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Eugenics

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Sir Francis Galton first used the word eugenics in his 1883 book titled, 'Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development' (Wikipedia); it is derived from the Greek words eu (good) and gen (birth). Eugenics was historically used to refer to everything from forced sterilization and infanticide to prenatal care for mothers; present day eugenics includes reproductive genetics such as genetic counseling, genetic screening, preemptive abortions and "designer babies". Broadly speaking, eugenics is a study of selective breeding of "good" traits and improving human genetics. Eugenicists encouraged specific social policies that they believed would lead to an improvement of the human gene pool.

The suggestion of selective breeding in humans is rooted as far back as Plato, whom in The Republic noted that "The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior." (Wikipedia). Eugenics has strong roots in 19th Century's social Darwinism where inequalities of fitness, competition, and biological rationalizations were popular (Kevles 2001). Many social Darwinists, influenced by Darwin's "survival of the fittest" insisted that biology was destiny. Nature over nurture influenced the broad spectrum of socially deleterious traits, ranging from criminality and poverty to mental illness; that all of society's problems including the feebleminded and the licentious resulted from heredity (Marks). Sir Francis Galton, wanted to perfect the human race by, getting rid of its "undesirables" while multiplying its "desirables". Galton concluded that, since one could use artificial

selection to exaggerate traits in other animals, one could expect similar results when applying such models to humans.

At the core of eugenics, Mendel's law of heredity was applied to humans to trace traits via a pedigree. In America, the leading proponent of eugenics was Harvard-educated Charles B. Davenport. In his 1911 work Heredity in Relation to eugenics he stated that to improve the race it was necessary "to induce young people to make a more reasonable selection of marriage mates ... It also includes the control by the state of the propagation of the mentally incompetent." (Marks). Eugenics in the 20th century was not an idea that was the exception, but the rule. Henry Goddard and others, believed that there is a very intimate relationship between crime, vice and feeblemindedness, and if eliminated would wiped out the social problems (Marks). Feeblemindedness was believed therefore to be an inborn deformity condemning its bearer to a lifetime of misery and causes the society to pay for them.

Historically, one of the great effects of eugenics was the genocide in national socialist Germany. Eugenics validated Nazism as it validated many forms of racism and intolerance (Marks). However, the Nazi's implemented the ideas of eugenics, they did not give birth to it (Marks). The outcome of this application of eugenics by the Nazi party was more than 350,000 people killed in the name of genetics. Closer to home, the effects of eugenics was felt as the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Law was passed on March 7, 1928 which lasted till 1972 where 4725 sterilizations out 4800

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