Eugenics is not a thing of the past. The prevalence of eugenics has taken many forms throughout human history. In fact, North Carolina was known to be one of the most aggressive propagators of eugenics in the United States. In an effort to alleviate poverty and simultaneously improve the gene pool, North Carolina empowered social workers to search for and identify individuals for forced sterilization. The state of North Carolina forcibly sterilized over 7,500 people from 1929 to 1977. Thankfully, in 1977, the codified eugenics of forced sterilization was eliminated.
Despite numerous victories, the battle rages on. Although we have seen utilitarian trends rejected, Nazi and communist regimes toppled, and forced sterilization ended, eugenics nonetheless maintains deep roots in our nation. Why does this matter to the everyday American? Not only is your government neglecting its inherent role to protect the rights and liberties of all men equally, but your tax dollars and the authority you consensually relinquished to the government are being abused to permit the systematic erasure of certain groups of people.
One would think that history should have taught us to fear expansive and intervening government. From the socialist dictatorships responsible for the Holocaust and communist genocides to the discriminatory forced sterilization of the 1900s here in the United States, eugenics takes root when the role of the government is mutilated to deny the very protection it is designed to offer to all humans alike. In Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the government-sponsored research into “genetic poisons,” enforced ethnic and genetic marital controls, and enacted widespread involuntary sterilization for over 400,000 individuals who were deemed racially or genetically undesirable. Despite being rejected in name following the Bolshevik Revolution due to its fascist ties, the enormous development and institutionalization of eugenics within Russia nonetheless remained at the core of Soviet education and medicine. This was demonstrated routinely in selective abortion, hereditary applied science, and education. Here in the United States, marriage controls and forced sterilizations were codified into law until criminalized in the later part of the 20th century.
Although the term “eugenics” was coined in the late 1800s when British scientist Francis Galton used Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection to endorse the systematic production of “more suitable races or strains of blood,” the concept has existed since the beginning of human history. Plato demonstrated the utilitarian and elitist worldview in The Republic when he advocated using medical skills to help only those who have hope of being healthy again. In addition to limiting resources to those deemed worthy, two additional means of practicing eugenics in ancient society were infanticide and restrictions on marriage.
While we have acknowledged and overcome the residual marriage controls that lasted through the early 1900s, eugenics finds a home in the modern-day infanticide so prevalent in our society today. Here in America, eugenics is safeguarded by the government that is unwilling and, in some ways, unable to change due to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution to include a woman’s right to abortion-on-demand.
However, some governments are taking steps to eradicate institutionalized eugenics. For example, the North Carolina legislature recently passed a bill banning abortion on the grounds of sex, race, or potential diagnosis of Down syndrome. Despite not restricting abortions for any other reason, the bill passed along party lines and was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. Opponents of the bill argued that forcing mothers to care for these select groups of children placed an undue burden on the mothers. This line of argument eerily resembles the core tenets of eugenics throughout human history. A society or, in this case, a mother’s resources should not be allocated to a child who is deemed not worth the cost.
One would think that history would have taught us to use our government systems to prevent institutionalized sexism, racism, or discrimination against people with disabilities. Sadly, many states are not taking a stand to erase the stain of eugenics from our laws. We must stand for the freedom and rights of all and demand the role of government to protect the rights of all humans equally and eradicate the evils of eugenics.
Rachel Hall is a senior at Clemson University, studying political science and Spanish. She anticipates graduating in December 2021 and enrolling in law school in the fall of 2022.