Eugenics: Past to Future
Eugenics may appear to be a philosophy of the past only retained by history books. Yet as new research in genetics gives human a better understanding of their genetic makeup and methods to alter it; the possibilities arises that eugenics may soon re-merge. Francis Galton developed the idea of eugenics in the 1860’s. Galton believed that it was the moral responsibility of the human race to better itself. His theory was that hose families which were superior physically and mentally should produce more children, therefore promoting more “good” genes in the entire gene pool. This view was considered positive eugenics; however the darker side to eugenics which was been documented is referred to as negative eugenics. Negative eugenics advocated the idea that those individuals who possessed bad genes should be stopped from breeding to maintain humanity’s fitness as a whole. Sterilization or asylums were the most common routes to stop breeding within the defectives as they were referred to.
In California by 1924, approximately 2,500 individuals had been involuntarily sterilized for traits referred to as “insane” or “feebleminded.” The same year Virginia managed to pass a Eugenical Sterilization Act. Without scientific backing the act stated that heredity played an important role in the transmission of insanity. Carrie Buck was the first to succumb to the fate of this new law. At the age of seventeen years old she had already had a child as was therefore considered “feebleminded.” Subsequently she was sent to trial to prove the validity of the accusation. The Eugenics Record office traveled to Virginia to assess Carrie’s baby, Vivian. They concluded she was “below average” and “not quite normal.” The judge deemed this conclusive evidence, and Carrie was sterilized (Dolan). This is one individual account of the austerity of the eugenics movement, however eugenics continued on well through the 1930’s. Even Hitler’s views of the perfect Arian race sound heavily of eugenics’ ideals. If the eugenics movement has made such a large impact on history already, it makes one wonder what role eugenics will play in the future as science progresses.
In the 1997 movie GATTACA this prospect is explored. The basis of the movie is that genetics has excelled to such a level that a new type of eugenics has evolved. Individuals are not sterilized or admitted to asylums but rather so many are genetically engineered that those born of natural birth are considered inferior. The moment that a baby is born it is examined and the probability for every disease of defect that he/she has can be calculated. Only those with superior genetic make-up are allowed into certain respectable positions. Inferior individuals are forced into the low-=class jobs such as janitorial work.
Although the two scenarios, the eugenics movement as well as GATTACA’s advanced genetic manipulation, seem to be more harmful than good; in moderation they could be extremely helpful to many individuals. When Galton developed eugenics his aim was to help the human race, not to hinder it. Therefore it seems that the eugenics movement should be redirected to keep it on the right track. The most effective and ethical means to use eugenics in the future would be to removed genes for deadly or debilitating disease, however leave the others unaltered. This would achieve the prospect of bettering the human gene pool, while also controlling the social problems which would come along with genetic manipulation of the human genome. However, only time will tell what the role of eugenics will play in our society as genetics continues to advance, and whether or not technology will be used for good or in a frivolous manner.
Dolan DNA Learning Center. “Ugenicsarchive.com” eugenicsarchive.org. 2005. 21 Sept.