HIGHLINE COLLEGE |Wed, Feb 26, 2020


Eugenics sought perfect people

By Caleb Ruppert - Staff Reporters



Picking the perfect person has been the priority for eugenicists for centuries, a Highline professor said recently.

In 400 B.C.E. Plato suggested that humans breed the best people from their society, one of the earliest examples of a suggestion by an elite for selective breeding, said Rhiannon Hillman, a Highline English professor, at last Wednesday's History Seminar.

During the mid-1800s, two scientists from Britain began developing theories about evolution and heredity.

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1854 and coined the concepts of evolution and survival of the fittest.

Gregor Mendel studied heredity in pea plants between 1856 and 1863 and created the concept of recessive and dominant traits.

In 1883, Darwin's half-cousin, Sir Fancis Galton, published his book, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development, in which he created the concept of eugenics.

In eugenics he combined Mendel's ideas of breeding for certain traits and Darwin's concept of survival of the fittest to create self-direction in human evolution.

Eugenics was a commonly accepted means of protecting society from the offspring of those deemed inferior or dangerous, Hillman said. Those in poverty, the mentally ill, epileptics, unwed mothers, and "anyone who needed charity were a burden on society," and often victims of eugenics laws and forced sterilization.

"American eugenicists had already visited Galton in England by early 1900 and had brought eugenics back to the U.S., mainly to their hub in New York at Cold Spring Harbor, which housed the Eugenic Record Office, or ERO," Hillman said.

"The ERO was funded by the Carnegie Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as other rich and famous donors."

Across the U.S., states began enacting laws against people defined as feeble-minded. They were put into homes and kept from breeding and often sterilized without consent, Hillman said.

Indiana passed the first eugenics sterilization law in 1907 and 2,500 people were sterilized in the first few years.

California passed sterilization laws in 1909, and over 70 years performed 20,000 re- corded sterilizations, one-third of sterilizations nationwide, she said.

Adolf Hitler sent scientists to California in the 1920s and developed much of Nazi Germany's eugenics policies on what they learned there, Hillman said.

"The rich, the elite, they ruled the country and were embroiled in the eugenics movement," she said.

In 1927 the Supreme Court decided in Buck v. Bell, written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which permitted compulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the mentally disabled. The case has never been over- turned.

"Eugenics is alive and well," Hillman said.

In California between 2006 and 2010, 150 female inmates were sterilized, she said. In Tennessee, in 2018, a judge offered shorter sentences for offenders who agreed to sterilization.

The use of eugenics applies to the modern technology of DNA editing as well, especially the DNA of unborn babies, or designer babies, Hillman said.

"As there are more designer babies, where does that leave the rest of us? Are we going to be equal?" Hillman asks. "We don't know what will happen in the long-term."

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