I just read the most disturbing thing ever. Actually, I just skimmed it because it made me too sick to read it all the way through. It’s a report entitled Committee to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means of Cutting Off the Defective Germ Plasm in the American Population. This report was published in 1914 when eugenics was in its heyday. Hitler would have loved this document. Actually, I bet he read it.
Basically, this document is a justification for involuntary sterilization of the “less desirable” members of our population, and it was taken quite seriously at the time. It was based on a series of studies done by a group called the American Breeders Association. In the introduction it states, “It is the purpose of the committee to investigate all phases of the problem of cutting off the supply of defectives… The committee will therefore study the facts in reference to the numbers of and the rate and manner of increase of the socially inadequate. It will strive to analyze the factors of heredity and environment in the production of the social unfitness observed. It will report first-hand facts concerning the drag that these classes entail upon the general welfare, and will review the first-hand studies in human heredity that have been made by careful study of the problem. And finally the committee will point out what appears as a result of study to be “the best practical means,” so far as the innate traits are a factor, of purging the blood of the American people of the handicapping and deteriorating influences of these anti-social classes.”
If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, you have no soul. This committee “studied” several “groups of degenerates” including “The Feeble-minded Class,” “The Pauper Class,” “The Inebriate Class,” “The Criminalistic Class,” “The Epileptic Class,” “The Insane Class,” and “The Deformed Class”. Reading this positively gave me the chills.
The remedies they investigated, but, thank God, didn’t uniformly advocate to remove these supposed social blights included “Life Segregation,” “Sterilization,” “Restrictive Marriage Laws and Customs,” “Systems of Matings Purporting to Remove Defective Traits,” “Polygamy,” and “Euthanasia”. Here’s what they had to say about Polygamy.
“In animal breeding polygamy or the “pure sire method” has been one of the most potent agencies in rapid advancement and, could the essential biological principles of polygamy be applied to mankind, we should expect these same biological values to accrue. An eugenical program that advocates polygamy must be doomed to failure because it strikes at one of our most priceless heritages so laboriously wrought through centuries of moral struggle. It would be buying a biological benefit at vastly too great a moral cost. A eugenics program to be effective must and can be based upon an enhanced sense of monogamy, and of the sacredness of love and marital fidelity. If any serious students of the modern eugenical studies advocate polygamy, it is unknown to the members of this investigating committee, although many uninformed critics of the eugenics program unhesitatingly complain that eugenics proposes “to apply the methods of the stud farm to mankind.”
Whew. That’s a load off. Apparently they had some kind of moral compass, anyway. But here’s what this completely insane mindset did to our country in the first half of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia, “The United States was the first country to concertedly undertake compulsory sterilization programs for the purpose of eugenics.” Apparently many people were sterilized against their will or without their knowledge during other medical procedures. This was particularly true of African American and Native American women. It also happened in prisons. “In the end, over 65,000 individuals were sterilized in 33 states under state compulsory sterilization programs in the United States.”
For the most part, sterilization laws are off the books, although Bill Bryson states in his book “One Summer” that 20 states still have them on the books in one form or another. If that’s true, that’s rather terrifying. I was unable to find any further evidence of this, however. The Wikipedia article states that 27 states had these laws on the books until 1956. “After World War II, public opinion towards eugenics and sterilization programs became more negative in the light of the connection with the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany, though a significant number of sterilizations continued in a few states until the late 1960s. The Oregon Board of Eugenics, later renamed the Board of Social Protection, existed until 1983, with the last forcible sterilization occurring in 1981.”
But lest we think that sanity finally has been restored throughout the land, contemplate this. California did way more sterilizations than any other state, and the most chilling sentence of all in the Wikipedia article was the following: “148 female prisoners in two California institutions were sterilized between 2006 and 2010 in a supposedly voluntary program, but voluntary consent cannot be given while under duress.”
I never wanted children, but the thought that someone might decide that I should be forced to have an operation that would alter my body’s natural function, whether I liked it or not, seems like the ultimate violation. The fact that this was ever considered a good idea by anyone, the fact that committees were formed and papers were written and men in suits and ties were drawing conclusions that would cause these atrocities to occur is horrifying. And the fact that the victims of these procedures have never been compensated, and in most cases have never been acknowledged, tells you a lot about the rotten core of our political process.
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