Genetics Behind Psychopathology: A Convenient Excuse for Parents

[Written around 2007.]

By and large I do not believe genetics to be behind such psychological “disorders” known as schizophrenia, depression, autism, and bipolar. I believe that psychological trauma and other environment horrors lie at their root far more than most are willing to concede – or even imagine. And yet the psychological field so often promotes – however scientifically flimsily – genetic origins. Genetic arguments serve to protect the parents – and basically let them off the hook for their pathological, traumatizing behavior. This is convenient. Or is it? What shocks me is that if these disorders really were genetic, you’d think that the psychology field would be the first to encourage schizophrenic and depressed and autistic and bipolar parents to stop having children – in order to protect life’s future children from receiving these supposedly defective and debilitating genes!

Yet does the psychology field say anything? Hardly. Such a move on the part of a therapist, in this day and age of confused ethics, is considered flatly unethical – and bordering on eugenic.

And do these supposedly genetically defective parents stop procreating? Some do, but many do not. And many, with the genetically oriented scientists’ full backing, bury their heads in the sand to even their own arguments and defend their right to procreate – and their right to pass on their supposedly genetic disorders to the innocent.

An autistic mother with an autistic daughter recently criticized me for saying that autism might have a psychological origin. Heaven forbid I’m right – that is, heaven forbid a mother who has massive interpersonal deficits (the hallmark of autism) MIGHT be a lacking mother and JUST MIGHT emotionally contribute to, or even cause, her daughter’s autism.

This mother argued that blaming a parent for causing her child’s autism is like blaming a parent for causing her child’s Down syndrome. Although her analogy is a stretch, because Down syndrome is incontrovertibly genetic (though not inherited), I still cannot so quickly let the parent of a Down syndrome child off the hook. After all, it is known that as a woman grows older she is significantly more likely to give birth to children with Down syndrome. Yet nowadays it is more popular than ever for middle-aged women, with all the world’s genetic information at their fingertips, to play the genetic lottery and gleefully give birth to children – that or abort (i.e. murder) those fetuses with genetic disorders. Talk about eugenics right in the family! Aren’t such parents at least partially responsible for stacking the odds against their children?

And sometimes the odds are flat-out terrible. Take the famous musician Woody Guthrie, who, ironically, wrote some of the best children’s music I’ve ever heard. He had one of life’s uglier genetic disorders, Huntington’s disease, which he inherited from his mother, and which his children had a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting from him. Although he started having kids in the 1930s, before the discovery of DNA, he was still having children into the 1950s, by which time he was well aware of the hereditary link. Of his eight children, two of his first three (whom he completely abandoned before he ever even found out if they had his disorder) got it and died of it, just as Woody Guthrie and his mother did. And does anyone criticize him? Hardly. For the longest time Woody Guthrie himself even denied that HE was losing his mind (and body) to Huntington’s.

We live in a society where it is considered the right of the parent, no matter what his problems, to have children. Few, except perhaps fanatical religious fundamentalists, care about or defend the rights of the unborn. And even fewer even think about the rights of the not-yet-created.

It is not the right of a parent to have children. It is a privilege. This highlights a big difference between humans and animals. Animals procreate unconsciously. Humans have other options – and a greater potential. Yet when people procreate unconsciously, that is, with motives of which they are largely unaware – which most do – they behave like animals. That is the reason our species is so out of control. Six billion humans? It is ludicrous.

Animals at the top of the food chain should not be so abundant. Imagine if every time you went swimming in the ocean you were approached by forty thousand great white sharks? Ultra-predators – which both human and great white sharks are – are rare. If ultra-predators become too populous they throw the ecosystem all out of balance…like our species has done, and is continuing to do.

Humans should be rare too. Ten thousand years ago, when there were hardly ANY humans around, there were already too many of us – and we were wiping out innumerable other species. I like the idea of a planet with only a hundred thousand humans. Or maybe fifty thousand.

For all its flaws, China was onto something with its one-child policy. Imagine if such a policy were implemented the whole world over? In one generation there would be three billion people, in two generations one-and-a-half billion, and in ten generations (in about 300 years, if the pollution from our modern industry hasn’t sterilized us all by them) a mere six MILLION people.

Clearly we have a ways yet to go.

3 thoughts on “Genetics Behind Psychopathology: A Convenient Excuse for Parents

  1. I adopted a child whose bio mother was an alcoholic and drug addict. I have a background in child welfare so I was able to get him the best care a single mom can do. I never traumatized my son. His environment needed to be adapted constantly. He is 25 and needs 24/7 care. He has been diagnosed with autism, schizophrenia and fetal alcohol syndrome. Environment plays a big role in personality development but rarely does it cause a personality disorder.

  2. I love this article so much. I agree it is not a right of people to have children but a “privilege”.
    I love children and have taken care of a lot of children growing up, I have natural maternal traits and for a few years I was a surrogate mother to some of my little cousins and that was such a happy time in my life. Yet, I have made the decision NOT to have children.
    The reason is because I think of that child and what I could provide for them. I am not in a relationship and I have dogs and a responsibility to take care of them. People keep reminding me about my “biological clock” and trying to instill fear with comments such as “you will regret it if you don’t have kids”. How do people think like this and make such comments to a single woman? It is like am just expected to pro-create with just anyone in order for me to have a child as I might regret not having one. What about the child?
    If you are not able to provide a secure loving and healthy environment for a child then you should not have children. After a woman gets past 33 her eggs start to decline rapidly and also the quality of her eggs too. This is a scientific fact. By the time she gets into her 40s she has an incredibly high chance of having a child with major health problems or birth defects. I think women who are leaving off having children to their 40s should except that what they are doing is very risky and that their age also makes a difference to how the child will be able to relate to them. Having a child for example at 45 means they will be 60 when that child is just 15 years old. Do they not care how the child will feel having such an old mother?
    I do accept that older parents will be more mature and should be able to know themselves more and be wiser. But c’mon how does a mother in her 60s cope with a teenage daughter or son. And then when they are in their 70s I guess their young child is expected to take care of them?
    Nobody ever mentions the amount of parents who left it late to have children and then regret having them as they simply do not have the energy and are worn out – the topic of regretting parenthood is still a taboo subject. But if you go on Quora you will find some “anonymous” questions and answers about parents who essentially regretted having children. A lot of people have children out of fear, the fear of maybe regretting not having them at all, this is a very bad motivator.

  3. I think this is where we are heading; a big reset by Mother-Nature, inspired by real human beings who do love her. Protecting them by mutual love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *