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  • Faizunnesa Mahzabin

Eugenics Throughout History

Charles Darwin is credited for developing the Theory of Evolution which explains that species as a whole have changed through generations as a result of natural selection and “survival of the fittest.” His cousin, Francis Galton, determined that natural selection occurred differently in our society as a result of human interference. He theorized that intelligence and other traits were inherited and that society could benefit by encouraging the reproduction of people with desirable traits (positive eugenics) and discouraging the reproduction of those with undesirable traits (negative eugenics).

In 1883, Galton coined the term "eugenics," from the Greek words for "well" and "born." Galton believed that the human race had to be improved through artificial means. He proposed various measures to achieve his eugenic goals, such as marriage restrictions, financial incentives for families with "superior" genetic traits, and even selective breeding programs.

The Holocaust is the most well known example of eugenics being applied. The Nazi regime adopted an ideology that blended anti-Semitism and eugenics, using that to justify the genocide of the Jewish people. In addition, the Nazi’s targeted individuals with hereditary diseases which included schizophrenia and “hereditary feeblemindedness,” resulting in the sterilization of around 400,000 Germans. During the 1930s, the Nazi government also passed a law that prevented “diseased” Germans from marrying “healthy” Germans. 

Eugenic practices still exist today. For instance, with the introduction of new testing, diseases can be detected early on in the pregnancy. In cases where the fetus has a genetic disease, for instance down syndrome, parents often choose to terminate the pregnancy. Additionally, many states in the US still have laws allowing for the forced sterilization of disabled people. Eugenics continues to affect people today, especially disabled people and people of color. 

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