Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Eugenics: Alive and Well

There was a time before Hitler and the Nazis euthanized the mentally retarded and the disabled in Germany when prominent Americans advocated draconian policies for similar unfortunates in the United States. No less the jurist than Oliver Wendell Holmes advocated forced sterilization of disabled in this country. Although eugenics was eventually turned back at the time, it seems to be making a resurgence in mainstream academic circles. An excellent editorial details the risks to the disabled in this country today.

This month marked the 80th anniversary of the disgraceful Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell, which upheld Virginia's involuntary sterilization laws. In his majority opinion, Holmes declared: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

Though society may be inclined to regard Holmes's detestable opinion in Buck v. Bell as a relic of a time past, eerie similarities exist in contemporary remarks of the well-respected.

Justifying the sterilization of "genetically unfit" individuals, Holmes wrote that Carrie Buck was "the probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring."

Some 72 years later, renowned embryologist Bob Edwards said, "Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children."

In recent years, Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, has said, "It does not seem quite wise to increase any further draining of limited resources by increasing the number of children with impairments."

In January, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urged all women regardless of age to undergo prenatal screening for Down syndrome, aware of statistics that greater than 85 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome end in abortion.

Last fall, Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argued for "active euthanasia" of significantly disabled newborns to spare parents emotional and financial burden.

Two years earlier, the Groningen Protocol emerged in the Netherlands; it proposed selection criteria for euthanizing babies and children with disabilities.

Tell the little girls above that one of them is unworthy of life. Tell them that only those deemed "unimpaired" deserve the protection and resources of society. Go ahead. Tell them.

The depravity of men, many of whom enjoy respect of their social and academic peers, is truly unlimited when there is no recognition of the dignity each human life enjoys because of being...well, human, and created in the image of God himself.

Cross-posted at

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