Negative Eugenics And Modern Eugenics In Today’s Society

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The Eugenics Movement (Negative Eugenics)

In the early late 1900’s, many states increasingly started to pass laws that banned the reproduction from people with undesirable traits to get those bad genes out of the gene pool The eugenics movements in the United States, Germany, and Scandinavia favored negative eugenics approaches rather than the positive eugenics. Negative Eugenics is the belief of removing defective and degenerates from the population to promote and preserve those that are found to be “fittest”. Social Darwinism also played a vital role in negative eugenics. Many negative eugenics activist focused more on stopping the process of transmitting “undesirable traits”. These undesirable traits included pauperism, feeble-mindedness, alcoholism, rebelliousness, nomadism, criminality, and prostitution. Many believed the reason for the occurrence of these traits is because of a defective germ plasm; and believed that defective individuals should not reproduce. Once a person is known to possess or carry a defective trait; it resulted in forced sterilizations.

Many individuals became fascinated with Mendelian genetics and its application to human heredity. Mendelian genetics believed that heredity is the result of discrete units of inheritance, and every single gene was independent in its actions in an individual’s genome. Thus, formed many questions and other belief to the initial thought of Darwinism. In such, Social Darwinism, which Kevles described as, “particularly the notion that ‘artificial selection’-state or philanthropic intervention in the battle for social survival-was replacing natural selection in human evolution” (Kevles, 2007, p. 70). As a Result of these beliefs, The Eugenics Record Office (ERO) was established by Charles Davenport in October 1, 1910. The ERO trained field workers to collect information from families with interesting traits such as those who are pauperis or feeble minded; which he later wrote books on these topics. The ERO spent time tracking family history and concluded that individuals who deemed to be unfit were individuals with undesirable traits bloodline. They also believed that these were due to genetics and not based from a lack of resources. To clarify, individuals who carried undesirable traits those traits were passed down into their bloodlines, for instance, if their parents shown to be poor or feeble minded then their offspring automatically inherited these traits, and it had nothing to do with what they possessed.

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In the 1900’s to 1980’s, forced Sterilizations began to occur in many states in guise as the governments means to protect the society from the offspring of people that were feebleminded. These sterilizations were mainly carried out on minorities. According to the Government Accountability Office, they investigated that “between 25 – 50 percent of Native Americans were sterilized” during this period ( Editors, 2017). It can also be indicated that many of these sterilizations happened without their consent. One example of forced sterilization and negative eugenics is the Buck versus Bell case. Carrie Buck (plaintiff) was falsely accused of being feebleminded by Dr. J.H Bell (defendant) who is the superintendent of the Virginia Colony for the Epileptics and Feebleminded. Dr. Bell tested Buck and tried to prove to the courts that she should be sterilized; as well as, it was a way to cover any accusations toward him that would jeopardize his career. The decision made by the courts was ruled in the defendants favor and Buck was then obligated to be sterilized because she was deemed unfit to continue producing “their kind”

Another example of negative eugenics was the era of the Nazi eugenics. Adolf Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party and a German Politician. In 1933, he became the Chancellor of Germany. Hitler’s first few years in power gave him significant support for his leadership capabilities and ability to lead the country to a rapid economic recovery after the Great Depression. He also abolished the restrictions that were imposed on Germany after World War I and captured many territories. In 1919, he joined the German Workers Party (DAP) and soon was appointed leader of NSDAP. In 1923 he attempted to seize power in a failed coup in Munich and was imprisoned. While he was imprisoned, he referred to the treatments of American eugenics and considered Jews and Gypsie’s to be inferior. Hitler believed Germans should do everything possible, including genocide, to make sure their gene pool stayed pure. In 1933, the start of the Holocaust began which were the elimination of many Jews Nazis and thousands forced sterilizations. Hitler aimed established “a new order” to counter what he saw as the injustice of the after World War I. Developments of concentration camps were used during this era to murder the Jews. After World War II, a man by the name of Josef Mengele also known as the “Angel of death” continued what we known as “negative eugenics in cohesion with Hitlers beliefs” by conducting experiments to change a person’s eye color or injected them with deadly diseases without anesthesia. The main individuals he operated on were twins in an attempt to join them together. Due to these major procedures, people that were getting sterilized were mostly the minorities, poor people, and many of the undesirable traits listed. Therefore, critics believed that these policies were being implemented in an illogical, racist, and classist way. This caused a negative outlook on what was known as eugenics and many persons began to feel uncomfortable with the measures to how things were being done.

Modern Eugenics in Today’s society

The history of eugenics was looked upon with judgement, due to the holocaust and horrific medical practices during and after world War II. Despite this, technology and the use of genetics began to advance and shed light on the modern-day eugenics. Kevles (2007) stated that, eugenics also helped to cast the light of science upon superstitions concerning conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, notably the law of maternal impressions-a commonplace assumption, rooted in folk belief and Lamarckian theory, that the characteristics of offspring were shaped by the experiences of the pregnant mother (Kevles, 2007, p. 66). In addition, eugenics is becoming popular and many individuals turn to reprogenetics to reproduce and eliminate the risk of diseases. Reprogenetics is the use of genetics in reproduction, especially in order to choose traits in an offspring or to minimize the risk of genetic disease; which is combined with reproductive technologies and genetic tools.

Modern technologies such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) makes reprogenetics possible to achieve. In-vitro fertilization is the process of fertilization by extracting eggs while also retrieving a sperm sample and then manually combining the egg and sperm. IVF is recommended from women in their late 30’s or early 40’s, whose struggling to conceive due to ovulatory problems, functional issues or male infertility factors, as well as; men and women who need donor sperm or eggs, and/or same sex couples The success rates varies upon multiple factors which can also vary the pace of how quickly the induvial process can be successful. While estimates vary, for women starting IVF, 33% have a baby as a result of their first cycle, increasing to 54-77% by the eighth cycle (Chambers, 2017). IVF treatment is also beneficial when one or both parents carries potential genetic defects because it allows for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) or preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) on embryos prior to uterus implantation.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a procedure used prior to implantation to help identify genetic defects within embryos. This serves to prevent certain genetic diseases or disorders from being passed on to the child. The embryos used in PGD are usually created during the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The earliest way of testing the embryos is by studying the polar bodies (small cells consisting of a tiny bit of cytoplasm and a nucleus, formed during maturation of the egg). The polar bodies can be removed and studied to determine the maternal genetic contribution to the developing embryo. Another way of testing occurs three days after the egg has been fertilized in the lab. In this method, one cell from the eight-cell embryo is removed and its genetic material is tested to identify possible defects. Overall PGD is able to diagnose genetic defects with approximately 98% accuracy. Even if a patient undergoes PGD, prenatal testing such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is usually recommended to confirm the PGD diagnosis. Revealing genetic defects before pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of a fetus being affected.

Eugenics Future Complications and Conclusion

As research continues to uncover and enhance with new technology the possibility of the chances to eradicate these diseases can increase in the long term. Undesirable traits such as Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia can be traced an erased in an embryo. Using modern genetic technology for expecting parents can a satisfying feeling being able to determine their carrier status for certain diseases. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis following in vitro fertilization allows parents to select embryos that are free of disease. Additionally, prenatal genetic testing can provide a lot of information to parents about their unborn child which can result in producing “good stocks”. These technologies make more informed decision-making possible for parents, but some may be concerned about the way in which one views family and parenting. Some wonder if modern day attempts to eradicate hereditary disorders equate to negative eugenics.

One major complication of genetic testing for the purpose of disease eradication is that although the idea of this practice proves to form positive view. To do this, one would have to a particular ethnic group that has a disease trait in their bloodline and is passed down in generations. For example, many persons from the Jewish ethnicity carries the Tay-Sachs disease. Tay-Sachs is a genetic disease that causes a deterioration of mental and physical abilities and results in death by age four. If one were to try and eradicate this disease, many Jewish individuals will have to undergo screening to see who all carries the trait. Once news like this hits the publics attention it can recall the racist motivations that was once experienced from the Nazi Party in the 1900’s. Also, our society is one where racial stereotypes or biases may be reinforced if genetic testing performed on individuals of an ethnic group reveals a predisposition to a disease or condition.

Another complication can be parents who longs to have a child without pursuing genetic testing may feel guilty if the child is born with any health problems. Additionally, some are concerned about what an overemphasis on eliminating disabilities in unborn children will mean for people who already have the disability. The most significant difference between modern genetic technologies, that some view as eugenic, and the historical use of eugenics is consent.

In conclusion, individuals pursue genetic testing by choice in today’s society. An individual can never be forced into testing or be required to take action with forced sterilization, based on the results of a genetic test. As with the case many years ago with Buck and Bell. Individuals and couples differ in their views on reprogenetics and eugenics in relation to reproductive decision-making and possible eugenic motivations. Many may still oppose the very thought of eugenics due to the negative eight that was carried from The Nazi’s; but in todays society, parents and inquiring parents have freedom of choice to use the IVF and PDG technology or not.


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