the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. Developed largely by Sir Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, eugenics was increasingly discredited as unscientific and racially biased during the 20th century, especially after the adoption of its doctrines by the Nazis in order to justify their treatment of Jews, disabled people, and other minority groups.’’ Definition from Oxford Languages
The eugenic movement had at heart the improvement of the genetic composition of the human race. The term Eugenics was used for the first time by the British scholar, Sir Francis Galton which means ‘well born’’. Galton was the cousin of the well known evolutionist, Charles Darwin. Upon reading Darwin’s book ‘On the Origins of Species’, where he explained that the populations evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection, Galton started wandering if this scientific theory applies for humans, as well as animals.
He considered that humans can contribute towards the their future by selectively breeding individuals that posses ‘ideal’ traits. Following his studies on the British upper class, he concluded that a higher status and position in the society was the result of a good genetic makeup.
Galton started studying the way in which the human intellectual, personality and moral traits tended to be shared and ran in the families. His basic argument was that talent and genius were traits that were hereditary in humans (although neither Galton, nor Darwin had a working model of this heredity). He stated that if artificial selection can be used in order to exaggerate traits in animals, one could gain similar results if such models were applied to humans.
Galton also believed that the less intelligent were more fertile than the more intelligent of his time. He did not propose any methods for selection, but believed that if people saw the importance of breeding, a solution will be found.
In 1908, in Memories of my life, Galton stated the official definition of eugenics:
“the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally”.
In Britain, the first to oppose this movement was the Catholic Church, as illustrated in the writings of Father Thomas John Gerrard:
‘’The truth is, that many of the proposals are opposed to the fundamental instincts and laws of human nature. The British and American peoples are very jealous of their liberty and very suspicious of any movement which seeks to curtail that liberty.’’
Although Galton’s ideas were not necessarily fruitful in the UK, the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act proposed the mass segregation of the “feeble minded” from the rest of society. Programmes for sterilisation have never been legalised, but a number of sterilisation procedures were taking place privately upon the mentally ill by clinicians in favour of the Eugenics teachings.
The Eugenics Movement took a sinister turn in the late nineteenth century when the idea was introduced to the United States of America. The Americans focused on stopping the transmission of the ‘undesirable’ traits from one generation to the next. US leaders, private citizens and corporations started funding the movement which led to the establishment of ERO ( Eugenics Records Office in 1911.
The ERO started tracking family histories and came to the conclusion that the individuals that were deemed to be unfit came from poor, low in social standing and immigrant families. They went as far as ‘demonstrating’ that these traits were results of a bad genetic makeup, and not lack of resources.
New committees were convened in order to come up with a solution for the growing number of ‘unfit’ individuals within the US population.
The solution for this issue was found when they put together a plan to sterilize the individuals that were carrying the undesirable traits.
It is believed that approximately 65.000 Americans were sterilised during this time period!
In the early twentieth century, 33 states had sterilisation programs in place. In the beginning, they only sterilised individuals suffering from severe mental problems, but that soon changed and blindness, deafness, promiscuity, feeble-mindedness, criminality, chronic poverty and alcoholism became threats to the future of human kind. It went so far to sterilize African American women during medical procedures without their consent.
Nazi Germany under Hitler was well known for its eugenic programmes, in which they attempted to maintain a “pure” Aryan race through a series of procedures. The Nazis performed extensive experimentation on living human beings in order to test their genetic theories. From the measurement of physical features, to research using ‘human material’ gathered by the ‘Angel of death’, Doctor Mengele. Mengele performed experimentation on twins and on many others in the death camps. Between the 1930 and 1940’s, the Nazis performed forced sterilisation on hundreds of thousands of individuals whom were considered mentally ill, racially inferior, etc.
The Nazis sterilised an estimate of 400.000 individuals between 1934–1937.
They went further and murdered millions of institutionalised disabled people through compulsory ‘euthanasia’ programmes, such as Aktion T4. They also used gas chambers and lethal injections in order to ‘clean’ the society of its undesirable population.
The movement had further moved to Canada, Korea, Brazil, Japan, and many other countries where it caused the death, forced sterilisation and imprisonment of tens of thousands of what they considered to be feeble-minded and disabled people.
After the end of the WWII, due to the Nazi abuses, the Eugenics Movement became universally reviled in many of the countries that were once supporters of the Eugenic ideas. However, many eugenics programmes, such as sterilisation, continued quietly for decades. The pre-war Eugenics decided to take their beliefs ‘underground’ and engaged in what they called ‘crypto- eugenics’’. They became respected biologists, anthropologists and geneticists in the post-war years.
In 1957, Britain’s Eugenic Society gathered in order to discuss the future of the movement. They decided that the society should adopt eugenic views by less obvious means, based on the already successful crypto-eugenics policy in the USA. In the 1960’s, they got involved with the Family Planning Association and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Based on this horrific movement, Hollywood released the 2018 American Experience: The Eugenics Crusade movie that illustrates the atrocities that were caused by the ‘superior race’. Moreover, multiple books regarding the subject, such as, ‘War against the weak’ by Edwin Black, ‘Eugenic Nation’ by Alexandra Minna Stern and multiple others were published.
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