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Incest laws - Comments

CallumW's Avatar Comment 1 by CallumW

I was thinking about this only today, but from the other direction. Incest laws make genetic relatives having children illegal so would preventing those with e.g. alleles for recessive genetic disease be morally wrong. I don't really see how a relationship or sex between relatives could be morally wrong if both consent and are uncoerced, however the incidence of genetic disease in inbred families when parents are only cousins is much higher than those with access to a more diverse gene pool, and if siblings were to produce offspring the risk would be greater again. This doesn't really seem fair on the children of such a union. But then to legally ban people from having children in circumstances when the risk of genetic disease is particularly high seems to be a gross infringement of their human rights.

It's a tricky one.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 16:50:25 UTC | #579413

debonnesnouvelles's Avatar Comment 2 by debonnesnouvelles

Are there any rational moral reasons for upholding this law against what some consider the last sexual taboo?

Hm... of the top of my head, I can't think of any. Although the thought of having to see my siblings or a parent and a sibling holding hands and kissing creeps me out, I would not want them to go to jail for it.

Consenting adults doing what they like seems fair enough. The problem starts of course where no one knows about it and one of the people involved did not consent. How can society help to protect young people in the environment where they grow up? I am afraid I haven't a clue.

By the way, you say that no one would seriously consider punishing the drinking of alcohol during pregnancy.

Why not consider it?

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 17:04:21 UTC | #579422

josephor's Avatar Comment 3 by josephor

In my head I think that incest is wrong and the thought of it disgusts me. Does that make it morally wrong ? For me personally I think it is morally wrong.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 17:30:41 UTC | #579437

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 4 by Neodarwinian

Actually, incest laws in the US for instance are almost nonexistent. First cousin marriages usually. Do not know about Switzerland, but how specific could they be? Evolutionary reasons for incest avoidance are somewhat understood and I do not think the repeal of any incest law will be any great impetus to incest.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 17:47:16 UTC | #579445

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 5 by Cook@Tahiti

Sexual acts and procreation are two different things. Get the government out of the bedroom and into the boardroom.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 17:49:04 UTC | #579446

jon_the_d's Avatar Comment 6 by jon_the_d

Firstly, If it can be scientifically proven that a behavior will do harm to an unborn child then I'd consider it to be a form of neglect, I'd also like to say that I believe unborn children SHOULD have rights as soon as they pass the legal limit for abortion. So yeah, any mother who is doing harm to her child should be in line for some sort of punishment.

now back to the main topic.

I've considered this question often and fairly recently too.

I have no problem with consenting adults doing as they please, and I will not use the genetic argument as my main objection. But, I do have reservations. I have been accused of only having reservations about this because of my assume dchristian upbringing or traditional values. Sorry but that's bullshit. I'm looking at this completely rationally and completely logically. If there is nothing to worry about I'll support the law and argue for their rights. But I am not sure there is nothing to worry about.

Parent-child relationships:

I believe this to be a concern because of the incredible amount of power and influence a parent has over their child. They could easily groom them, or effectively brainwash them into thinking that sex with daddy is going to be the best thing ever, or even their duty as a good daughter.

Anyway, there is massive potential for abuse in this case, even if ages of consent were adhered to. The childs whole outlook could be warped to the father's will.

I maintain then that parents, as guardians and educators and guides, should have a duty of care that prohibits them from viewing the child as a potential sexual partner, ever. This seems necessary to make sure the child is protected from grooming by those who have most power over them and those who are supposed to be giving them the best chance in life. This will have to extened into adulthood too to fully protect the child.

Please point out anything you find wrong in what I have said so far.

Sibling relationships:

There is still chance for grooming, particularly with an increased age gap. so once again, I feel that in order to protect impressionable, trusting children from being groomed into something by one of their most loved and trusted, it seems it has to be illegal too, even after they become consenting adults.

Like I said, my argument is not based on the genetic issue, it is based solely on the wellbeing of the children and making sure that they are raised in an environment of love and care without danger of being groomed or abused or exploited.

Of course this will still happen, but it shoudl be on the wrong side of the law. And the only way I see to try to prevent this is bby letting everybody know that incestuous relationships are out of bounds. we can also explain why.

I expect to be disagreed with, and I look forward to the discussion. This issue has been troubling me for years.

P.S

in case others hadn't already considered it, don't forget to consider gay incestuous relationships. here the genetic issue is definitely not an issue, but I believe my reasoning above still applies, and I would still argue that it too, indeed all incestuous realtionships, should be illegal.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 17:52:05 UTC | #579448

El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 7 by El Bastardo

I had a dog, she had puppies, we kept one, they would have sex regularly.

Now I know that we aren't dogs, but we are animals. If consenting adults wanna do that sort of thing, then I suppose, fair play to them, though not for me.

The issue is raised when it comes to procreation. Let's put aside social stigma for a moment (your dad is your brother heh, heh) and look purely at any physical or mental issues that the offspring may have. Is it "fair" to bring a child like that into the world? If you know your child's life will be filled with difficulty and pain, would you still have one?

Then you fall into the "..but we have a right" or "Who are you to tell me I can't have kids the the one I love", worse "but there's a chance they'll be perfectly fine", and we have an emotional train wreck.

Though we can be nice a liberal and say "Sure, go love who you love" there are always consequences, and this is where we, as a society, should always, always put the needs of the many ahead of the few.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 17:59:45 UTC | #579453

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 8 by Schrodinger's Cat

I don't think one can really label incest as just another 'victimless crime'. Good laws should protect the innocent....and that is precisely what I think the law does, in terms of protecting any potential offspring.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 19:35:48 UTC | #579482

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 9 by InYourFaceNewYorker

The idea of a brother and sister or whatever having sex grosses me out, but I also understand that this visceral reaction has an evolutionary origin and is not necessarily rational. Like anything else, as long as consenting adults are involved it is none of my business... of course, in the case of incest, they MUST use protect. There was a story in Germany a few years back in which a brother and sister, separated at birth, fell in love (scientists chalked it up to genetic "recognition" of sorts), had unprotected sex, and begat four kids with genetic defects so serious that they had to be placed in group homes.

Anyway, I think this is actually legal in the Netherlands... what ISN'T legal in the Netherlands? :)

I would be interested to know how common incest is between people who haven't been separated at birth.

Julie

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 19:41:35 UTC | #579484

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 10 by TheRationalizer

We don't punish alcoholics for damaging their own health, but if they get behind the wheel of a car where they put others at risk we do.

Incestuous sex can lead to badly deformed babies can't it? If this is the case then it should only be legal in the cases where one of the two have been sterlised.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 19:44:45 UTC | #579486

MMAtheist's Avatar Comment 11 by MMAtheist

josephor

In my head I think that incest is wrong and the thought of it disgusts me. Does that make it morally wrong ? For me personally I think it is morally wrong.

So you think it's morally wrong. I'm waiting for any arguments you might have.

"It disgusts me" is not enough.

Schrodinger's Cat

I don't think one can really label incest as just another 'victimless crime'. Good laws should protect the innocent....and that is precisely what I think the law does, in terms of protecting any potential offspring.

The likelihood of a child having Down's syndrome rises as the mother gets older. Shouldn't we then also ban, say, over 40 year old women from having children?

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 19:53:31 UTC | #579492

LaurieB's Avatar Comment 12 by LaurieB

jon_the_d

I draw your attention to the explanation of Westermarck Effect here at Wiki (bottom half of the page):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imprinting_%28psychology%29

A good explanation of this incest-avoidance evolutionary adaption is given in the book Consilience, by E.O. Wilson. My copy of the book is lent out currently but when I read it last summer I took these notes on Westermarck Effect. I can’t tease out exactly what is taken verbatim from Wilson and what I included as summary here but I think the notes had interesting information that’s worth including. I’m uneasy about lack of citation and I hope my disclosure of that will suffice for now.

From Consilience: Westermarck Effect: Avoidance of sexual activity by those individuals in the same natal group. When brought together before 30 months of age and then raised together in close domestic proximity, those individuals are devoid of later sexual interest in each other. The very thought of it raises aversion. This effect has led to cultural taboos, which prohibit incest by custom and law. Early mortality of children born of incest is about twice that of out bred children and among those that survive, genetic defects such as dwarfism, heart deformities, severe mental retardation, deaf mutism, enlargement of the colon, urinary tract abnormalities are 10 times more common.

Emigration of young primates prior to reaching full sexual maturity greatly reduces potential for inbreeding. Westermarck Effect is also observed in adult primates including: marmosets, tamarinds, Asian macaques, baboons, and chimps. The human brain is programmed to follow a simple rule of thumb: Have no sexual interest in those you knew intimately during the earliest years of your life.

Westermarck Effect is consistent with the principle of graded effect in Psychology: The more intimate the association during the critical period of childhood, the less likely it is that heterosexual activity will occur. Incestuous behavior from least to most likely:

Mother-Son

Siblings

Sexual abuse of Daughters by biological Fathers

Sexual abuse of girls by Stepfathers. (end of notes)

From the above Wiki link:

The idea that boys want to sleep with their mothers strikes most men as the silliest thing they have ever heard. Obviously, it did not seem so to Freud, who wrote that as a boy he once had an erotic reaction to watching his mother dressing. But Freud had a wet-nurse, and may not have experienced the early intimacy that would have tipped off his perceptual system that Mrs. Freud was his mother. The Westermarck theory has out-Freuded Freud. —Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works

So based on the above information, I fail to see how you think it a good idea to drag law enforcement and courts into the picture. Wouldn’t the statutory rape laws just about cover it? Incest between consenting adults must be so rare that it would be a waste of time and money to pass laws about such a thing. How do you think a victim of forced or brainwashed incestuous sex would feel about the situation being aired in a public courtroom and inevitably the media? This can never be a good thing. From the perspective of the victim, there are more compassionate ways of dealing with these issues.

The laws we have already deal with child sexual abuse. Evolution gave us the Westermarck Effect. Incestuous sexual behavior is the exception to the rule. Don’t worry about it.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 20:33:57 UTC | #579507

Christina Jones's Avatar Comment 13 by Christina Jones

I am of the opinion that what people get up to if it does not hurt anyone is none of anybody else's business, however when they give birth to a child it is different. I think if two people who are related to each other have a child whilst knowing the concequences and the child and up with a terrible condition those people should bear some responsibility.

Comment 10 by TheRationalizer :

Incestuous sex can lead to badly deformed babies can't it? If this is the case then it should only be legal in the cases where one of the two have been sterlised.

I think that is a good idea.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 20:36:53 UTC | #579510

MMAtheist's Avatar Comment 14 by MMAtheist

Since the concern about birth defects is predictably the big issue here, I'll repeat my question to everyone: should we also start regulating against older women giving birth to children?

"The British Down's Syndrome Association has posted a chart showing the risk of producing a baby with the syndrome at various maternal ages. From age 20 to age 31, the risk doubles. From 31 to 35, it doubles again. From 35 to 38, it doubles again. From 38 to 41, it more than doubles again."

What about smoking and drinking when you're pregnant? Is that illegal in your country? Shouldn't it be if your #1 concern is birth defects?

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 21:00:26 UTC | #579519

William T. Dawkins's Avatar Comment 15 by William T. Dawkins

I can see where in more ancient times, a small, geographically remote, isolated tribal society might resort to incest for survival as well as political concerns.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 21:11:54 UTC | #579525

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 16 by bendigeidfran

It's not something I've particularly struggled with but if I wanted to I wouldn't worry about a law or not. It is infantile to want state approval for everything. If I had a brother and we liked bumming each other I wouldn't ask for a certificate first. Be demanding rosettes for bestiality next. Best in show.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 21:12:32 UTC | #579527

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 17 by Cook@Tahiti

The genetic argument...

What about compelling pregnant women to undergo genetic screenings to remove Down Syndrome babies and other congenital defects? Why should parents leave it to chance? If the medical technology is there for women to guarantee healthy babies why are couples allowed to play Russian Roulette with their offpsring, who have no say in the matter? Those children become condemned to a life of unnecessary suffering that COULD HAVE BEEN avoided.

Why do the whims of parents have precedence over the rights of the child to a healthy life?

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 21:13:14 UTC | #579528

Frenger's Avatar Comment 18 by Frenger

I watched a programme a couple of years ago about incest. It was really quite sad. A brother and sister who were separated at birth for reasons I can't remember tracked each other down in their adult lives.

Basically after many many meetings they felt something romantic emerging between them and after many personal attempts finally gave in to their desires.

The woman in this story could no longer have children following a complication during surgery so there were no "genetic grounds" for the end of this story which found the man, and only the man being prosecuted in court.

They found him guilty and he was "let off" as long as he didn't continue to have relations with his sister.

He failed to meet those requirements as they were in love and he was finally sent to prison which is where the documentary ended.

I remember feeling at the time such revulsion towards the courts and there family who it turned out reported them in the first place.

I don't know about the genetic side of it, like you say, it's not illegal to drink while pregnant and it probably runs similar risks so I would probably also agree that if two relations want to have a child then that is their business alone and no one else's. I don't know if there are any such statistics on the outcome of a child's health born out of an incestuous relationship but it would be interesting to see.

This is a long winded way of saying well done Switzerland, I hope other Countries will follow your lead soon.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 22:02:50 UTC | #579551

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 19 by bendigeidfran

Comment 17 by Rtambree

Down's Syndrome people I know are as happy as dogs. Screen out those with the gene for Welsh rugby fandom first.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 22:22:23 UTC | #579559

Steve Hanson's Avatar Comment 20 by Steve Hanson

Are you fucking kidding me? Do you want to spread genetic diseases? This taboo exists among all cultures everywhere for a very good reason. This isn't just some religious thing. Religions prohibit murder too (at least of in-group members, and only when they are "behaving" themselves), but that is also a prohibition that exists among all cultures everywhere, and for very good reasons.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 23:20:12 UTC | #579579

Jice's Avatar Comment 21 by Jice

This law seems so open to abuse that any legitimate reasons there might be seem inadequate by comparison.

"Because it makes me feel iky," seems to be the only deffence I see, which flat out is on the same page as religious thinking that your view is supperior to that of thoes providing the consent.

Sex /= offspring. We aren't the catholic church here, we allow contriception.

To set a precident that it's ok to legislate against couples who might have children with birth defects is wrong in any free country. Who makes the decision? If I had a certain gene that would give my baby a 20% chance to be born with Crie-de-chat should I be legislated against, reguardless of who my partner is? Because of a slim chance that if I even have a child (gay) that it has a slim chance to not be perfectly healthy?

And what about gay incest? Any arguments about genetics fly out the window in that case and now all you're doing is legislating against brothers/sisters who like to have a close relationship that includes sexual activity.

And I don't really think age plays much of a factor either. If they are 12, it's just the same curiosity we all grew up with which could amount to a few encounters, and if they are 16, then they are adult enough to make up thier own minds and shouldn't have to be worried about going to jail because they enjoy themselves. Anything younger and they probably haven't even hit puberty and it's completely innocent. And if there is an age gap, say 12 and 18, then it's already illegal through other laws.

The only potential I can see for this law is to double charge sex offenders, of the variety in which paretns molest thier childern. Yes, it's incest, but it's also pedophelia which unless Swiss are all ok with that, is probably still illegal, and still carries the same penalties.

Double dipping laws like this don't help prevent crime, or help the victims of thoes crimes. They just make criminals out of otherwise innocent people whos only crime was to not hurt anyone while doing what they like.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 23:24:36 UTC | #579580

foundationist's Avatar Comment 22 by foundationist

Comment 21 by Jice : The only potential I can see for this law is to double charge sex offenders, of the variety in which paretns molest thier childern. Yes, it's incest, but it's also pedophelia which unless Swiss are all ok with that, is probably still illegal, and still carries the same penalties.

That's actually one of the arguments put forward by those who are working to abolish the law. In every incest conviction in Switzerland for the last couple of decades, the accused has also been convicted of other crimes like child abuse, rape etc. But in other countries - here in germany - there have been cases where people were sent to prison only for sex with blood relatives. Sex between consenting adults. I find the thought disturbing and the penalties go up to 20 years. Not for the abuse or te rape, just for incest. That seems bizarre.

Sun, 16 Jan 2011 23:37:46 UTC | #579583

debonnesnouvelles's Avatar Comment 23 by debonnesnouvelles

Comment 6 by jon_the_d :

I maintain then that parents, as guardians and educators and guides, should have a duty of care that prohibits them from viewing the child as a potential sexual partner, ever. This seems necessary to make sure the child is protected from grooming by those who have most power over them and those who are supposed to be giving them the best chance in life. This will have to extened into adulthood too to fully protect the child.

Your argument for the criminalization of incest seems the best to me so far, I felt almost convinced by it. But something tells me that this point of view may be a bit one sided.

Of course it is tremendously important to protect the young.

But is it really likely that the decriminalization of incest would increase the abuse of children in the household? Or looking at it the other way around, do you think that any person who may become abusive would stop thinking "hang on a minute, incest is illegal, I better behave"? Surely, what they need to know is that paedophilia and rape are illegal.

I put it to you that this might be just another one of those "feelings" about the matter we have. Like the feeling that it would be wrong to allow an incestuous couple to try having a child because it might have a defect, when, at the same time, lots of people have children which are born with health problems for a great variety of reasons. Although in some cases it is worth pondering where to draw the line (alcohol, drugs, smoking), no one would advocate punishment of a woman who's child has a defect because of difficulties at birth. At least I hope no one on this site would!!!

Don't get me wrong: I am not advocating siblings to have lots of babies. But is there not another view possible than "yes, it is totally fine" or "no, they should be punished"?

I leave aside the lovely suggestions that the right to an incestuous relationship should be available in exchange for being sterilized (sometimes I really wonder where people get their ideas from).

In the rare case where an adult decides that he/she wants to have a relationship with another consenting grown up relative, would the law in this case not infringe on their rights not to be discriminated against?

The law already is in place to punish abusers. Should it punish people who are in a rare position of quite genuinely wanting to love someone they are not supposed to love?

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 00:53:37 UTC | #579595

RDfan's Avatar Comment 24 by RDfan

You may all want to read this heartbreaking story!

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 04:04:37 UTC | #579629

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 25 by Cook@Tahiti

Comment 20 by calatelpe :

Are you fucking kidding me? Do you want to spread genetic diseases? This taboo exists among all cultures everywhere for a very good reason.

If it's such an innate taboo (reflexive yuk), then there's no need to legislate against it, is there?

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 04:47:58 UTC | #579636

mmurray's Avatar Comment 26 by mmurray

Comment 24 by RDfan :

You may all want to read this heartbreaking story!

I feel really sorry for people like this. I would have thought with artificial insemination, surrogacy and the like we are going to get more of these sad cases where the couple have no knowledge of their relationship.

I was looking at incest laws and in the UK you have

Incest is illegal in England and Wales. It is defined as sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, between a person and their parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling, half-sibling, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece. It is punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment.

I was suprised by some of these. I wonder if science backs up the relative risk of defects in a person -- nephew relationship versus two random people.

Michael

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 06:21:51 UTC | #579649

The Truth, the light's Avatar Comment 27 by The Truth, the light

If we take a fundamental Christian view, none of us would be here now if it wasn't for all the incestuous relationships in the Garden of Eden.

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 07:17:38 UTC | #579656

Valerie_'s Avatar Comment 28 by Valerie_

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

The risks for creating a child with a nasty genetic disorder among close relatives are way, way higher than the risk of Down's syndrome in an older mother. The risk for Down's syndrome in a 40-year-old woman is around 1 in 100. At 45, it's 1:30 (just google the terms).

If two sibs or cousins carry a mutation for a nasty genetic disorder (50% chance of this if one of their parents was a carrier), the risk of making a sick baby is 1:4. This is basic genetics. Also: there's a 50% chance that the baby will be a carrier. So, that's 3 out of 4 chances of passing on the bad gene and increasing its representation in the population. And unlike Down syndrome or Trisomy 18 (which aren't even genetic disorders), testing yourself as pregnant sib is out of the question, as you don't know which mutations you carry (mostly thanks to other people in your family not having incestuous relationships). You can't test for everything because there are umpteen disorders, and, besides, not all of them even have a test.

Obviously, the world is chock full of people who carry mutated genes, and unless a child is born with a disorder, we all pass them on to our kids without knowing it. But the disease outcome among children of non-relatives is rare. With relatives, it's common.

When you remove taboos against incest, sooner or later close relatives will have kids and start increasing the incidence of various genetic disorders. You can prevent the problem by requiring sterilization, but that seems a bit extreme in a society liberal enough to overlook the taboo to begin with (and also impractical). This taboo is a matter of public health.

Which brings me back to my first sentence.

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 07:55:05 UTC | #579664

Socratease's Avatar Comment 29 by Socratease

An article from Slate on this topic is here: http://www.slate.com/id/2277787/

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 09:21:05 UTC | #579681

NealOKelly's Avatar Comment 30 by NealOKelly

Comment 28 by Valerie_

Obviously, the world is chock full of people who carry mutated genes, and unless a child is born with a disorder, we all pass them on to our kids without knowing it. But the disease outcome among children of non-relatives is rare. With relatives, it's common.

I don't think it's nearly as common as you think. Obviously, it's difficult to get detailed stats for this, but you can look at what happens with other animals. In any case, outbreeding is clearly an adaptive strategy, so I'm pretty sure the cases would be few and far between. Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly uneasy about this. I just don't think the public health argument is the strongest argument against this.

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 09:41:12 UTC | #579686