This site provides such an .For each state forwhich information is available (see below), there is a short accountof the (based on a variety of ),the known , the and rate ofsterilization, the, , theprescribed, and processes that led up a state’ssterilization program,the , placed onthoseidentified in the law or with disabilities in general, of stateeugenicsterilization, “feederinstitutions” and , andto sterilization. A short is also provided.
While this research project wasinitially intended to give short accounts for each state, itquickly moved beyond this goal. For those states for which detailedmonograph-length studies are availabe, it merely summarizes existingscholarship, but for other states for which such information is notreadily available, it establishes the core parameters within which astate's eugenic sterilizations were carried out. As part of thisresearch the current state of the facilities where sterilizationsoccurred or that served as feeder institutions is addressed.
The American Margaret Sanger (1883-1966) was one of the main proponents of the “negative eugenics,” that is, trying to find ways to eliminate “bad genes.” She had set up the American Birth Control League in 1921 and the following decades, she was a known as a model and author within the movement.
At several universities, eugenic societies have been formed with objectives to study heredity and partly to spread the ideas. Galton’s eugenics usually called “positive eugenics” because he was primarily focused on how to breed geniuses, and he talked about the importance of marrying a genetically suitable person. It is true, however, that he was convinced that there were also negative predisposition, which he also studied, but he did not advocate any effort to ensure that these would spread.
Philosophers have recently begun to explore the possibility of“liberal” as opposed to “authoritative”eugenics (Agar 2004). Liberal eugenics would be based upon individualfree choice, pluralist values, and up-to-date scientific understandingof genetics and epigenetics. Furthermore, advocates of liberaleugenics aim to be sensitive to the effects of problematic but deeplyentrenched social problems (e.g., racism, sexism, heterosexism) onindividual choice. Authoritative eugenics programs, in contrast, werecoercive state programs designed to promote social goods, and werebased on problematic assumptions about hereditability. Liberaleugenicists point to significant developments in our understanding ofgenetics to help distinguish contemporary liberal eugenics from itsproblematic predecessors. Indeed, scientific advances of the lastseveral decades—years that include the advent of in vitrofertilization, the funding and completion of the Human Genome Project,creation of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), andexpansions of pre-implantation screening and prenatal testingpanels—provide not only more precise understandings of genes andtheir role in shaping phenotypes and gene-environment interactions,but also a multitude of possibilities for intervention in the processof reproduction. How ought we to use this new knowledge and capacity?This entry offers a short history of the eugenics movement, a surveyof arguments that attempt to define and defend liberal eugenics, andcoverage of a variety of critiques of those arguments.
The U.S. program was already under way when the German eugenics program was still beginning, and though state governments in the United States eventually sterilized fewer people, their programs were used as a model by the Germans. The center of the eugenics movement in the United States was the Eugenics Records Office (ERO), located at the Cold Spring Harbor Research Center in New York. The ERO published the Eugenical News, which served as an important communications hub and was considered a legitimate scientific publication. By the late 1930s, more than 30 states had passed compulsory sterilization laws and more than 60 thousand people had been sterilized. In 1937 more than 60 percent of Americans were in favor of such program; of the remainder, only 15 percent were strongly against them. In discussions of sterilization, a common consideration was the growing system of institutions and residents. Sterilization was seen as a humane and cost-effective remedy for problems such as alcoholism when compared with lifelong incarceration, and these programs remained a key influence on the development of outpatient treatment for the mentally ill until well into the 1970s.
Buchanan et al. (2000) note that as technology advances, theories ofjustice need no longer consider “natural inequalities” tobe given, or outside the scope of distribution. If equality ofopportunity is one of the aims of a society, then, provision ofcertain forms of genetic intervention—including interventionsthat determine who will be brought into existence—maybecome owed to future people. If parents can decide betweenimplanting an embryo that carries a genetic marker associated with aserious disease— e.g., Tay Sachs—or an embryo without thatmarker, they would be obliged to choose the latter, in the name ofpromoting the health and well-being of the future child (impersonally,perhaps, given the non-identity problem). To be clear, though, they donot suggest that all prospective parents would be obliged to seekreproductive counseling and use in vitro fertilization inorder to fulfill their parenting or impersonal duties. Such arequirement would be overly demanding on parents and an infringementon their procreative liberty, and would be unlikely to succeed in anycase, given the prohibitive costs and relatively low success rates ofIVF treatment. Most liberal eugenics advocates (Agar 2004; Glover2006; Green 2007) move from a commonly accepted position of therequirement to treat serious diseases in children, to a requirementfor people using genetic interventions (e.g., pre-implantation geneticdiagnosis or perhaps one day technology to create “designerbabies”) in reproduction to use them in ways that avoid seriousdiseases. The obligation doesn't extend to mandates on prenataltesting or abortion to avoid giving birth to a child with a seriousdisease, because of considerations related to women's rights to theirbodies and religious freedom.
Still, even mere permissibility to use genetic enhancements raisessignificant moral concerns. Critics fear obsessively focusedprospective parents who design their children in ways that areoverbearing or narrowly focused on a particular goal of the parents(Kass 2003; Sandel 2007). To avoid this problem, liberal eugenicsadvocates propose various limits on genetic interventions forenhancement purposes. There is widespread agreement that interventionsshould not harm the future child (by creating a life so miserable asto be not worth living, as might be the subject of a wrongful lifesuit). Beyond that, variations include, for instance: (1) onlyenhancements that will benefit the future children no matter what lifeplan they decide to pursue and that do not reinforce problematicsocial norms (Agar 2004), or (2) only enhancements that preserve achild's right to an open future (Davis2010), or (3) onlyenhancements that preserve open futures and protect some central coreof our human nature (Glover 2006), or (4) only enhancements thatrational people will agree can be understood to be in the bestinterest of the child (Green 2007).
Eugenics organizations and political movements were started in Germany in 1904, Britain in 1907, and the United States in 1910. At the height of the era of eugenics, there were more than 30 national movements in such countries as Japan, Brazil, and others throughout Europe. In some countries coercive measures were rejected; in others policies were more limited, but in each country the adoption of national eugenics programs and popular movements represented an attempt to modernize and adopt scientific methods for advancing the health and well-being of the populace as a whole. Even the most notorious case of eugenics, the Nazi Germany eugenics program, was associated with discussion of the “greater good.” It becomes easy to forget that the Nazi obsession with a healthy nation led not only to genocide but also to national campaigns for healthy eating and the elimination of criminal behavior.
If there is any practice distinctly associated with the American eugenics movement, it is coerced and forced sterilization. Although Nazi doctors performed these procedures in far greater numbers, in light of the Holocaust their project loses its impact. But in the United States, this same procedure remains shocking. Many of those who were sterilized were residents of mental hospitals and poorhouses who were forced to undergo the procedure. Others were voluntary or temporary patients at state hospitals. It is difficult to know how many sterilizations were performed and yet more difficult to confirm what percentage of those were coerced. Some patients intentionally sought sterilization as a form of birth control; others chose it as an avenue out of institutionalization; some were tricked or forced. Today documents show that some institutions told patients who were to be sterilized that they were going to have appendectomies; in these and other institutions, high rates of appendectomies were recorded. Forced or coerced surgery on a single individual today would seem shocking, but such procedures were legally mandated in some states for more than 50 years. Because those most likely to have been sterilized were the mentally ill and the indigent, we are likely never to know the full story.