The Malta Independent 21 May 2022, Saturday

The spectre of eugenics

Sunday, 12 June 2016, 09:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

Today, the mention of the word ‘eugenics’ hardly attracts any interest. It is a word that seems to have vanished from our vocabulary, but eugenics is a reality of which most of us are largely unaware.

The word “eugenics” was coined in 1910 by an Englishman named Francis Galton, who termed it the ‘new religion’. He advocated “the betterment of mankind” as he wanted to improve the physical and mental make-up of human beings by increasing the proportion of those people with “superior genetic endowment”.

This ideology was enthusiastically greeted by the intelligentsia in Great Britain and the US. In Britain, these included figures such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Marie Stopes, John Maynard Keynes, J.B.S. Haldane, Bertrand Russell, Sidney Webb and Winston Churchill. Intentional killing, sterilisation and birth control were, in Wells’ view, a sound way of eliminating what he regarded as inferior peoples. He, along with his fellow eugenicists, believed that evolution, operating on its own, was not sufficiently effective.

Eugenics was not merely a utopian idea: it formed the basis of concrete policies; it led to the immigration-restriction statutes of the 1920s in the USA. But there were more direct and telling effects. Thirty-three American states passed laws that allowed the forced sterilisation of those deemed “unfit”. The Supreme Court’s upholding by eight votes to one of a Virginia law signalled their general acceptability and led to thousands of enforced sterilisations in the US.

Apart from G.K. Chesterton, no one spoke out against it. Almost singlehandedly, with his scathing wit and sense of humour, he succeeded in swaying public opinion in his country. Chesterton brushed off the derision and the insults he received. He was not fooled by labels and slogans and he fought for what he believed in, despite the odds. He challenged eugenics, strongly declaring that it ought “to be destroyed” as “a thing no more to be bargained about than poisoning”. He passionately believed in the right and duty of a free man to stand in a public place and say what he thought to be true.

Unfortunately, the ideology of eugenics was wholeheartedly embraced by Hitler and by 1939, within six years of his coming to power, a quarter of a million Germans were sterilised. This paved the way for euthanasia and the wholesale murder of the so-called ‘sub-humans’ and the ‘Final Solution’ of Jews in Europe.  

The horrors of Hitler’s Germany revealed after WWII helped to discredit eugenics. As a result, the victorious Allies, from the Nuremberg Trials to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, sought to vindicate the inviolable dignity of individuals.

Yet the notorious founder of the Planned Parenthood Foundation (PPF), the American, Margaret Sanger, who also pioneered eugenics, was quick to distance herself from eugenics and re-invented herself as a promoter of women’s ‘rights’ to contraception and abortion.

Her organisation remains an upholder of modern population control and eugenics. It uses its considerable finances to promote and facilitate internationally, sterilisation, abortion, contraception and also infanticide (particularly in China). It is funded to the tune of billions of dollars by the US, the UK and other Western governments. The ‘Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’ is also a key contributor.

Sadly, eugenics is also making a powerful comeback with the advances in genetic medicine. John Harris, a bioethicist at Manchester University, told the BBC in 2003 that eugenics was a laudable aim as: “It is the attempt to create fine healthy children and that’s everyone’s ambition.” Test-tube baby pioneer and expert on pre-implantation diagnosis, Robert Edwards, says: “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.”

Once again, the inherent dignity of man is being sacrificed for the value of expediency. Expectant women are now submitting themselves to screening technologies designed to identify a “worthless life” and replace it with a “worthwhile life”.

The disgraceful emotional pressure applied to women to terminate a pregnancy is conveniently ignored as state policies in Europe’s aim to eliminate ‘defective’ babies. Coupled with the legislation of euthanasia to eliminate the terminally ill, it is all part of a pattern. It is eugenics all over again. The weak, the ill and the impaired are now at risk.

Chesterton saw that truth in eugenics long before the Nazis made it clear to the world. We should heed his warnings.

To be ‘well meaning’ is not enough. As the saying goes: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. A failure to remember and absorb the lessons of history carries dire consequences. When fundamental principles are forfeited, humanity is at risk.

Adrian Porter

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