EugenicsKaren Aderer, University of Southern Mississippi
Why are ethics and values soimportant in our profession?
Definition of Eugenics• The science of using controlled, selective breeding to improve hereditary qualities of the human race• Eugenic theory encompassed both – Positive eugenics – encouraging repro of those genetically fit – Negative eugenics – aims to prevent those deemed physically, mentally or morally unfit to procreate • Generally by sterilization or segregation
• It is true that the right to beget children is a natural and constitutional right, but it is equally true that no citizen has any rights superior to the common welfare. Acting for the public good, the State, in the exercise of its police powers, may always impose reasonable restrictions upon the natural and constitutional rights of its citizens. Measured by its injurious effect upon society, what right has any citizen or class of citizens to beget children with an inherited tendency to crime, feeble-minded, idiocy or imbecility? This is the right for which Willie Smith is here contending….Under the existing circumstances it was not only its undoubted right, but it was its duty to enact some legislation that would protect the people and preserve the race from the known effects of the procreation of children by the feeble-minded, the idiots and the imbeciles (Smith v. Wayne Probate Judge, 1925)
Francis Galton• “Father” of Eugenics• English Scientist in late 1800’s• Chose Greek word “eugenes” meaning “noble birth”• Inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species• Believed biology responsible for not just physical characteristics but mental as well
Political and Social Climate• Britain – Mid to late 1800’s – Fear of education of the lower classes In Britain and US – late 1800’s – early 1900’s: High Birth Rate Fears of “overbreeding” of lower classes Problems of Poverty Interbreeding with Immigrants
The American Eugenics movement• Stemmed from Social Darwinism and Galton’s ideas• At height in the 1920’s• Many became convinced that traits like intelligence, sexual orientation and criminality were caused by bad blood
Widespread Acceptance of Eugenics• Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt• John Harvey Kellogg: – “I wish we had the power to do that very thing….it certainly would be a great deal better than to have the U.S. a great stock farm, breeding mongrels – which is what we are doing now”
Eugenics Movement• US Supreme Court ruled in favor of involuntary sterilization laws for inmates in mental instit in 1927• By 1941 – 33 states had laws pertaining to the handicapped, convicts and “degenerates”• Foreign born, African Americans and Mexicans all operated on at disproportionate rates• Impoverished women receiving public assistance were told they would have to undergo sterilization to continue to receive benefits
What does all this have to do with Social Work?
Fitter Family Contests• Example of positive Eugenics• Purpose: To encourage the fit to reproduce, raise racial consciousness, bring public awareness to the eugenics agenda and emphasize the value of marriage and the family• Took place in “human stock” sections of fair• Also “Better Babies” contests
Fitter Family Contests• Different Categories• Judged on physical, mental, moral traits• Examined by doctors, historians, social workers, dentists, etc.• Grades given to each member along with examination record• Copy sent to Eugenics Records Office
Negative Eugenics – Forced Sterilizations• Hoped to curtail problems of mental illness, crime, low IQ• US Supreme Court ruled in favor of for inmates in mental institutions (1927)• By 1941, 33 states had laws pertaining to handicapped, ‘feeble-minded’ convicts and ‘degenerates’
Stanford Binet IQ Test• Lewis Terman It is safe to predict that in the near future intelligence tests will bring tens of thousands of these high-grade defectives under the surveillance and protection of society. This will ultimately result in curtailing the reproduction of feeble-mindedness and in the elimination of an enormous amount of crime, pauperism and industrial inefficiency….Not all criminals are feeble-minded but all feeble-minded are at least potential criminals. That every feeble-minded woman is a potential prostitute would hardly be disputed by anyone….considering the tremendous cost of vice and crime it is evident that psychological testing has found here one of its richest applications. (Terman, 1916)
Sterilizations• California study (Popenoe) – Immigrants, African Americans and Mexicans all operated on disproportionately – Most in either working or lower middle class – Early 20’s and younger – Listed as: schizophrenia, epilepsy, mental deficiency, promiscuousness, masturbators, havin g child out of wedlock – Frequently tied to benefits
Nazis and Eugenics• Nazi Hereditary Health courts• Eugenic Sterilization Law – Compulsary sterilizations of all citizens with hereditary afflictions • Blindness, deafness, physical deformities • Rassen-hygiene led to genocide
Eugenics in America after Nazi Era• Eye-opening for Americans as to dangers of Eugenics• Dampening effect• Sterilization laws stayed on books in some states until 1979
Relevancy of Eugenics Today• Human Genome Mapping Project• Identify markers for congenital defects such as Down Syndrome and cystic fibrosis and future vulnerabilities (cancer, diabetes)• Identify markers for personality traits• Lazy monkeys / monogamous voles/homosexual mice• Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis – only wealthy can afford
Discrimination• C.R.A.C.K. (1999) – Monetary rewards for sterilization and long term birth control for crack addicts – African Americans disproportionately represented at 33.3% when only 12-13% of population – Based upon myth of “crack babies
• Paul Gray – Time Magazine – “Cursed by Eugenics” – “The rise and fall of the theory known as eugenics is in every respect a cautionary tale. The early eugenicists were usually well-meaning and progressive types. They had imbibed their Darwin and decided that the process of natural selection would improve if it were guided by human intelligence. They did not know they were shaping a rationale for atrocities.”
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