mentally ill people who want to have children have (more) children.
First- I'm not trying to rehabilitate murder, forced sterilizations or nazis. "Nazi eugenics" still has the word "Nazi" in it, which so far as I'm aware, no one is trying to rehabilitate.
Second- there is a case study for rehabilitation of a word, euthanasia. Euthanasia is associated with Nazis but now the word euthanasia is used in bioethics and public conversations freely for the practice of allowing people to die who are experiencing tremendous suffering. So far as I'm aware the rehabilitation of the word euthanasia has not resulted in people being more inclined to recommend the murder of the ill or disabled. Rehabilitation of the word euthanasia has instead resulted in a better conversation and provisions around the fate of people who are suffering.
Edited to add: This comment fails to reckon with the possible benefits of rehabilitating the word eugenics. When the word is used against reproductive technologies, individual reproductive choices and behavioral genetics it stifles conversation, debate and progress.
I see no reason someone should suffer and their family should suffer if instead there is a mutually agreed upon intervention that keeps the suffering from happening. To be fair, I don't know if Patrick and Susan meant to have children (she's cognitively disabled). But many people share your view. Men can be put in prison for not paying court ordered child support and reduced sentences or other incentives for men to get vasectomies are not allowed because of accusations of eugenics.
To me, offering Patrick an incentive to get a vasectomy seems analogous to giving an opiate addict methadone so they don't steal money to buy opiates, rather than putting them in prison for stealing.
"Is the idea to fully confront the arguments/controversies that come up over the "eugenic implications" of newer reproductive technologies?"
Yes, exactly. The advent of polygenic screening and the first people to use it to select embryos has brought this issue to the fore.