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To what extent was eugenic science implemented in state medical and health polices during the twentieth century? Compare and contrast different countries.

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Introduction

To what extent was eugenic science implemented in state medical and health polices during the twentieth century? Compare and contrast different countries. The English scientist Francis Galton first used the term 'eugenics' in 1883 to refer to the science of 'improving human stock.1' Closely linked with Darwinist Theory and Mendelian Law, of like producing like, the development of eugenics was the development of science to control evolution; ironing out undesirable traits such as criminality and 'feeblemindedness' to produce a 'fitter' human race. The science was at the peak of its influence in the early twentieth century. The eugenics movement of this time sought to influence social policy throughout the civilised world, at a time when the numbers of social deviants and undesirables was perceived to be rising, in order to ensure the continuation of the fittest bloodlines. Today traditional eugenics is dead. During the Nazi regime in Germany eugenic science merged with misconceived notions of race and genetics with infamously barbarous results. In the shadow of Nazi Death Camps eugenic science was discredited. However, as genetics has emerged as a powerful tool of medicine s modern form of eugenic science still exists. The mapping of the Human Genome and great advancements in technology mean that genetic tailoring is now with us, albeit in a basic form. Mothers and their unborn children undergo unprecedented levels of testing to discover whether the child will be born disabled or with disease and if the tests return positive then the option of abortion is available. As our knowledge of the Genome increases it will be possible to genetically tailor generations to our needs and expectations, we are only decades away from the world that Aldous Huxley envisaged2. The Eugenics of the early twentieth century has now been discredited, chiefly a result of the uncovering of the full extent of Nazi racially eugenic policy. It is worthwhile charting the development of early eugenics before considering how it is still present in late twentieth century society albeit somewhat 'hidden' from view. ...read more.

Middle

By September 1939 those suffering illnesses deemed to be incurable would be granted a 'mercy death'. Sterilization had existed in the asylums of Germany before the euthanasia programme began but sterilization came to be applied to other sections of society that were seen to be hereditarily poor. A loophole in the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Progeny allowed those who were not afflicted by mental illness but were convicted criminals or vagrants to be sterilized under the guise of being socially feebleminded. Following 1936 the police was given the virtual right to incarcerate all vagrants, beggars and habitual criminals. These social misfits would increasingly be sent to concentration camps, saving penal and welfare resources. There can be no doubt that Hitler's individual energy and passion for racial eugenics influenced the implementation of sterilization, incarceration and euthanasia but there was also economic reasoning that today seems cold and callous. The Great Depression of 1929 hit Germany the hardest and killed off the Weimar government, Germany had a huge welfare system and a huge population, eugenic policy could cut down on expenditure with a scientific backing and allowed resources to be diverted elsewhere. One would not equate America in 1945 with Germany in 1945 yet much of the eugenic theory that the Germans acted on was at first employed in America. Here negative eugenics became popular and similar laws to those of the Nazi's were implemented during the 1920's and 1930's. Urbanisation was occurring rapidly in America at the beginning of the twentieth century and as elsewhere the presence of poverty and 'feeblemindedness' demanded a response from the state and a move away from Laissez Faire policy. Eugenic Science provided an acceptable answer, as it didn't question or demand any fundamental changes in how society was functioning, social undesirables and the mentally ill were merely a product of hereditary law10. Like Germany theorists were more influenced by Weismann's contention that environmental factors had little impact upon hereditary law rather than Benedict Morel's ideas that degeneracy was a result of certain agents present in society. ...read more.

Conclusion

In China, the world's most populous country, there has been a history of state lead population control with the policy of one child per marriage. However more recently eugenic ideas have surfaced in Chinese Law. A Law implemented in 1994 makes it mandatory in some provinces to abort foetuses that are carrying genetic physical defects16. Whilst civilization has not yet discovered how to measure mental and behavioural genetic defects it is quite plausible that this too will be implemented by law in China and by choice in Western nations. The eugenics of the early twentieth century was formed on the basis of what a few men deemed as undesirable traits. The science that was developed was flawed by simplicity but at a time when science was seen as a cure all was implemented, particularly in America and Germany but it also influenced health policy in Britain all though to a lesser degree. This traditional eugenics doesn't exist in these countries today though China has resurrected it during the late twentieth century as an extension of its anti birth-rate policy, if the population is to be reduced then it needs to be healthy and 'fit' to make up for fewer numbers. The sifting through and termination of foetuses that don't conform to what is acceptable is clear evidence of eugenic thought right through into the twenty-first century. Eugenics still exists in America, Britain and Germany. It is no longer in the form of state led legislation backed up by science. It has become embedded in the thoughts of society. Whilst the debate rages as to the morality of abortion it is an everyday part of Western Society. Abortion and contraception was a result of Women's Movements demanding the control of women over reproduction but today it can be used to eugenically select which babies get born. Parents want the best for their children and fewer parents are prepared to bring up children with deformities and diseases in the knowledge that it simply doesn't have to be. The original eugenic doctrines of selective breeding now seem to be apparent. ...read more.

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