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Titles About Eugenics

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The New Eugenics: Selective Breeding in an Era of Reproductive Technologies

Eugenics, the effort to improve the human species by inhibiting reproduction of “inferior” genetic strains, ultimately came to be regarded as the great shame of the Progressive movement. This title argues that current attitudes toward the potential users of modern assisted reproductive technologies threaten to replicate eugenics’ same discriminatory practices. Barriers that block certain people’s access to reproductive technologies are often founded on biases rooted in notions of class, race, and marital status. As a result, poor, minority, unmarried, disabled, and LGBT individuals are denied technologies available to well-off nonminority heterosexual applicants.

Eugenics: A Very Short Introduction

In 1883, Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the word “eugenics” to express his dream of perfecting the human race by applying the laws of genetic heredity. Adapting Darwin’s theory of evolution to human society, eugenics soon became a powerful, international movement, committed to using the principles of heredity and statistics to encourage healthy and discourage unhealthy reproduction. Eugenics advocates claimed their methods would result in healthier, fitter babies and would dramatically limit human suffering. The reality was a different story. In the name of scientific progress and of human improvement, eugenicists targeted the weak and the sick, triggering coercive legislation on issues as disparate as race, gender, immigration, euthanasia, abortion, sterilization, intelligence, mental illness, and disease control. Nationalists eagerly embraced eugenics as a means to legitimize their countries’ superiority and racialized assumptions, and the Nazis notoriously used eugenics to shape their “final solution.” This title questions the widespread belief that eugenics disappeared after World War II and evaluates the impact of eugenics on current reproductive and genetic sciences. Eugenics may no longer be a household word, but we feel its effects even today.

War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race

This gripping chronicle documens how American corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the United States, helped found and fund the Nazi eugenics of Hitler and Mengele — and then created the modern movement of “human genetics.” Some 60,000 Americans were sterilized under laws in 27 states.

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck

This title exposes the court’s decision to allow the sterilization of a young woman it wrongly thought to be “feebleminded” and to champion the mass eugenics sterilization of undesirable citizens for the greater good of the country. The 8–1 ruling was signed by some of the most revered figures in American law—including Chief Justice William Howard Taft, a former U.S. president; and Louis Brandeis, a progressive icon. Oliver Wendell Holmes, considered by many the greatest Supreme Court justice in history, wrote the majority opinion, including the court’s famous declaration “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” At the center was Carrie Buck, who was born into a poor family in Charlottesville, Virginia, and taken in by a foster family, until she became pregnant out of wedlock. She was then declared “feebleminded” and shipped off to the Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded. Buck v. Bell unfolded against the backdrop of a nation in the thrall of eugenics, which many Americans thought would uplift the human race. Congress embraced this fervor, enacting the first laws designed to prevent immigration by Italians, Jews, and other groups charged with being genetically inferior.

Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America

With an emphasis on the American West, this title explores the long and unsettled history of eugenics in the United States, including shocking details demonstrating that eugenics continues to inform institutional and reproductive injustice. Recently uncovered historical records to reveal patterns of racial bias in California’s sterilization program and document compelling individual experiences. This title connects the eugenic past to the genomic present with attention to the ethical and social implications of emerging genetic technologies.

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