Eugenics: An Excuse To Be A Racist Or A Means To A Better Tomorrow?

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Eugenics: An Excuse to be a Racist or a Means to a Better Tomorrow?

The term eugenics was coined in the late 19th century. Its goal was to apply the breeding practices and techniques used in plants and animals to human reproduction. Francis Galton stated in his Essays in Eugenics that he wished to influence "the useful classes" in society to put more of their DNA in the gene pool. The goal was to collect records of families who were successful by virtue of having three or more adult male children who have gain superior positions to their peers. His view on eugenics can best be summarized by the following passage:
What nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly. As it lies within his power, so it becomes his duty to work in that direction.

They sought to establish this by discouraging marriages that were unfavorable in terms of eugenics by attaching to them the stigmas associated with marriage between cousins.
     Margaret Sanger, the pioneer of the movement for birth control, came from a family that would have been viewed by Galton to be unsuitable for reproduction according to eugenics. She was the sixth of eleven children born into her poor Irish family. She felt that women's reproductive freedom was essential. She coined the term voluntary motherhood and opened the first birth control clinic in the country in Brooklyn in 1916. Like many others who supported the birth control movement, she also supported the idea of eugenics trusting that the "human race could be improved through 'controlled breeding'." Sanger felt that all the problems of society were centered around uncontrolled breeding. She decided that women had the right to know about methods of contraception and about the workings of their own bodies. Her views are best summarized by her statement regarding women's reproductive freedom:
The basic freedom of the world is woman's freedom . . .. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."

Angela Davis felt that birth control was not only advantageous to minority and lower-class women, but to women of "all classes and races." She did not however think that fewer children would help the plight of the human race and "could create more jobs, higher wages, better schools, etc., etc." She felt that if women were not troubled by several childbirths and miscarriages that they could pursue other avenues of life outside of the constraints of marriage and motherhood.

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She also noted that in the early stages of the birth control movement, racist and classist undertones of eugenics almost destroyed the movement. Davis cited that eugenics were still influencing the birth control issue because women of other races and lower classes were being encouraged to not have any children at all, while women who were enjoying economic prosperity were being urged to keep reproducing.
     In Dorothy Roberts's Killing the Black Body she quoted Angela Davis, "What was demanded as a 'right' for the privileged came to be interpreted as a 'duty for the poor." As well as Davis, Roberts noted that in the past 50 years those who were thought to be "unfit" to reproduce were forcibly sterilized in this country. Roberts emphasizes the dangers such as these that eugenics presents. Roberts further illustrates this form of bigotry by noting the fact that 24 states plus the District of Columbia had established laws forbidding the marriages of people who were thought to be genetically defective as recently as 1913. She also noted that the Nazis modeled their sterilization law after one enacted in California. Roberts continues to tell of girls and women who were sterilized because of sexual promiscuity or because of giving birth out of wedlock. The trend of eugenics continued in the 1940's when at the start of that decade thirty states had passes laws banning interracial marriages.
     Roberts also examined Margaret Sanger's eugenicist stand on birth control as being one of political as well as social motivation. If Sanger could prove that birth control was in the best interests of the nation, then she would be able to advance her campaign. Eugenicists supported Sanger's birth control clinics because they also served the purpose of helping lower the birthrates of ethnic groups who were viewed as a threat to the nation. Roberts also notes that blacks were suspicious of white run birth control clinics and had actually already been practicing methods of birth control before the birth control movement had even started. The fact that they were weary of birth control is not surprising considering the fact that for several years the sterilization of blacks without their consent by whites had been happening at an alarming rate. Roberts presents a thorough view of the grim and gruesomely linked history of birth control and eugenics.
I feel that there are both good and bad aspects of eugenics, but mostly bad. I think that screening fetuses for such things as Tay Sach's, Downs Syndrome, and Spinobifoda with the intention of eliminating these diseases is good. Testing people for such things as baldness, obesity, height, or other purely physical qualities and attempting to eliminate these traits from the human race is deplorable. I also feel that attempting to keep certain sects of the population from reproducing based upon race is immoral.
I would like to see the knowledge that we are supposed gain from the HGP used to better the lives of people and hopefully eliminate certain defects. I think that the only way this could back fire is if people started using this information in an evil way. I don't want to see people start to engineer all their male children to be built like Michael Jordan and all their females Cindy Crawford. Also, I don't that that it is fair for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone based upon their genetics.
     Lastly, I would like to say that I am a firm believer that people are products of their environments. If someone grows up to be a degenerate member of society, it is not due to the fact that they have a genetic predisposition to it based upon their race or socioeconomic situation, but because they were encouraged to be that way by certain influences in their environments.
     I do not think that we have to worry about eugenics reaching the stages of threat and danger which it reached earlier in this country, but in light of the recent atrocities in Bosnia, eugenics is still very much alive and threatening people today.



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