Black, E. (2012). War against the weak: eugenics and America’s campaign to create a master race. Washington, DC: Dialog Press.
Black’s text explores the eugenics movement in the United States from its early development through its strong ties with the Nazi movement in Germany. More than 60,000 people in 27 states in the U.S. were subjected to compulsory sterilization as a part of the American eugenics movement. Certain groups of people that were considered “unfit” were targeted, including individuals with intellectual disabilities, people of lower socioeconomic classes, and recent immigrants. These people were often institutionalized or prevented from marrying. Black’s extensive research provides key insights in regards to the role that the American elite at the time played in the eugenics movement, and how different professionals, such as teachers and doctors, were also involved in spreading ideas and practices concerning eugenics. His research focuses in particular on the role of American industrialists, university professors, and scientists in introducing the movement to Germany, where its eugenics movement eventually outreached the American eugenics movement, especially in regards to methods and extent of eugenics practices. Finally, Black argues that once the Nazis’ eugenics were labeled as a crime against humanity, eugenicists in the United States had to reinvent themselves as geneticists and have since then continued to advocate for objectives closely related to those of the eugenics movement.
Tim Booth and Wendy Booth aim to answer the question of what it means to be brought up by parents with learning difficulties, addressing assumptions that parenting by people with learning difficulties includes certain risks and negative outcomes. The authors carried out in-depth interviews and explored life-stories of children who grew up in such families, and concluded that there is little evidence supporting such negative assumptions regarding the parenting skills of individuals with learning disabilities. The authors explored how children managed the transition to adulthood, as well as the long-term outcomes of their upbringing. An important contribution of this research is the challenge to the common view that children of individuals with learning difficulties need to parent their own parents, which authors named “the myth of upside family”. Significantly, the authors found no evidence that would support the view that there is a particular burden associated with having a disabled parent. The authors argue that being a good parent is not an individual skill, but rather a social attribute. Finally, this book suggests that society needs to provide a broader support for the families, instead of insisting that children should be protected from their parents.
Burleigh’s study focuses on the programme called ‘euthanasia’ during the period between 1939 and 1945, when the Nazi forces exterminated 200 000 mentally ill or disabled people. Burleigh discusses the role of professionals that were included in this programme: bureaucrats, doctors, nurses, health officials, and also families and relatives of those who were killed. This study also explores the eugenic practices that marked this period. Burleigh identifies four means of raising the “quality” of population used by the Nazis: eugenic marriage counselling that prohibited the union of those who were seen as “unfit”; murdering “a life unworthy of life”; isolation in asylums; and the sterilization of individuals who were considered to be “undesirable”. This study also focuses on the role and response of the psychiatric profession in practices and policies of the time.
Burleigh is a notable researcher whose work includes numerous studies on National Socialist Germany. This book consists of nine essays concerning three intertwined aspects of Nazi Germany: connections with the East, the “euthanasia” program, and the Holocaust. Among other issues, the author examines the utilitarian reasoning behind the eugenic practices that was closely related to the role of psychiatry after the First World War. In addition to providing extensive review of occurrences and practices that marked that period, Burleigh also engages in discussions on how one approaches these events, particularly the Holocaust. Burleigh further provides an overview of historical scholarship regarding the Holocaust.
Dyck’s book focuses on the eugenics program in Alberta during the twentieth century, specifically looking at the sexual sterilization practises that occurred during this time. Facing Eugenics explores individual experiences of men and women who were part of such programs, either coercively or voluntarily, rather than policies and laws regarding eugenics. This research is based on various historical documents, including court cases, medical records, media coverage, and personal experiences. Each of the seven chapters is dedicated to one case related to Sexual Sterilization Act, and together they illustrate different aspects of the program and address issues such as gender, sexuality, and consent. In the closing chapter Dyck contextualizes reproductive rights in broader discussions of civil liberties, resistance, and autonomy.
Harris-Zsovan’s book addresses the eugenic practices that took place in Canada, particularly in Alberta, from 1928 to 1972. Harris-Zsovan explores the policies and politics surrounding this process, and presents extensive material regarding the eugenic ideology. She explains the eugenic practices by placing them in the broader context and addresses the circumstances within Canadian politics, religion, and economy which led to the sterilization and segregation of disabled people in Alberta. In addition to addressing historical events regarding eugenic practices, Harris-Zsovan argues that the eugenic movement is still present today, as eugenic practices and eugenic discourse expend into everyday life. This book also provides several important appendixes including the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act, laws, and court cases that are relevant to eugenics.
Hollomotz suggests an ecological model approach that shifts the focus of analysis from the individual as “the origin of risk” to the various additional environmental, cultural and social factors which are often undermined in conceptualizations of risk of sexual violence. In a previous article, Hollomotz (2009) noted that “if a person is assumed to be at risk because of who they are, then nothing can be done to alter that state of being than to protect them” (p.108). She argues that use of the labels regarding vulnerability can actually increase risk, because that label often results in the over-protection of disabled people who consequently are denied access to information and services, as well as kept from opportunities to enter into social and sexual relationships. According to Hollomotz, vulnerability is in part created through social processes, including sex education, friendships, and social inclusion. Hollomotz suggests the lack of information and opportunities to experience sexual expression and practices actually increase the risks of sexual abuse. Hollomotz interviewed 29 persons with learning disabilities, and their stories show how people with learning disabilities can defend themselves against sexual violence. Finally, this book presents suggestions for better equipping people with learning difficulties with methods to manage risk themselves.
This book places contemporary research in genetics within social and historical contexts, primarily by examining its predecessor, eugenics. Kevles argues that modern genetic research has its beginnings in eugenics programs that aimed to control physical, as well as mental, characteristics of humans by focusing on their heredity. This research provides a comparative history by examining eugenics in the U.S. and Britain. Kevles suggests that it is important to take into account social and political contexts in regards to genetic programs, as science is strongly influenced by those contexts. Considering both the positive and the negative consequences that may be the results of genetic research, Kevles wrote this book “in the strong belief that the exploration of the eugenic past has much to teach us about how to avoid repeating its sins and mistakes” (xi, 1995).
Through extensive research and interviews, American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton unveils the role that German medical professionals played in the Nazi genocide. Lifton’s analysis is based primarily upon these interviews, as he believes the best way to know about the doctors is to talk to them personally. Lifton identifies five steps that helped the Nazis to carry out the principle of “life unworthy of life”, the first of which was coercive sterilization. Besides this negative form, eugenics also manifested in its positive form – encouraging large families, and research on people who were seen as “gifted”. Lifton notes that mental conditions resulted in the greatest number of sterilizations. Further, there did not seem to be much opposition to the sterilization; on the contrary, it was supported by discourses of hereditary biology and racial hygiene. Regarding the doctors’ views on sterilization, Lifton writes: “the great majority of the doctors I interviewed told me that they approved of the sterilization laws at the time. They believed the laws to be consistent with prevailing medical and genetic knowledge concerning the prevention of hereditary defects, though a few of these doctors had some hesitation about the law’s compulsory features” (p. 29). Lifton also notes that sterilization was widespread across the world during this era, but only in Germany did it lead to mass murder. The Nazification of the medicine, which included ideological enthusiasm and systematic terror, was the key aspect that led from sterilization to direct killing.
Lombardo provides an in-depth inquiry of the infamous 1927 American case, Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck was subjected to coercive sterilization for being deemed “feeble-minded”, under an American law calling for sterilization of those who were deemed “defective”. Lombardo was the last person to interview Carrie Buck before she passed away. This book chronicles the Buck v. Bell case, and critically outlines the political and social circumstances that accompanied it. Lombardo contends that the court in this case was not considering the facts and legal reasoning, but that the outcome was pre-determined. Research presented in this book is crucial for understanding the laws across the U.S. that followed the case Buck v. Bell, as well as for comprehension of the occurring policies and practices regarding attempts to control reproduction.
There is also a website that accompanies the book, containing various documents and other materials discussed in the text. More information on Buck v. Bell can also be found on the related Wikipedia page.
This book draws on archival documents and oral histories of survivors of Provincial Training School/Michener Centre, a total institution for ‘mental defectives’ that opened in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada in 1923 and that continues to operate to the present.
Michener began as a training institution, with seemingly benign goals and the intent of providing specialized training with hopes of community reintegration. It quickly grew into a facility that acted as a virulent means of passive eugenics. ‘Trainees’ were inducted into the institution in childhood and often spent their entire lives without hope of re-entry into society, effectively keeping them from ‘contaminating’ the general population. These children and adults lived in social isolation, under extremely horrifying conditions; they were subject to economic exploitation inside the institution and in the community surrounding it, they were heavily and often unnecessarily medicated and made to participate in medical experimentation. Many of them were involuntarily sterilized as part of Alberta’s Eugenics Act, which ended only in 1972.
The story of Michener Center that Malacrida offers is more than a litany of woes. It is also an examination of how Michener Center operated as part of a constellation of official institutions that operated virtually without scrutiny or accountability for much of the 20th century. The Eugenics Board, the Departments of Health and Education, a network of Mental Health Facilities in the province, and Guidance Clinics that were both permanently located in the cities and also offered regular visits to smaller centers, all served to funnel ‘defective’ people into the institutions. By outlining this system and its practices, this book offers a critique of public policy and professional practices that, although fashionable at the time, in retrospect seem nothing short of draconian. Making such a history public offers a cautionary tale to current practitioners and policy-makers in the field of what is euphemistically called ‘human services’ (including policy makers and psychiatric, medical and educational experts who deal with human difference).
The book draws on oral histories from 22 survivors of the institution, archival materials from Michener Center and relevant government sources, and interviews with several ex-workers to flesh out a picture of how social policy without social accountability can go terribly wrong. In so doing, Malacrida constructs a clear argument that facilities like Michener Center have no place in our current ‘services’ for people with intellectual, physical and mental health disabilities.
McLaren’s book examines the eugenics movement in Canada from 1885 to 1945, particularly in regards to its long-lasting and widespread support throughout the country. His research suggests that many Canadians were prone to justify ideas and practices aimed at eliminating those deemed to be “unfit”. Various professionals including doctors, social workers, and scientists contributed to the spread of ideas concerning eugenics. These professionals argued that social phenomena such as poverty, crime, and disability were the product of one’s genes, instead of being the result of broader structures of inequality. Taking a biological determinist approach, these professionals suggested solutions that were based on biological grounds. The most radical method of active eugenics was the sterilization of persons who were considered “unfit” in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
Prenatal testing and disability rights is a collection of articles that explore the disability rights critique of prenatal testing. The editors of this publication state in the introduction that “the critique seeks to persuade prospective parents and medical professionals that they should re-examine stereotypes about life with disability and about what it means to be the parent of a child who is disabled” (p. IX). This book consists of four parts: the first part provides the context in which this book was created, and an overview of prenatal testing practices in the United States. Part two addresses the implications of prenatal testing and selective abortion on the experience of parenthood in general. This section includes personal reflections as well as empirical and theoretical explorations of parenthood and prenatal testing, including both qualitative and quantitative studies. Part two also addresses the widespread belief that a child’s disability causes stress and family disruption. The third section deals with the belief that the use of prenatal testing for disabling traits indicates negative attitudes held toward those living with the traits. Philosopher Eva Feder Kittay, who is the mother of a disabled woman, challenges this view that is shared by many in the disability community. The fourth and final part of this book is dedicated to consideration of policies and the role of professionals in regulating parental screening, and demonstrates the challenges in indicating difficulties in reaching an agreement.
Soloway’s text demonstrates the relationship between the eugenics movement and demographic tendencies in Britain from the 1870s to World War II. This book also examines how different scientific theories were used to point out that birthrates among the middle and upper class were declining, and explores the opinions and practices that emerged from the assumption that Britain was facing tremendous demographic changes. Soloway argues that demographic changes greatly determined the formation of eugenics movement. It is important to note that at the period examined in this text, the eugenics movement in Britain was rather small. Still, it had great influence on shaping opinions and attitudes of people belonging to the middle and upper class. Although Soloway did use extensive data from historical demography, this study examines eugenics in terms of a social movement that was based on certain assumptions regarding heredity and social class, rather than merely from a demographic point of view.
Weikart’s work builds on numerous studies that explore the linkage between ideas concerning evolutionary biology, Darwinism, and the possible consequences for ethical and social issues. In this historical study, Weikart focuses on moral and social aspects that stem from Darwinism. At the center of his inquiry are questions concerning the value of human life; further, Weikart examines bioethical issues concerning euthanasia and eugenics. In this book, Weikart argues that many ideas Hitler relied on were initially introduced by notable scholars and respectable scientists, and not only by those who practiced amateur science, as it is often presented in related literature.