The Founding of the Eugenics Movement (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
With the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), the concept of evolution began to revolutionize the way people thought about the human condition. Herbert Spencer and other proponents of what came to be known as social Darwinism adhered to the belief that social class structure arose through natural selection, seeing class stratification in industrial societies, including the existence of a permanently poor underclass, as a reflection of the underlying, innate differences between classes.
During this era there was also a rush to legitimize all sciences by using careful measurement and quantification. There was a blind belief that attaching numbers to a study would ensure its objectivity.
Francis Galton, an aristocratic inventor, statistician, and cousin of Darwin, became one of the primary promoters of such quantification. Obsessed with mathematical analysis, Galton measured everything from physiology and reaction times to boredom, the efficacy of prayer, and the beauty of women. He was particularly interested in the differences between human races. Galton eventually founded the field of biometry by applying statistics to biological problems.
A hereditarian, Galton assumed that talent in humans was subject to the laws of heredity. Although Galton did not coin the term “eugenics” until 1883, he published the first...
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Early Eugenics in Britain (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Statistician and social theorist Karl Pearson was Galton’s disciple and first Galton Professor of Eugenics at the Galton Laboratory at the University of London. His Grammar of Science (1892) outlined his belief that eugenic management of society could prevent genetic deterioration and ensure the existence of intelligent rulers, in part by transferring resources from inferior races back into the society. According to philosopher David J. Depew and biochemist Bruce H. Weber, even attorney Thomas Henry Huxley, champion of Darwinism, balked at this “pruning” of the human garden by the administrators of eugenics. For the most part, though, British eugenicists focused on improving the superior rather than eliminating the inferior.
Another of Galton’s followers, comparative anatomist Walter Frank Weldon, like Galton before him, set out to measure all manner of things, showing that the distribution of many human traits formed a bell-shaped curve. In a study on crabs, he showed that natural selection can cause the mean of such a curve to shift, adding fuel to the eugenicists’ conviction that they could better the human race through artificial selection.
Population geneticist Ronald A. Fisher was Pearson’s successor as the Galton Professor of Eugenics. Fisher cofounded the Cambridge Eugenics Society and became close to Charles Darwin’s sons, Leonard and Horace Darwin. In a speech made to the...
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Early Eugenics in the United States (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
While Mendelians and statisticians were debating in Britain, in the United States, Harvard embryologist Charles Davenport and others embarked on a mission of meshing early genetics with the eugenics movement. In his effort, Davenport created the Laboratory for Experimental Evolution at Cold Springs Harbor, New York. The laboratory was closely linked to his Eugenics Record Office (ERO), which he established in 1910. Davenport raised much of the money for these facilities by appealing to wealthy American families who feared unrestricted immigration and race degeneration. Though their wealth depended on the availability of cheap labor guaranteed by immigration, these American aristocrats feared the cultural impact of a flood of “inferior immigrants.”
Unlike the British, U.S. eugenicists thought of selection as a purifying force and thus focused on how to stop the defective from reproducing. Davenport wrongly felt that Mendelian genetics supported eugenics by reinforcing the effects of inheritance over the environment. He launched a hunt to identify human defects and link specific genes (as yet poorly understood entities) to specific traits. His primary tool was the family pedigree chart. Unfortunately, these charts were usually based on highly subjective data, such as questionnaires given to schoolchildren to determine the comparative social traits of various races.
The Eugenics Research...
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Eugenics and the Progressive EraProgressive Era eugenics (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
During the Progressive Era, the eugenics movement became a common ground for such diverse groups as biologists, sociologists, psychologists, militarists, pacifists, socialists, communists, liberals, and conservatives. The progressive ideology, exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, sought the scientific management of all parts of society. Eugenics attracted the same crowd as preventive medicine, since both were seen as methods of harnessing science to reduce suffering and misfortune. For example, cereal entrepreneur John Harvey Kellogg founded the Race Betterment Foundation, mixing eugenics with hygiene, diet, and exercise. During this period, intellectuals of all stripes were attracted by the promise of “the improvement of the human race by better breeding.” The genetics research of this time focused on improving agriculture, and eugenics was seen as the logical counterpart to plant and animal husbandry.
Davenport did not hesitate to play on their sympathies by making wild claims about the inheritance of “nomadism,” “shiftlessness,” “love of the sea,” and other “traits” as if they were single Mendelian characteristics. Alcoholism, pauperism, prostitution, rebelliousness, criminality, feeblemindedness, chess expertise, and industrial sabotage were all claimed to be determined by one or two pairs of Mendelian genes. In particular, the progressives...
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The American Movement Spreads to Nazi GermanyNazi Germanyeugenics (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
The eugenics movement eventually led to grave consequences in Nazi Germany. Negative eugenics reached its peak there, with forced sterilization, euthanasia or “mercy killing,” experimentation, and ultimately genocide being used in the name of “racial hygiene.” Eugenicists in the United States and Germany formed close and direct alliances, especially after the Nazis came to power in 1933. The ERO’s Laughlin gave permission for his article “Eugenical Sterilization” to be reprinted in German in 1928. It soon became the basis of Nazi sterilization policy. Davenport even arranged for a group of German eugenicists to participate in the three hundredth anniversary of Harvard’s founding in 1936.
Inspired by the U.S. eugenics movement and spurred by economic hardship that followed World War I, the Nazi Physician’s League took a stand that those suffering from incurable disease caused useless waste of medications and, along with the crippled, the feebleminded, the elderly, and the chronic poor, posed an economic drain on society. Hereditary defects were considered to be the cause of such maladies, and these people were dubbed “lives not worth living.” In 1933, the German Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring made involuntary sterilization of such people, including the blind, deaf, epileptic, and poor, legal. The Nazis set up “eugenics courts”...
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The Demise of Eugenics (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
With the Great Depression in 1929, the U.S. eugenics movement lost much of its momentum. Geneticist and evolutionary biologist Sewall Wright, although himself a member of the American Eugenics Society, found fault with the genetics and the ideology of the movement: “Positive eugenics seems to require . . . the setting up of an ideal of society to aim at, and this is just what people do not agree on.” He also wrote several articles in the 1930’s challenging the assumptions of Fisher’s genetic atomism model. In a speech to the Eugenics Society in New York in 1932, Müller pointed out the economic disincentive for middle and upper classes to reproduce, epitomized by the failure of many eugenicists to have children. Galton himself died childless. This inverse relationship between fertility and social status, coupled with the apparent predatory nature of the upper class, seemed to doom eugenics to failure.
Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould claimed that the demise of the eugenics movement in the United States was more a matter of Adolf Hitler’s use of eugenic arguments for sterilization and racial purification than it was of advances in genetic knowledge. Once the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities became known, eugenicists distanced themselves from the movement. Depew and Weber have written that Catholic conservatives opposed to human intervention in reproduction and progressives, who began to abandon...
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Implications (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
The term “euphenics” is used to describe human genetic research that is aimed at improving the human condition, replacing the tainted term eugenics. Euphenics deals primarily with medical or genetic intervention that is designed to reduce the impact of defective genotypes on individuals (such as gene therapy for those with cystic fibrosis). However, in this age of increasing information about human genetics, it is necessary to keep in mind the important role played by environment and the malleability of human traits.
Allen argues that the eugenics movement may reappear (although probably under a different name) if economic problems again make it attractive to eliminate “unproductive” people. His hope is that a better understanding of genetics, combined with the lessons of Nazi Germany, will deter humans from ever again going down that path that journalist Jonathan Freedland calls “the foulest idea of the 20th century.”
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Further Reading (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Allen, Garland E. “Science Misapplied: The Eugenics Age Revisited.” Technology Review 99, no. 6(August/September, 1996): 22. Discusses the connection between the eugenics movement and periods of economic or social hardship.
Depew, David, and Bruce Weber. Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection. Boston: MIT Press, 1995. Discusses the relationship between eugenics and Darwinian evolution and the role played by statistics in the origin of this movement.
Duster, Troy. Backdoor to Eugenics. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2003. Updated edition of a book originally published in 1990. Considers the social and political implications—and the hazards—of contemporary genetic technologies.
Gillham, Nicholas Wright. A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. A biography of the founder of the eugenics movement.
Kevles, Daniel J. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995. Traces the history of eugenics, mainly in the United States and Britain, from the nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. Individuals such as Karl Pearson, C. B. Davenport, R. A. Fisher, and J. B. S. Haldane, who have been associated with eugenics in various ways, are discussed.
Kühl, Stefan. The...
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Web Sites of Interest (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org. Comprehensive and extensively illustrated site that covers the eugenics movement in the United States, including its scientific history and origins, research methods and flaws, and sterilization laws.
Future Generations. http://www.eugenics.net. Future Generations describes itself as a site “about humanitarian eugenics,” a movement which “strives to leave a genuine legacy of love to future generations,” and adds that most of its ideas are “politically incorrect.” The site provides articles on the case for eugenics, the “mismeasures” of Stephen Jay Gould, reviews of books, and other information in support of current eugenic theory.
National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature. http://bioethics.georgetown.edu/nrc. Users can search the center’s database and other online resources to retrieve bibliographies listing books, articles, and other sources of information about eugenics.
Race and Membership: The Eugenics Movement. http://www.facinghistorycampus.org/campus/rm.nsf. Facing History and Ourselves, an organization offering support to teachers and students in the areas of history and social studies, created this site that traces the history of the eugenics movement in the United States and Germany....
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Eugenics (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
The systematic attempt to increase desirable genetic traits and to decrease undesirable genetic traits in a population.
As Charles Darwin's ideas on evolutionary theory gained acceptance in the late 1800s, the public's faith in science as a source for social remedies increased in popularity, and scientists have looked for ways to "improve" humanity. British scientist Francis Galton introduced the ideas that led to a scientific approach to eugenics, including the concept of "positive eugenics" in which he encouraged the healthiest and most intelligent to marry one another and procreate. Although Galton's theories did not gain widespread acceptance in England, in the United States his ideas were interpreted in programs of "negative eugenics," designed to keep certain people from bearing children. Negative eugenics included such extreme measures as castration and sterilization as well as the institutionalization of people considered "defective" or "undesirable."
Racial, social, and moral issues were key factors in the American eugenics movement. Its victims included individuals diagnosed with mental retardation, psychiatric symptoms, epilepsy, or deafness, and people considered to be of low moral staturenwed mothers, thieves, and prostitutes, for such behaviors were thought to be genetically based. A...
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Eugenics (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Attempts to improve human beings and to understand human differences have often been seen in terms of a "nature verses nurture" debate. The history of eugenics is the history of the belief that nature is more important than nurture in this equation. This debate dates back at least to Plato's Republic. In that volume, Socrates maintained that human differences reflect human essences, that people's behaviors derive from the material of which they are made. As materials scale upward in metaphorical quality from iron and brass through silver to gold, so too do the qualities that make up individual persons. While one cannot know today whether this argument for human differences was accepted by ancient Athenians, it is clear that a form of this idea gained considerable popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as part of a worldwide eugenics movement.
The history of eugenics began in Britain with Sir Francis Galton (1822911), who coined the term "eugenic" meaning "wellborn," in 1883. Galton observed that the leaders of British society were far more likely to be related to each other than chance alone might allow, and he searched for reasons. While he might have concluded that the insular world of England's schools and business and political environment explained this phenomenon, he drew a very different conclusion. He explained adult leadership in terms of inherited qualities. It was the superior biological inheritance of members of the British ruling classes, he insisted, that determined their social position. To Galton, nature was far more important than nurture in human development, and by the 1860s he had popularized programs of human improvement through competitions for marriage partners, where only "best" would marry "best."
The late nineteenth century was a revolutionary period in biology, during which environmentalist interpretations of human improvement were rejected. The pre-Darwinian theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744829), who argued that the muscles of blacksmiths would be transmitted to their children as "acquired characters," were refuted by the research of August Weismann (1834914), who discovered that germ plasm was continuous from generation to generation and was unaffected by environmental change such as physical activity.
Perhaps of greatest significance in the development of the American eugenics movement was the popularization of the work of Gregor Mendel (1822884) after its rediscovery in 1900. Mendel, a Moravian abbott, had carefully bred peas in his garden and recorded the patterns of inheritance of their different traits for many generations. He discovered that he could control traits such as size, color, and texture, and could therefore predict the qualities of future generations with mathematical precision. These discoveries seemed to support the eugenicists' belief that a wide variety of complex moral, intellectual, and social traits in humans could also be easily explained by heredity. In addition to intelligence, hereditary traits were thought to include patriotism, shiftlessness, pauperism, boat building, and a tendency to wander.
For many early-twentieth-century intellectuals it seemed that heredity was of signal importance in predicting human performance and that it should play a key role in social policies and programs for human betterment. Anxious about their social status and changes in America's ethnic makeup, they saw eugenics as a way to legitimize racial and ethnic interpretations of differential human worth. Based upon this mix of scientific and pseudoscientific theories, they pursued a series of specific eugenic policies. In the 1920s, for example, they actively supported laws for state-sponsored sterilization and the restriction of immigration from southern and eastern Europe. School textbooks lauded the promise of eugenics, movies such as the Black Stork (1917) and Tomorrow's Children (1934) warned of eugenic decline, and Fitter Families contests offered medals to those of presumed eugenic excellence. Perhaps the most destructive of these policies was the adoption of a model American eugenic sterilization law by the National Socialist government in Germany, which contributed to policies that eventually led to the taking of more than 6 million lives in the Holocaust.
By the late 1920s, the implications of the work on chromosomal inheritance by Thomas Hunt Morgan and his students at Columbia University made it clear that human intelligence and morality were far too complex to be understood in simple Mendelian terms. Such efforts helped discredit eugenics as a scientific endeavor. Yet the belief in hereditary determinism has regularly returned to claim a place in public policy. It is of course true that conditions such as Huntington's disease and Down syndrome can be traced to inherited genetic or chromosomal abnormalities. But it is now the consensus of the majority of scientists who have studied the issue that complex human behavior is determined by multiple interacting factors.
While eugenics was indeed popular during the first half of the twentieth century, it was poor science and was eventually rejected. Discoveries from the Human Genome Project in the early twenty-first century will likely reveal much about human genetics and will surely lead to improvements in medical treatment. But just as people are not simply an expression of their biology, genes do not produce behavior. Genes produce enzymes, and enzymes control chemical processes. Many scientists believe that nature cannot be separated from nurture in the production of complex human behavior and that human traits are not to be improved solely through manipulating nature.
It might be said that there has been a return to eugenic ideas as represented in an increasing interest in in vitro fertilization, sperm banks of Nobel laureates (allegedly guaranteeing an intellectually superior fetus), and cloning. These twenty-first-century initiatives are different from earlier eugenic attempts. This is due, in part, to their medical purposes rather than their racial or nativist motivations. Yet, these initiatives should be subject to careful consideration from the public. The ethical issues raised by eugenics may be even more important in light of advances in human medical genetics. However, despite advances in science, it remains true that policies directed toward human improvement and social justice can best be achieved through political, educational, and ethical action.
(SEE ALSO: Biological Determinants; Environmental Determinants of Health; Genetics and Health; Medical Genetics)
Davenport, C. B. (1913). State Laws Limiting Marriage Selection in Light of Eugenics. Eugenics Record Office Bulletin No. 9. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Eugenics Record Office.
Galton, F. (1883). Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development. London: J. M. Dent and Sons.
Herrnstein, R. J., and Murray, C. (1994). The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Boston: The Free Press.
Kevles, D. (1985). In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Montagu, M. F. A. (1997). Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, 6th edition. London: Alta Mira Press.
Paul, D. (1995). Controlling Human Heredity: 1865 to the Present. New Jersey: Humanities Press.
Pernick, M. (1996). The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915. New York: Oxford University Press.
Selden, S. (1999). Inheriting Shame: The Story of Eugenics and Racism in America. New York: Teachers College Press.
Eugenics (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Eugenics is a science that aims to purify the gene pool, especially of humans, by controlling reproduction to assure the birth of offspring with desired traits. The roots of eugenics go back to ancient Greece, where Plato's Republic lauds procreation by the best parents. The term eugenics, derived from the Greek word eugenes (good in birth), was first used in 1883 by the British scientist Francis Galton. Advocates of eugenics sought to counter Charles Darwin's theory of natural evolution with human-controlled outcomes. American biologist Charles Benedict Davenport (1866944), founded the Eugenics Records Office at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, in 1910. Davenport's work there led some of the first research in human eugenics during the early 1900s.
Environmental eugenicists emphasized prenatal care and a clean environment to ensure "positive" eugenics. Negative eugenics reached its apex during the Nazi regime (1933945) in Germany, which sterilized and murdered the "racially unfit." By the late twentieth century, eugenics and the Holocaust were linked. Yet earlier, some states and the U.S. government mandated sterilization for persons with severe genetic disabilities, and immigration laws in 1924 sought to reduce the number of immigrants from areas considered less desirable, such as eastern and southern Europe. In the 1950s, and most dramatically since the 1980s, human genetics replaced eugenics as the accepted approach to planned reproduction. Genetic counseling and sophisticated screening for genetic or chromosomal diseases or disorders inform parents about reproductive options. Will labeling fetuses "defective" or "less desirable" reintroduce selection by abortion, voluntary sterilization, or birth control? Some feminists and liberal religious groups embrace freedom of reproductive choices, while persons with disabilities, Roman Catholics, and conservative Protestants fear that it will lead to a disregard of human life from conception forward.
With the completion in the year 2000 of the sequencing of the human genome, determining genetic anomalies or, some say, even the genetic roots of destructive social behavior will trigger the wide dissemination of genetic information. Confidentiality becomes crucial. Some fear that human hubris, like that exhibited by the mythic figures Prometheus or Pandora, will engineer the engineer as well as the engine along an unknown track. Eugenics merged with genetic engineering produces scientific triumphs, moral challenges, and fears about things like human germline alteration and dissemination of pathogenic bacteria. There are dangers in policies of noninterference (as plagues and epidemics testify) as well as in genetic enhancement in which the definition and social policies establishing the "fit" are externally, rather than individually, determined. The slippery slope argument suggests that once certain traits are screened (e.g., color blindness or skin color) they will be eliminated or altered. The challenge is to determine the difference between therapeutic and eugenic measures.
At heart, one's definition of moral dilemmas surrounding eugenics is affected by one's view of knowledge as neutral or value-laden. If "improving" the human condition is a laudable end that genetic engineering can achieve, then this knowledge is good. Some believe that obligations to future generations and exorbitant health care costs provide a moral mandate to screen and treat curable diseases. Is consideration of supremely compromised fetuses, profoundly disabled persons, or comatose elderly from the perspective of financial and social burdens a sign of a highly moral society or an irresponsible one? Hermann Muller, for one, argues that the gene pool is at risk without positive eugenics, while Gregory Pence argues in Classic Works in Medical Ethics that even with sperm and eggs from genetically "superior" fathers and mothers, predicting "perfect" children is uncertain at best.
See also ABORTION; BIOTECHNOLOGY; DARWIN, CHARLES; ETHNICITY; GENE PATENTING; GENETIC ENGINEERING; GENETICS; GENETIC TESTING; HUMAN GENOME PROJECT; PLATO; PLAYING GOD; REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGY; SOCIOBIOLOGY
"Genetics and Faith." The Park Ridge Center Bulletin 13 Jan/Feb (2000).
Kass, Leon R. "The New Biology: What Price Relieving Man's Estate?" Science 174 (1971): 77987.
Muller, Hermann J. "Genetic Progress by Voluntarily Conducted Germinal Choice." In Man and His Future, ed. Gordon Wolstenholme. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.
National Institutes of Health. Draft National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Research Involving Human Pluripotent Stem Cells. Bethesda, Md.: NIH, 1999.
Pence, Gregory E., ed. Classic Works in Medical Ethics: Core Philosophical Readings. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998.
Reich, Warren Thomas, ed. Encyclopedia of Bioethics, rev. edition. New York: Macmillan, 1995.
ABIGAIL RIAN EVANS
Eugenics (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
The term eugenics (from the Greek eugenes, meaning well-born) was coined by Englishman Francis Galton in 1883. Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, used Darwin's ideas of evolutionary fitness in the animal kingdom to forge a concept of selective breeding for humans. Proposing to produce superior citizenries, eugenics encompasses two interconnected philosophies: (1) restricting the reproduction capabilities of so-called undesirable segments of a population (negative eugenics); and (2) encouraging so-called desirable segments to reproduce (positive eugenics). At the turn of the twentieth century a eugenics movement gained widespread international support, particularly in Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. In 1895 German physician Alfred Ploetz created the related science of Rassenhygiene (racial hygiene), and in 1907 he founded the International Society for Racial Hygiene. That same year Indiana passed laws making it the first U.S. state to permit involuntary sterilization of individuals considered criminally insane or genetically inferior. By 1932 similar laws existed in twenty-seven other U.S. states. Other countries issued comparable legislation, including Denmark (1929), Sweden and Norway (1934), Finland (1935), and Estonia (1936).
In Germany eugenics underwent a transformation from scientific theory to state policy when the Nazis (National Socialists) assumed power in 1933. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared that all facets of German life were to be informed by a "eugenic way of thinking." Doctors and midwives became "guardians of the nation," responsible for ensuring proper racial health. The Office for Racial Policy disseminated printed materials that strove to indoctrinate the general public on the importance of marrying "correctly." A series of laws aimed at guaranteeing racial purity were introduced. The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (July 1933) allowed for the sterilization of individuals suffering from any of a cluster of hereditary disabilities, including feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, insanity, genetic epilepsy, Huntington's chorea, genetic blindness or deafness, and chronic alcoholism. The Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race (1935) were focused on "Aryanizing" German blood, redefining citizenship to exclude Jews, and preventing marriage or any sexual contact between Christians and Jews.
The Nazis did not restrict their eugenic agenda to preventing the birth of undesired offspring, but went a step further to formalize the killing of those deemed "lives unworthy of living," targeting first children and later adults with mental and/or physical disabilities. At the heart of this agenda was Operation T-4 (named after its Berlin headquarters, at Tiergartenstrasse 4), headed by Philip Bouhler and Karl Brandt. From December 1939 to August 1941, under the sponsorship of Operation T-4, some 70,000 psychiatric patients, asylum inmates, and concentration camp internees deemed nonproductive were transported to six killing institutions (Bernburg, Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim, and Sonnenstein), where they died, primarily by gas asphyxiation. Although offshoots of Operation T-4 continued to operate after August 1941, killing another estimated 130,000 people by 1945, many T-4 doctors had transferred to extermination camps, where they continued to help to actualize the Holocaust.
It was Nazi Germany's shift from an agenda of mass sterilization to one of mass killing and its efforts to annihilate the world's Jewish population (and the eventual reportage of these calamities) that brought an end to widespread social acceptance of eugenics as a means to create a better race. However, the collapse of the Third Reich did not mean the corresponding collapse of eugenic practices elsewhere. For example, it was not until 1972 that the western Canadian province of Alberta repealed its sterilization act, originally passed in 1928. In 1996 the National Film Board of Canada released a film, The Sterilization of Leilani Muir, that documented the history of the province's eugenic practices. The film tells the story of Muir, the first woman to win a wrongful sterilization suit against the province. In the 1990s other countries began recognizing and compensating victims of involuntary or coerced sterilization. In 1997 news stories revealed that, between 1936 and 1976, some 63,000 people in Sweden had undergone sterilization. Although most of these people had signed consent forms, the ten percent who had not were suddenly entitled to compensation. In 2002 the state of Virginia issued a formal apology to the approximately seven thousand victims of its eugenics program, which had operated until 1979, and erected a memorial to commemorate them.
Not all countries, however, have chosen to recognize the victims of or even suspend eugenic practices. In the 1970s and 1980s the government of Czechoslovakia sponsored a policy that strove to reduce the nation's Romani population through involuntary sterilization. The Czech successor state of Slovakia, formed in 1993, has sustained the sterilization practices. Still other countries promote programs that are reminiscent (to varying degrees) of earlier Nazi legislation. For example, in China, couples seeking to marry must undergo medical tests that screen for hereditary diseases and related conditions. Finally, for many countries, eugenics-related issues continue to hover at the periphery of national debate as new scientific and medical discoveries raise related moral and ethical questions: Should governments permit physician-assisted suicide with consent of the patient? Should parents be allowed to select the sex of their unborn child? How far should medical scientists pursue human cloning?
SEE ALSO Euthanasia; Films, Eugenics; Racism
Aly, Götz, Peter Choust, and Christian Pross (1994). Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene. Trans. Belinda Cooper. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "Coerced Sterilization of Romani Women in Slovakia." Available from .
Hesketh, Therese (2003). "Getting Married in China: Pass the Medical First." Available from http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/326/7383/277.
Kater, Michael H. (1989). Doctors under Hitler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Kühl, Stefan (1994). The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
People and Politics: The People behind the Process/Government of Canada Digital Collections. "Eugenics in Alberta." Available from .