Eugenics was the widespread science and a related political crusade for states to control reproduction. It elicited criticism for being associated with the Nazi Holocaust and racist policies and involuntary sterilization in the US. At the time when it was conceived, it was an authentic science, but presently it haunts any kind of discourse around control of heredity and fertility. The main mission of American Eugenics Society was not just segregation, but an ethnic cleansing and the creation of a race that would be pure, strong and unblemished by the blood of people considered lesser on the basis of their disability or race (Stern, 2005). This implied that there would be involuntary sterilization for people considered unfit to have families, including those with difficulties in learning or those in institutions, and a ban on interracial marriages.
Regulation of reproduction by the state goes a long way back in theory and practice as it appeared in some political works since Plato’s era, where the ruler made the decision on the number of children a citizen could have. This account was time and again cited at the time when eugenics was at its peak. State hospital systems, social welfare programs, and public health were at the start of their development during the nineteenth century. Among the technological and social upheavals at the end of the century was a progressively strong movement to uphold public health through controls set up by the government. Consequently, there was rife support in the US for policies that were considered liberal. From this point of view, efforts seeking to promote future quality of population and health through the encouragement of increased good traits while striving to restrict the replication of poor traits appeared acceptable.
Widespread movements all over Europe and the US created the first public welfare systems and inspired sustained popular concerns about evolution. Commonly held beliefs concerning the inherited characteristics of poverty and other negative physiognomies resulted in fear that the new social processes would affect natural selection in the competitive world. These arguments concerning the well-being and its impact on the population continue to elicit concern among populations in the US and other areas (Largent, 2011). As a consequence of general acceptance, along with its usefulness in justification of a variety of policies, eugenic science was accepted by a broad range of personalities who would otherwise have had different opinions on the issue. The eugenic policy was supported by the League of Women Voters, the Ku Klux Klan, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt among others.
When Germany was starting its eugenics program, the same program was already being carried in the US. Even though the number of people who were sterilized by state governments in the US was lower, US programs were employed as models by the Germans. The eugenics movement in the US kept records and made publications that were critical communication tools and were perceived to be genuine scientific journals. By 1930s, about thirty states had already enacted legislation that made sterilization compulsory and more than sixty thousand people had undergone the procedure.
In 1937, about sixty percent of the population in the US was in support of such a program, with only fifteen percent of the remainder strongly opposing it. In discourse about sterilization, the increasing number of residents and institutions was a common concern. Sterilization was considered as a kind and economical remedy for issues such as heavy drinking in comparison to spending life in prison. Such programs continued to heavily influence the advancement of outpatient treatment for people who have a mental illness until later in the 1970s.
Involuntary and coerced sterilization were practices that were conspicuously linked to the American Eugenics movement. Even though there far much greater incidences of Nazi doctors carrying out these procedures, the Holocaust overshadows the associated actions and makes the project lose its effect. However, the same procedure continues to be shocking in the US. Majority of those sterilized were confined to mental institutions, and the procedure was conducted without their consent. Of these, some were temporary or voluntary patients. This makes it challenging to ascertain the number of sterilizations conducted and ratify the fraction of those who were forced. Some people sought sterilization on their own free will as a means of family planning, while others considered it a means of escaping institutionalization. However, others were hoodwinked or forced. Contemporary documents indicate that a number of institutions lied to patients who were marked for sterilization that they were being given appendectomies. Consequently, high numbers of these procedures were recorded in these institutions., one case of coerced or forced surgery would seem outrageous. However, these procedures were legitimately mandated in some states for almost half a century. Since those with higher likelihoods of being sterilized were mentally ill patients and the poor, there is a possibility that the actual number of people who were sterilized will never be known.
The final eugenics laws were passed at the begin of the seventies, a few years after forced sterilizations in the US after which news and media sources reported that genetic causes of moral and mental defects had greatly decreased (Largent, 2011). In the last three decades, popular awareness in genetics has been on the rise, which has created a significant rebirth of reference to genetic foundations of traits. Currently, the prolonged interest and research into eugenics is a consequence of its association to issues that seek to understand nature and nurture and the manner in which society should decide and respond to unwanted traits of people. These two issues are interconnected in that a learned characteristic can be forgotten. However, biological characteristics have been presumed inherent and unalterable, resulting in various forms of reactions from the law and society.
Currently, key sources of news and media outlets keenly publish front page news on novel scientific findings founded on a broad interest in biological and genetic characters including genes that may cause homosexuality or those that make someone become an alcoholic passed from a parent to the child. Nevertheless, very few have been able to place negative assessments and amendments of these findings to perspective when they are discredited. Accounts of genes that lead to breast cancer and published without discussion of any links to measures that can be taken as reactions to such discoveries or their association with the questioned science of eugenics are prevalent.
These revelations are a clear demonstration that even in the current age of awareness of wrongs and bioethics of medical experiments, humans are not immune from the circumstances that resulted in forced sterilization during the twentieth century. These include prejudiced doctors, assumptions that particular members of society are not suitable to reproduce and lack of oversight in institutions among others. The history of eugenics in the US undoubtedly contain critical lessons for the present while harshly reminding populations and administrations that they should always remember the past.
- Largent, M. (2011). Breeding contempt. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
- Stern, A. (2005). Eugenic nation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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