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Pangloss

Why is incest illegal?

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A professor at Columbia University has been arrested and charged with having a sexual relationship with his 24-year-old daughter. Some info may be found here: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2010/12/10/professor-david-epstein-charged-incest-his-daughter

 

Ok, it's kinda scummy and I'm sure some would say disgusting, but why is it illegal? They're both adults. Seems to me that it's just another example of the government sticking its nose into people's private business.

 

This is also creating an interesting ruckus in media circles. Some info on that may be found here (comments invited):

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/12/abc-news-asks-on-facebook-if-incest-should-be-legal-slate-says-incest-is-cancer.html

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I guess incest is just bad for the gene pool (link to wikipedia)...

 

And a bad gene pool is bad for a country or society.

 

A single incident is obviously no significant problem to a society, but if incest would be popular it could be disastrous.

I guess that's why law forbids it and why religions say it's forbidden by God (I admit that I am a poor judge to check the value of that link - can someone with a better knowledge of any religion comment on this?).

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The government's argument is that it has a compelling interest in preventing the genetic problems any offspring might have, and the emotional problems they would likely experience growing up in such a dysfunctional situation

 

http://www.wicourts.gov/html/ca/97/97-0852.htm

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I'm sure I have read that various forms of incest were the norm among the ruling class of ancient Egypt. I think it is generally believed that this led to various genetically based problems - both physical and mental. It seems therefore a good idea for any government to discourage this activity.

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I guess that's why law forbids it and why religions say it's forbidden by God (I admit that I am a poor judge to check the value of that link - can someone with a better knowledge of any religion comment on this?).

 

You're fairly accurate in your assessment if why religion forbids it. I've also heard that since sexual contact of any kind should only be within the confines of a marriage, that committing incest disrespects you and whosoever you happen to be fornicating with, thus, casting like three sins at once. Which is presumably bad.

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I'm sure I have read that various forms of incest were the norm among the ruling class of ancient Egypt. I think it is generally believed that this led to various genetically based problems - both physical and mental. It seems therefore a good idea for any government to discourage this activity.

 

It's the norm among the ruling class of Europe, also. The geneologies of the various royal families (or really royal family, since they're all related) include a huge number of first cousin and uncle-niece marriages. Here's a quote from Wikipedia about Charles II of Spain:

 

The most famous example of a genetic disorder aggravated by royal family intermarriage was the House of Habsburg, which inmarried particularly often. Famous in this case is the Habsburger (Unter) Lippe (Habsburg jaw/Habsburg lip/"Austrian lip"), typical for many Habsburg relatives over a period of six centuries.[22] The condition progressed through the generations to the point that the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II of Spain, could not properly chew his food.[23] (See mandibular prognathism.)

 

Besides the jaw deformity, Charles II also had a huge number of other genetic physical, intellectual, sexual, and emotional problems. It is speculated that the simultaneous occurrence in Charles II of two different genetic disorders: combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis could explain most of the complex clinical profile of this king, including his impotence/infertility which in last instance led to the extinction of the dynasty.[24]

 

And when you look at his family tree, it's not surprising:

 

Carlos_segundo80.png

 

Despite all that, I don't really understand why it's illegal, given how firmly we as a society are against all other forms of eugenics. And honestly, I think if it were legal, it would still be so uncommon as to have negligible effect on society as a whole. The only real justification I can think of is that it could be considered "child abuse" merely to bring an incest baby to term, but again, we're hardly consistent as far as that goes, since in no other instance is it illegal to conceive a child that it is known will be prone to genetic disorders.

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I'm sure I have read that various forms of incest were the norm among the ruling class of ancient Egypt. I think it is generally believed that this led to various genetically based problems - both physical and mental. It seems therefore a good idea for any government to discourage this activity.

 

We get physical and mental problems from smoking and drinking too, among countless other activities. It still doesn't make the case for denying others the right to have physical and mental problems.

 

This is usually the point at which someone will inevitably point out that we have to cover their medical costs - to which, I have to pre-reply that by that logic, every single behavior is on the table for denial and regulation, starting with Twinkies.

 

Despite all that, I don't really understand why it's illegal, given how firmly we as a society are against all other forms of eugenics. And honestly, I think if it were legal, it would still be so uncommon as to have negligible effect on society as a whole. The only real justification I can think of is that it could be considered "child abuse" merely to bring an incest baby to term, but again, we're hardly consistent as far as that goes, since in no other instance is it illegal to conceive a child that it is known will be prone to genetic disorders.

 

Well said. Bravo.

Edited by ParanoiA

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Despite all that, I don't really understand why it's illegal, given how firmly we as a society are against all other forms of eugenics. And honestly, I think if it were legal, it would still be so uncommon as to have negligible effect on society as a whole. The only real justification I can think of is that it could be considered "child abuse" merely to bring an incest baby to term, but again, we're hardly consistent as far as that goes, since in no other instance is it illegal to conceive a child that it is known will be prone to genetic disorders.

 

Genetics, as legitimate science, is a fairly recent development in history and not all that many people have DNA tests, so I don't find it surprising that there would be no laws preventing conceiving a child that would be prone to genetic orders. (not there should be such a law). But in a more general bastard-science sense, we have had such genetics laws. In the US there were laws against (some) mixed-race marriages that have since been struck down as descriminatory, but I don't think that engaging in incest would or should put you in a protected class, i.e. not allowing incest isn't the kind of discrimination that would allow you to take legal action.

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I don't much mind people deliberately indulging in activities that might give them mental and physical aflictions. However it seems incest may result in not you, but your unborn offspring having these problems. If that can be prevented then I am all for it. It is after all a form of assault on people not yet conceived!

Edited by TonyMcC

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I don't much mind people deliberately indulging in activities that might give them mental and physical aflictions. However it seems incest may result in not you, but your unborn offspring having these problems. If that can be prevented then I am all for it. It is after all a form of assault on people not yet conceived!

 

Oh, then you're also "all for" denying procreation rights for anyone with potentially genetically inheritable mental and physical afflictions then, right? No mating for those with Down Syndrome or Haemophilia, right?

 

Not to mention, I could use that logic to make a case against every cancer victim that procreated after they were diagnosed. Or hell, for that matter, everyone with cancer in their family that procreates is assaulting people not yet conceived.

 

And that's just breaking the surface of inheritable disease. And we still have non-disease related inheritable physical and mental afflictions too.

 

Inbreeding increases the *chances* of afflictions, just as cancer victim procreation increases the *chances* of afflicting their offspring with cancer.

 

No, laws on this are silly and the subsequent violation of principle is far more damaging to a free society than the potential achievement of prosecuted weirdos.

 

This is the job of culture, to provide the appropriate level of shame and keep it on the fringe. Nothing to see here.

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Since probably 99.9% of intercourse today occurs with contraceptive protection, why should genetic concerns be the determining factor in prohibiting incest? It is technically a criminal assault to have sex with anyone if you have AIDS, but if you wear a condom and have sex with someone even though you have AIDS, it is not an assault. So if the criminal law can make this distinction for people with AIDS having sex, then why not just require incestuous couples not to have children? Or why not allow incest after one of the partners has passed the breeding age? In any case, the genetic risk of consanguinity is not that great, since even though the Egyptian ruling family, in order not to dilute the royal blood by marrying outside the immediate family, for a long time required brothers and sisters to marry, the genetic problems in that group were minimal, as far as history records.

 

Obviously incest is forbidden simply because the majority of people find it disgusting, not because it is actually harmful. This violates John Stuart Mill's famous 'harm principle,' which states that a liberal society cannot make anything illegal unless it causes some demonstrable physical harm.

 

This thread touches on some of the same themes as my earlier thread on the harm of sexual relationships between adults and children. Society dislikes the idea so much on the basis of its sense of values that it simply assumes it must also somehow be physically or psychiatrically harmful, even apart from the panicked way that society would react to such encounters and traumatize the children involved, but it is difficult to pin down exactly what the harm consists in, especially when it was practised in Ancient Greece for so long and managed to produce people who grew up to be among the greatest and most creative geniuses the world has ever seen, rather than producing the shattered lives we would expect from today's perspective.

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Obviously incest is forbidden simply because the majority of people find it disgusting, not because it is actually harmful. This violates John Stuart Mill's famous 'harm principle,' which states that a liberal society cannot make anything illegal unless it causes some demonstrable physical harm.

 

Oner might say the same about prostitution or bigamy, and it depends on your definition of harmful. Or, one might merely conclude that the US is not a liberal society under John Stuart Mill's definition.

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A couple considering becoming parents can, if they so wish, be genetically screened to determine the likelyhood of genetic risks to any offspring. I think it likely that as this service becomes more developed and accepted it will become quite a commonly used facility. Some people may decide not to marry or not to produce children.

I suppose that many people in this day and age if told that they have (say) a 50% chance of producing a child with (say) Down's syndrome will go ahead with the thought that if that is the result they can have an abortion and try again.

I believe that incest with your own child is particularly abhorrent as it is contrary to the normal instinct of protecting your child from harm. Even with an adult child I think the normal instinct is to promote their development toward a happy independent relationship with someone who will make them feel fullfilled in life.

Brother and sister - I am not so sure. There does seem to be a natural aversion to the idea but whether that is due to cultural factors or something deeper I have to admit I don't know. Anyway everyone seems to agree that for genetic reasons it is better for siblings to chose partners outside of their immediate family.

Going back and rereading the question "why is incest illegal?" I have to say I don't really know but would never sign a petition to have it made legal! Sorry this is a lot of words that don't say much - but it has made me think a bit.

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I suppose that many people in this day and age if told that they have (say) a 50% chance of producing a child with (say) Down's syndrome will go ahead with the thought that if that is the result they can have an abortion and try again.

 

Then the same holds true for inbreeding, potentially. If we can screen and predetermine the likelihood of an affliction, that will help them make a decision. But it still doesn't create a magical partition between inheritable disease and inbreeding - they both create the same dilemma of possible affliction in their offspring.

 

So do you go Orwellian here and require genetic screening and subtending legal hoops so you can block all procreation that carries possible afflictions for the offspring? Is this not a form of eugenics?

 

I believe that incest with your own child is particularly abhorrent as it is contrary to the normal instinct of protecting your child from harm. Even with an adult child I think the normal instinct is to promote their development toward a happy independent relationship with someone who will make them feel fullfilled in life. Brother and sister - I am not so sure. There does seem to be a natural aversion to the idea but whether that is due to cultural factors or something deeper I have to admit I don't know. Anyway everyone seems to agree that for genetic reasons it is better for siblings to chose partners outside of their immediate family.

 

I agree. But we're talking about law here, so our personal morals are irrelevant.

 

Going back and rereading the question "why is incest illegal?" I have to say I don't really know but would never sign a petition to have it made legal! Sorry this is a lot of words that don't say much - but it has made me think a bit.

 

Well, it's an honest answer I can respect. I would ask you give it more thought; about liberty and personal choice and how we all measure our lives by different standards and we all have a unique set of requirements for happiness. Some of us want to live as long as possible, while some of us want to live as *much* as possible. Try not to outlaw being weird. Thanks.

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The government's argument is that it has a compelling interest in preventing the genetic problems any offspring might have, and the emotional problems they would likely experience growing up in such a dysfunctional situation

 

What's the justification for criminalizing homosexual incest?

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The whole genetic exuse for forbidding incest is a non-starter, since people with severe genetic diseases have a full legal right to have as many children as they want, and in their case, the risk of transmitting serious illness is much greater than the risk of genetic problems from incest. I know a patient with polycystic renal disease, which is a horrible and deadly renal disease which 50% of the children of someone with the disease inherit, who nonetheless decided to have a child because she cheerily said "I guess I'm a glass-half-full-type of person!" I felt like asking her how she knew her child would have that same attitude, but I bit my tongue. Unfortunately, most people with polycystic renal disease decide to have children because of the same murderously idiotic cruelty, and the law can do nothing about it.

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Maybe the basis for incest laws shouldn't be genetic but social. Parents have special relationships with their adult children that could prevent those children from being able to refuse sex, which would make it effectively rape. Let's say this woman was afraid of losing her inheritance or some other privilege. Wouldn't there then be a question of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment? If a boss can't do it to an employee, why should a father be allowed to do it to an adult child? The amazing part is that it was reported (assuming it's true and not a media stunt).

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There is a difference between someone with the misfortune to have a heritable disease and someone who chooses to screw their sister.

 

"Unfortunately, most people with polycystic renal disease decide to have children because of the same murderously idiotic cruelty, "

Or possibly because the child will be no worse off than they are. Since they don't commit suicide they cant be that unhappy with their lot.

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Maybe the basis for incest laws shouldn't be genetic but social. Parents have special relationships with their adult children that could prevent those children from being able to refuse sex, which would make it effectively rape. Let's say this woman was afraid of losing her inheritance or some other privilege. Wouldn't there then be a question of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment? If a boss can't do it to an employee, why should a father be allowed to do it to an adult child? The amazing part is that it was reported (assuming it's true and not a media stunt).

 

I'm with Lemur here, the parent child relationship provides a parent trying to obtain sex from his/her child an unfair advantage in a sexual relationship. Parents have many ways of getting what they want out of their children. Adult offspring as well. Even if you are 40 years old, if your mother tells you to go sweep leaves off the roof, your more inclined to do it than you would've been if say your friend told you to do such.

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The whole genetic exuse for forbidding incest is a non-starter, since people with severe genetic diseases have a full legal right to have as many children as they want,

 

There is however a difference between telling someone they can't have a child with a very small subset of the population (close family) vs telling them not to have a child at all. Of course now with birth control, its a different story, and likewise it is possible to genetically screen children for genetic diseases before it progresses past the stage of being a few dozen cells or so. But incest is traditionally taboo/icky, and there is some legitimate concern about family problems or abuse that could result from allowing incest. For example, you can't distinguish between consensual incest turned sour and sexual abuse. Likewise a lot of people tell you not to have sex with your best friend since it could ruin your relationship.

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But lots of sex between consenting adults is perfectly legal even if it involves the kind of duress that might exist between parents and their adult children, such as threatening them with disinheritance, withholding affection, etc. A wealthy but ugly and mean person can get an attractive person to have sex with him/her, and so this operates as a kind of duress, but it is still not criminalized. The wealthy person in this example does not threaten you with disinheritance, but does threaten you with being excluded from sharing his/her wealth by not becoming a partner.

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What's the justification for criminalizing homosexual incest?

 

No idea. I didn't find any legal arguments covering it.

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You could argue that homosexual incest would lead to instability in families as mother and son competed for the sexual affections of dear old dad, and the legal systems of most countries affirm that state policy favors marriage, which is sometimes cited as the reason why contracts contemplating divorce are not enforced by courts in some countries.

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Cultural indoctrination possibly initiated by minor evolutionary benefits.

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Well, the problems that stem from imbreeding, are very real and quite deminishing within familys. As alot of above post's have stated anywere from genetic deformations, and social issues that could cause real issues. And as much as i personaly hate to see the goverment stick their nose in almost everything i just couldn't see myself voting to leaglize insest relations. Possibly a guidline to the subject, perhaps if a couple who are insest which ever the combination, if they should decide to procreate then education on the subject i would think is all you could do. But on the same note i still wouldn't think that this would be as big a problem as it may seem. But the long term effect's of such breeding and deteration of mental health within a family would indeed by extention be a burden on society. Considering those who are attempting, intentions of insest/imbreeding, by standard would not be the most educated or elite part of society, and in turn bounce the problem to the tax payers for the health related issue's that may come about during the child's birth. And or the mental instability of a child born with defects, the impact on public school. So in short i would not condone insest due to the aftermath in which it may cause, But at the same time the goverment does not need to regulate every aspect of someones life. But as stated i believe the issue is so isolated that the true impact i believe is minimal.

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