In response to an earlier post on some private, California efforts to pay drug addicts to be sterilized, the comment was offered:
But surely what was objectionable about the eugenics movement was not the principle that there are some people who simply ought not reproduce. The problem with the eugenecists was that they used spurious criteria (i.e., race and ethnicity) to determine who those people were and, moreover, they engaged in their practices without the consent of those being sterilized.
It is true, of course, that spurious criteria such as race and ethnicity were used in justifications for eugenic practices. But these were not the only criteria. While a "progressive-minded" California was the overall leader in sterilization, Southern states in particular adopted eugenics programs as part of a larger social reform movement in order to alleviate the burdens of their poor, unhealthy, epileptic, and/or "feeble-minded" white populations. People were thought unfit to reproduce for socially "dersireable" reasons beyond race and ethnicity, that is, beyond simply a genetic "cleansing." Eugenic sterilization served socially desireable goals such as reducing state expenditures on health care, food, and education, while raising education standards in poor, agricultural states, and preventing "bad births" and poor quality of life concerns for children with low-income parents. The question remains whether such criteria were also in fact "spurious."
Anticipating the objection that these earlier sterilization programs were non-voluntary, state-sponsored programs, while todays California initiative is both private and voluntary, I respectfully submit that it is itself spurious to offer a heroine addict her next fix in exchange for her ovaries.
While not dispositive, or even ultimately persuasive, it may nevertheless be instructive to consider both the genesis and the final revelation of our modern eugenics movements. Eugenics began as an augment to Darwinian evolution, a natural extension of survival of the fittest, popularized by Charles Darwins cousin in the 19th century. Ultimately, of course, eugenics provided a "scientific" and sociological justification for Hitlers Germany, the logical and practical fulfillment of the "good birth" theory. Eugenics fell into disrepute for a short time after the war, but the basic principles survived and rested notoriously behind the family planning, abortion initiatives of Margaret Sanger (her racism aside) and Planned Parenthood.
Does the California effort rise to these levels? Maybe not, but given our current position on the precipice of a "genetic revolution," any attempt to re-legitimize, rationalize, and popularize eugenic programs and their philosophy ought to be opposed.