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Eugenics Essay, Research Paper
Since the end of the 19th century, eugenics has had a significant role in the development of Western society. There have been laws established by its presence and a war fought to cease its progress. To analyze the philosophy of and the actions due to eugenics, one must look at the past and see what contributions eugenics has made to events in history. One must also look at the present applications of eugenics and how they affect the lives of people. With these two directions, one can see that because it is racist, encourages immoral actions and is biologically unsound, eugenics is iniquitous and should be abolished from modern medical and political thought.
In 1883, Sir Francis Galton developed a so called science that dealt with the manner in which the human population could be improved. Galton thought that a pure race would make all population problems on earth obsolete and therefore contribute to an increased longevity of the human race. He called it the science of “eugenics”, a word derived from the Greek eugenes, meaning “well born”. He published the aspects of his new science in his book Hereditary Genius in 1869, establishing the roots and importance of his theories.
Galton had admired how horticulturists tried to improve the plant system by encouraging reproduction between the strongest species. He decided that this could be done with humans in the same way.
Galton once wrote that the point of eugenics was to “give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable” (Chase, p.13). Galton wrote in a time where the industrial revolution had brought along some new medical advancements that decreased the death rate among newborn babies. These new technologies however were only given to the upper classes at first. As a result, the upper classes had a lower birth-rate as they were more confident in keeping their children alive. This scared Galton, seeing this change as a threat to humanity as he believed that it meant there would be more lower class citizens in the future, thus decreasing the average level of society.
These ideas came from the fact that he believed the old theories that the poor received infectious diseases, were illiterate and generally uneducated because it was this way in their blood. He also looked at the most important people in society such as judges, politicians and scientists and decided that they were all biologically alike. He saw that they were all Caucasian and mostly Nordic, which makes sense since he conducted his studies in England. It then logically follows that he believed that the social pyramid was and should be dominated by Caucasians, at the top of which reigned the Nordics.
Galton thus encouraged reproduction among upper class citizens to eugenically encourage this hereditarily superior “race” to fend off the increasing number of inferior, poorer breeds. He not only concentrated on economic factors when dividing the people but on racial factors as well.
Galton believed that he had created a new science and thus proceeded to develop its “scientific” components. He created a scale from A to X, X being the highest and A the lowest, grading different aspects of human beings. It was also based on rarity; an individual in the V-class appeared every 300 births and was therefore assured a successful life while an individual in the C-class appeared every 16 births, placing him in the ranks of the common folk. There was a different system however for the Negroes. Galton once said, “classes E and F of the Negro may roughly be considered as the equivalent of our C and D-a result which again points to the conclusion that the average intellectual standard of the Negro race is some two grades below our own”(Galton, P.327). He also said that, “the Jews are specialized for parasitical existence upon other nations”, showing that his science was to be partially derived from personal, self-admiring beliefs.
Galton’s theories were accepted by many high-profile people in most industrial countries but the type of eugenics practiced was slightly different and over time became entirely different philosophies.
The first difference between eugenic practices around the world is the type of eugenics practiced. There are two types: positive eugenics and negative eugenics. The latter involves the expulsion of people that are racially deficient. Many such techniques have been practiced in history. Positive eugenics improves humans by encouraging the reproduction of fit humans or by genetically improving a person. Unfortunately, although positive eugenics is regarded as a better technique, it tends to bring on negative eugenics, which causes many problems. It seems as though one cannot be present without the other. In history, this happened in some of the most respected countries.
Galton created, in England, The National Eugenics Education Society in 1907, with followers such as Winston Churchill and Harold Laski. In Canada, a group called the Eugenics Society of Canada was put together in 1930, and in the United States, many different divisions of the Galton Society came together in 1923. They formed the American Eugenics Society. It is here and in Nazi Germany that the most interesting events took place; where the eugenics movement became almost synonymous to a religious faith.
In the United States, a Eugenics society was not needed in order for people to believe in it. Ten years before the Eugenics Society was created, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “it is obvious that if in the future racial qualities are to be improved, the improving must be wrought mainly by favoring the fecundity of the worthy types”(Chase, p.15). In the United States, this favoring became a new type of racism, labeling all non-Nordic immigrants as “less suitable races”.
There had also been many laws established, allowing the sterilization of deviants and deficients. The first such law was created in Indiana in 1907, followed by 27 other States in the next 30 years. These laws gave the permission to the individual States to forcefully sterilize all “confirmed criminals, idiots, rapists and imbeciles” By 1964, 63, 678 forced sterilizations had been performed under sterilization laws in 28 American States.
In order for the purification of the American population to occur, it had to be determined who were the intelligent races and who were the “idiots”. As a result, a group of psychologists introduced the idea of testing, using IQ tests, the intelligence of all army recruits during the First World War. Carl Brigham, a member of this group, then published his book, A Study of American Intelligence, showing that the Nordic Races were indeed more intelligent than the other races. He concluded that the average mental age of White individuals was 13 years and that of Black individuals was 10 years. It was then accepted by the American public that the Blacks were the unclean race and the whites were the honorable race. Galton’s theories were therefore proven by these tests and were doubtlessly accepted by many psychologists, not only by the na?ve public.
When Calvin Coolidge became President in 1924, he signed the Immigration Restriction Act, which limited, in percentage, the entrance of immigrants according to the American Census of 1890. He tried to, “Keep America American”, as he stated when he was the vice-president.
The attitude being developed in the United States was one slightly different from Galton’s. It was concerned with the invasion of the country by inferior races rather than Galton’s idea of the upper class being threatened by “pauperism”. However, eugenics in Germany also took on a new look compared to Galton’s theories. In fact, when the nazi party came into power in 1933, they exercised eugenic ideas to the point of causing the Second World War. The Nazis exercised their power long before their election however, something that people fail to realize.
The man in charge of the purification of the German race was Heinrich Himmler, the Reichf?hrer SS as of 1929. He had a fleet of 300 men who would be responsible for purifying the German race. Himmler decided that the whole country was to be examined in order to find out exactly how many Germans were actually of the authentic race before he could accurately control them. Hans G?nther decided that this race of heroes had the following characteristics: “Tall, long head, narrow face, well-defined chin, narrow nose with very high root, soft fair hair, receding light eyes, and pink white skin colour”(Hillel, p. 24). Himmler was thus searching for descendants of the tribes of Denmark, on which he was to base his ideal race, the Teutonic race. The SS army was also to be comprised of only such Teutonic specimens.
In late 1931, the RuSHA (Head Office for Race and Settlement) was created, which was to be responsible for the eugenic movement during the Third Reich. Its initial role was that of a propaganda machine. Slogans were posted up on walls, warning of mixing Aryan and inferior blood. Much like the American ideas, Nazi leaders thought that the degradation of the German race was due to the incorporation of mostly Jewish blood into it. This led to the publication of the Nuremberg laws in 1935 that forbade “marriage, and sexual relations between Jews and citizens of German blood”(Hillel, p. 28).
The RuSHA also encouraged a breeding program developed by Dr. Wilhelm Schallmayer. It was composed of eight main points that basically encouraged Aryan women to have many children and to do nothing else. Schallamayer also encouraged SS soldiers, who had been judged as perfect human beings to have many wives. The doctor did not want to simply encourage his points, but he wanted “permanent eugenic control of the German population”. This doctor became a driving force in the creation of the concentration camps as well as the Lebensborns.
In 1935, the Lebensborn Registered Society came into existence. Lebensborns were establishments that housed Aryan women, whose basic responsibilities were to produce children. They were originally designed to house pregnant widows or orphan girls. Women thus flocked to them as they were thought to give great services. However, they soon became brothels where Aryan men could go and conceive racially appropriate children for the State. They often married the women but breeding was the emphasis since according to Himmler, the Lebensborns’ founder, “a marriage without many children is no more than an affair” (Hillel, p. 48). Not any woman could be taken in to a Lebensborn however. She had to be young, attractive, slim and of course, Aryan. For this reason, 50 percent of the pregnant women who applied to Lebensborns were rejected.
As the number of Lebensborns grew, they were officially taken over by the SS in 1936. The Nazi party thus had complete power over them. The SS soldiers would find Jewish run orphanages, take them over, sending the Jews to concentration camps and killing those who would not readily go. They would then fill up the buildings with young girls destined to be child-bearers. Soon, Aryan girls were being kidnapped from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other Northern European countries. In fact, 100 000 girls were taken from Poland alone. Truly harsh deeds were done to them. For example, they were given drugs in order to achieve puberty earlier. This would make them capable of having more children. Also, racially inadequate children, perhaps conceived by non-Aryan men, would be sent off to be tossed on flaming heaps of garbage in the Nazi concentration camps.
These concentration camps were perhaps the most brutal and most notorious acts of the Nazi party that involved eugenic ideas. The Lebensborns were responsible for the reproduction of racially adequate Germans and the concentration camps were responsible for the extermination of the racially inferior. Many people were gassed, shot and even buried alive. By 1945, there had been 6 million Jews and approximately 2 million non-Jews killed in concentration camps. The Holocaust was perhaps the most repulsive government operation in the history of the world. Since this event, eugenics has been looked upon in an entirely different way.
As seen, Eugenics has been quite a driving force in the history of modern civilization. Such events in the United States and Europe are still shocking and disgusting, even to people who have been hearing about them for many years. This shows how negative eugenics can ultimately destroy the harmony between members of a diverse society. Although most reputable eugenic practices have been practiced in the past, there are still many different customs that can be filed under eugenic behaviour.
The new type of eugenics involves much more science. The increased knowledge in the field of genetics and heredity has made it possible to accurately predict the medical future of a child before it is born or even fertilized. In this way, a doctor can see that a child will have a genetic disorder and can prepare the parents for the child’s birth. The general term for these practices is genetic counseling. This is an umbrella term which includes in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling.
In vitro fertilization and artificial insemination are techniques that were originally created in order to overcome infertility among couples. In vitro fertilization involves fertilizing an egg outside a woman’s body and later inserting it into the uterus. Artificial insemination involves placing sperm inside a female in order to fertilize an egg. Due to eugenic ideals, these techniques have become a way of producing racially or intellectually superior children. For example, Hermann J. Muller, an American Nobel-prize winning biologist suggested that a few outstanding males could be used for breeding with many women. This would create many strong, beautiful and intelligent children. This led to Robert K. Graham’s suggestion to keep Nobel-prize winners’ sperm frozen in sperm banks such as his 1971 Hermann J. Muller Repository for Germinal Choice, dedicated to his mentor.
Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are surgical procedures that help determine if a f?tus will be healthy after birth. Amniocentesis consists of extracting some of the amniotic fluid using a needle. The liquid contains some shed cells from the f?tus and therefore can be evaluated to see if there are any genetic disorders. Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is essentially the same thing but instead of extracting liquid, a piece of the membrane surrounding the f?tus is removed and evaluated. Another difference is that amniocentesis can only be performed five months into the pregnancy whereas CVS can be used only 9 weeks after fertilization. Amniocentesis and CVS have also become eugenic procedures as the main concern of doctors is if the parents should have the baby. Most genetically unfit f?tuses end up being aborted. Therefore, the unfit are rejected which is a characteristic of eugenics.
Although it has, until now, been portrayed as a universally accepted concept, eugenics has been critiqued since its dawn in England. For example, scientists have rejected it because of its unscientific practices and pro-life advocates rejected its use of abortion. Even though these groups have slightly different perspectives on the issue, one can see that they all have the same basic concern. They want eugenics, as it has been practiced until now, to be abolished.
Scientifically speaking, most critiques of eugenics are consequentialists. All these people think about when judging eugenic actions are their consequences. The main scientific objection to eugenics is the fact that human crossbreeding is a great contributor to genetic variation. By having many different types of genes, a human can more easily adapt to its environment. However, if a pure race is produced, many of the genes responsible for effective adadtation may disappear from the human gene pool. In this way, in the future, humans could not adapt to an increased global temperature, for example, and the population could be severely depleted. Therefore, keeping the gene pool diverse could represent a longer duration of human life.
Similarly, there is a belief that genes that are harmful in the homozygous (double dose) state, they may be helpful in the heterozygous (single dose) state. Therefore, removing these genes from humanity by sterilizing or killing all carriers may be harmful to other people who could benefit from the heterozygous state of the gene. Before scientists can begin to eliminate certain genes, they must know exactly what role each gene plays in an individual. It is perhaps possible to obtain this information, but humanity is very far from achieving this type of knowledge. Therefore, scientists should let nature take its course as people have done for millions of years.
There is also a concern that gene mutations can be eliminated in other ways instead of eliminating the genes themselves. For example, it has been discovered that radiation is a great contributor to gene mutations. North Americans might think that this only applies to victims of Hiroshima but in fact, X rays such as those in all North American hospitals and doctors’ offices, have much greater mutative effects on a population gene pool than that of Hiroshima. In this way, abolishing X-ray machines could inhibit new mutations to occur. Thus, eugenic practices would be unnecessary.
The Catholic Church also rejects most eugenic practices. John-Paul II once wrote that “No biologist or doctor can reasonably claim, by virtue of his scientific competence, to be able to decide on people’s origin and destiny”(John Paul II, p.14). In essence, this is what eugenicists do. They judge who should live and who should die. The Pope also wrote that “no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being”(John Paul II, p. 16). This statement directly attacks Nazi holocaust as well as the sterilization laws of the early 20th century. By sterilizing a person, one is essentially destroying the lives of future children. As stated earlier, no doctor can decide if these children should be born or not, therefore eugenic sterilization is essentially wrong. These opinions are rooted deeply in the Catholic Faith as it is believed that all humans are the temples of God and that they are created in his image. The body as it is in nature thus must be the standard of biological good. In this way, any genetic tampering or physical harm inflicted on the body is actually interfering with what God wants for human beings. Therefore, Catholics believe that eugenics is iniquitous.
Catholics also have a strong opinion on natural human rights. For example, the Charter of the Rights of the Family, published by the Holy See, states that, “Human life must be absolutely respected and protected from the moment of conception”(Holy See, 4). This statement places a delicacy upon the modern eugenic practices such as amniocentesis and artificial insemination. These customs could be regarded as sinful by the above statement as it is interference with the natural birth process devised by God. However, therapeutic interventions such as the ones mentioned are not completely wrong, according to Pope John Paul II. He stated in 1983, at the 35th General Assembly of the World Medical Association that,
“A strictly therapeutic intervention whose explicit objective is the healing of various maladies such as those stemming from chromosomal defects will, in principle, be considered desirable, provided it is directed to the true promotion of the personal well-being of the individual without doing harm to his integrity or worsening his conditions of life. Such an intervention would indeed fall within the logic of the Christian moral tradition.”
(John Paul II, p. 22)
The problem though is the fact that the eugenic use of therapeutic intervention usually leads to abortion. Therefore, the Catholic Church disapproves of eugenics, and its use of intervention on f?tuses.
As seen, the eugenic movement is completely opposed to the beliefs encouraged by the Catholic Church. Some people would say that the Church is exaggerating its conservative values, which tends to be a common comment these days, but when one truly thinks about what the Church is opposing, one can see that its objections are well conceived. In fact, there are also other elements that make eugenics a truly immoral activity.
Perhaps the foremost problem with eugenics is the fact that the people in charge of the projects decide the fate of others. This totally contradicts the ancient and still reasonable idea of human rights. By these rights, an individual is allowed to make his own choices that determine the fate of himself and his family. In a eugenic system, the whole population is considered a whole body. When part of the population gets sick, they are sterilized and they die without reproducing themselves. This is like cutting off a baby finger when it is diseased; it does not hurt the whole body . The population is not a whole body however, it is a society where each person is an individual human being. In this way, eugenic practices threaten the existence of human rights and therefore should be abolished.
Eugenics is also a very useful science for powerful villains. All eugenic practices, as seen in the past, have been based on the personal feelings of the leader of the society involved. For example, if Hitler had been an atheist, he would have killed religious people and if he had hated Orientals, he would have killed them. Eugenics seems to be an easy way for powerful people to act against their enemies. This is wrong since no person has the right to expose another person to suffering or death simply because of who they are. This is truly prejudiced and without a doubt immoral. Unfortunately, some people disregard this natural right.
Racism is a big part of eugenics as well as eugenicists determine that a certain group is more fit to live than another. This means that some individuals are more important than others. Since God created all humans equal, then it is outright impossible for a person to be inferior to another. Therefore racism is iniquitous and should not be a part of eugenics. However, it is difficult to have eugenics without racism. If a perfect race was discovered, the unforgettable fact is that no sane person would accept his own to be inferior. Even if it was proven by legitimate tests, that person would do anything to avoid suffering, which, for the racially unfit, is the ultimate end of eugenic practices. As a result, whoever is the authority of the research tests will ultimately choose another race to be eliminated. Therefore, there is extreme racism when eugenics comes into people’s heads.
Biologically and ecologically speaking, eugenics is a very uncertain practice. Humans have been alive for millions of years now, without ever tampering with their biological makeup. They simply let nature do its job. Now, by looking at everything that humans have developed, one can then see that letting evolution function by itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is probably the wisest thing to do. Scientists tend to think that they know all the consequences of eugenic practices but actually, this is impossible. The human being and its society are too complex for people to know the effect of every minute change. A small variation in the gene pool could cause some major problems. Therefore, humans should simply let nature do its job in preserving the life of humans, just as it has for millions of years. Who knows, scientists might be lowering the survival rate of humanity by tampering with its natural biological processes.
As seen, because eugenics is biologically unsound, encourages racial inequality and includes immoral actions, eugenics is iniquitous and should no longer be performed. If eugenics ever became a driving force in society, there would be racial, biological and moral disputes everywhere. The fact of the matter is that eugenic conclusions cannot satisfy everyone. There must be a triumphant party as well as a failing one. Naturally, the failing group would not give up its fight and larger disputes would arise. Ultimately, this could lead to World War III, and, considering the presence of nuclear weapons, the destruction of the world. In this way, the science concerned with the amelioration the condition of humanity would ultimately be responsible for its destruction.
Chase, Allan The Legacy of Malthus: the Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism New York: The Random House, 1976.
“Eugenics” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1st Edition (1967), Volume V, pp. 627-629.
Garrigan, Owen Man’s Intervention in Nature New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967.
Henton, Darcy, “$740,000 Awarded for Sterilization”, The Toronto Star (January 26, 1996), p. A 2.
Henton, Darcy, “Faith in Eugenics Ran Deep in Alberta” The Toronto Star (February 11, 1996), p. F 1.
Hillel, Marc Of Pure Blood New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976.
Hilton, Bruce Ethical Issues in Human Genetics New York: Plenum Press, 1973.
Hillel, Marc Of Pure Blood New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976.
John Paul II Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and the Dignity of Procreation Sherbrooke: Les ?ditions Paulines, 1987.
Kevles, Daniel J. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Use of Human Heredity Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.
McLaren, Angus Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945 Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1990.
Packard, Vance Oakley The People Shapers Boston: Brown Little, 1977.
Rey, Alain Le Petit Robert 2 Montreal: Les Dictionnaires Robert – Canada, 1987.
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