America's 'Moral Detour' Into Eugenics Should Serve as Warning, Writes Physician in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons

TUCSON, Ariz., Dec. 15, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Eugenics to most people means the unspeakable acts of Adolf Hitler and Dr. Josef Mengele. But some of America's best and brightest promoted eugenics as "settled science" and necessary for the preservation of society, writes Marilyn Singleton, M.D., J.D., in the winter issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Attempts to obliterate history may doom us to repeat it, she warns.

Eugenics was popularized in the United States in the 1890s. High school and college textbooks from the 1920s through the 1940s often had chapters touting the scientific progress to be made from applying eugenic principles. When eugenics fell out of favor after World War II, most references to it were removed from textbooks, Singleton notes.

Beginning with Connecticut in 1896, many states enacted marriage laws with eugenic criteria, prohibiting anyone who was an "epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded" from marrying, Singleton writes. Founded in 1910, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), over the course of 29 years, collected hundreds of thousands of pedigrees to show the heritability of "criminality," epilepsy, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and "feeblemindedness," a catchall term used to describe varying degrees of mental retardation and learning disabilities. Ignoring the possible influence of environmental factors, ERO founder Charles Davenport focused on "terminating the bloodlines" of the "submerged tenth" of the population with "defective germ-plasm."

Black academics also supported eugenics, and suggested that "only fit blacks should procreate," Singleton reports.

For eugenic purposes, 64,000 people were forcibly sterilized in 30 states from the early 1900s to the mid-1970s, Singleton writes. The U.S. Supreme Court case upholding state-sponsored sterilization has never been overruled, but the 1974 federal appellate case of Relf v. Weinberger imposed strict regulations that effectively ended the practice.

"Eugenics was the science of the day, but it was based on poor research and largely based on value judgments put forth as scientific facts. Eugenics was a conduit for prejudices and an opportunity for social engineering," Singleton concludes.

Singleton warns that genomic medicine could turn into 21st century eugenics. "Look how quickly we have moved from disease screening to pre-emptive abortions and 'savior' siblings," she observes.

The Journal is the official, peer-reviewed publication of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine and the patient-physician relationship.


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