Aktion T4 was the Nazi German’s earliest euthanasia program, which targeted physically and mentally disabled people, chronically ill people and psychiatrically-labeled people for killing, characterizing them as ‘useless eaters’. Estimates are that approximately 300,000 such people were exterminated between 1939 and 1945. Aktion T4 acted as a test case for later death programs targeting Jews, Homosexuals and other ‘undesirables’.
Agriculturalist means farming or researching agriculture. Agricultural experiences were a central foundation to Alberta’s eugenic movement. For example George Hoadley, the United Farmers of Alberta cabinet minister responsible for putting eugenic legislation into action, based his support for eugenics on his experiences as a rancher and his successes with selectively breeding farm animals (see Doug Wahlsten’s article on Eugenics in Alberta).
Alberta Eugenics Board was a group established in 1928 to administer the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act. Comprised of four standing members to be appointed by government, the Board met regularly at various institutions across the province, including Michener Centre and Alberta Hospital at Ponoka. Over its 43-year run, the Board rarely changed membership, rarely declined a case, and operated with complete protection from litigation for its actions.
Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act was originally passed by the United Farmers of Alberta government in Alberta in 1928. The original act required the consent of ‘patients’ or their guardians. A subsequent amendment in 1938, passed by the Social Credit government, permitted the sterilization without consent of people deemed incapable (including people with IQ scores lower than 70, people in ‘psychotic’ states and people with terminal syphilis or Huntington’s Chorea). This amendment also protected the Eugenics Board from any legal liability or lawsuits.
Eugenics is usually couched in biological terms, based on the belief that science can improve the human species through positive eugenics (encouraging ‘fit’ people to have families) or negative eugenics (discouraging ‘undesirable’ people from breeding). Negative eugenics can be either active or passive. Active negative eugenics included involuntary sterilization, and passive negative eugenics, included institutionalizing people deemed to be insane or mentally defective to isolate them and prevent their unwanted reproduction.
Immigration policies have long been a form of passive eugenics in Canada. ‘Undesirable’ people (non-white, non-Northern European, and disabled) have been kept out of the country while ‘desirable’ people (educated White, temporarily able-bodied Northern Europeans) have been unfairly favoured. Historical examples include the Head Tax that was designed to prohibit Chinese immigrant workers imported for railway work from bringing their wives and children into the country. Currently, the Canadian Immigration Act continues to restrict the admission of disabled people or families with disabled dependents.
Infantilization is a form of newgenics. Here, disabled people – whether physically or mentally disabled – are seen as perpetually childlike, innocent, and vulnerable. As a result, they are treated like children, regardless of their age. This can mean being excluded from sexual education, being over-protected at home and in disability-focused services agencies, being denied the right to access potential partners, being treated as asexual, or being denied masturbation, pornography or sexual surrogates.
Intelligence is literally the ability to acquire and utilize knowledge and information. However, it is often conflated with intelligence quotient (IQ), which is a score of an individual’s performance on a number of memory, knowledge and skill tests that is translated into a ranking based on the ‘normal curve’. The original IQ test was devised by Alfred Binet with the goal of identifying children who might need assistance in schooling; Binet himself saw the test as limited, and he did not believe that the test identified ‘intelligence’. Eugenically-minded enthusiasts like Henry Goddard popularized, simplified, and added an age-scale to IQ testing. An interesting and accessible history of the IQ test and its flaws can be found in Stephen Jay Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man.
Kallikaks were a fictionalized family described in a book by prominent American eugenicist, Henry Goddard. Goddard’s account was that the family patriarch had procreated with two women – one an upstanding middle-class woman whom he married and the other his impoverished one-time mistress. Using sketchy pedigree charts and doctored photographs, Goddard claimed the married woman’s descendants were fine citizens, while the poor mistress’s descendants were drunks, criminals and prostitutes. Goddard’s methods were dishonest and inaccurate, but his eugenic book was highly influential.
Mental Defective This was a vague and broadly-inclusive term used to describe people with intellectual disabilities, and it often included those with cerebral palsy or mental illnesses as well. Its importance was enshrined in the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act Amendment of 1937, which permitted the sterilization of such people without their written consent. The Act defined a mental defective as “… any person in whom there is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind existing before the age of eighteen years, whether arising from inherent causes or induced by disease or injury.”
Michener Centre (also known as Alberta School Hospital, Deerhome, and Provincial Training School) was an institute originally established for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It acted as a form of passive eugenics, housing children and young people in many cases for decades, effectively preventing them from having families. It also was the site of regular Eugenic Board meetings, sterilization operations, and was one of the main ‘suppliers’ of cases that went before the Board. At its height in the mid-1970s, it housed over 2400 children and adults.
Muir, Leilani is a survivor of internment at Michener Centre and of involuntary sterilization. She launched a successful lawsuit against the government of Alberta in 1995 to challenge the legality of the Sexual Sterilization Act and to seek redress for unlawful sterilization. In 1996, the National Film Board of Canada produced a moving documentary about Ms. Muir’s life, the sterilization process and the trail for unlawful sterilization.
Neo-eugenics is also known as Liberal Eugenics. This is a philosophy that follows eugenic thinking in terms of seeing the ‘improvement’ of humankind through biological and biotechnical means as a desirable and achievable outcome. It includes a wide range of practices, from prenatal genetic screening for disability to ‘human enhancements’ such as in-utero surgeries, cochlear implants, and genetic manipulations. Like eugenics, neo-eugenics seeks to resolve many problems that are social issues (including disability stigmatization, poverty and poor health care) through biological means.
Negative eugenics were historical policies and practices that sought to prevent the ‘wrong’ sort of people from breeding or ‘polluting’ the population. Negative eugenics included involuntary sterilization, long-term institutionalization, and immigration policies that kept the ‘wrong’ sorts of people from entering the country.
Newgenics is a term that recognizes a broad range of medical, political and social practices related to ‘improving’ human kind on the one hand, and erasing disability and difference on the other. Newgenics moves beyond biological and medical interventions, to encompass systematic gaps and barriers to education, services, policy and supports for disabled people in terms of their sexuality and reproduction.
Passive eugenics were historical forms of sexual and reproductive control that occurred through sequestering people who were seen as unsuited to reproduction. These were not biomedical interventions but sought social means including institutionalization, isolation, and immigration laws that prevented ‘undesirables’ from breeding.
Passive newgenics are present-day ways of preventing disabled people from socializing, dating, engaging in sexual or companionate relationships, and having children, accomplished through social isolation and physical barriers to inclusion. Lack of privacy, restricted movement, and engagement in segregated activities all impede disabled people’s capacity to experience a rich relational and sexual life. In addition, lack of information or dishonest/improper information can be used to discourage people from being sexual or having children.
Pedigree Studies/Pedigree Charts stem from agricultural traditions of tracking the lineage of animals with desirable qualities (size, colour, etc.) in hopes of predicting the qualities of their offspring in selective breeding programs. While agricultural pedigree charts are used to predict simple traits like eye colour or body size, eugenicists extended these ideas to ‘trace’ human qualities such as alcoholism, poverty, ‘mental defect’ and criminality, which are not genetically transmitted.
Positive eugenics were historical policies and practices that sought to encourage the ‘right’ sort of people to have larger families. During the Eugenic era, educational campaigns encouraged premarital ‘testing’ in the form of background checks and ‘pedigree charts’ were encouraged. Other positive eugenic actions included public events like ‘Better Baby Contests’ that promoted the idea of eugenic fitness as a cultural value.
Prenatal Testing and Selective Abortion are genetic tests on the fetus that can identify a range of disabling conditions, such as Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida. The tests are not able to assess the severity of genetic disabilities, and they are not able to identify many genetic, all non-genetic disorders, and all acquired disabilities. Thus, the promise of erasing disability or sickness through prenatal screening is overstated. Prenatal testing is offered as a routine part of pregnancy care, frequently without adequate ethical discussion of selective abortion, or the implications of parenting a disabled child.
Protectionism is when beliefs and practices concerning disabled people are based on an ethos of protecting them from harm rather than offering them information and choices. Many people with disabilities have been subject to protectionism in terms of their sexual lives because guardians, caregivers and decision-makers presume that they are too naïve, too vulnerable or too incapable to make decisions for themselves about relationships, sexuality and reproduction. Similarly, in much research about disability from a medical model perspective, the rights of disabled people to guide and be included in research has been limited by gatekeepers who worry that speaking about disability might do disabled people more harm than good.
Race degeneration (also known as Race Suicide) was a eugenic belief that the ‘right’ kinds of people – wealthy or middle-classed, White, non-immigrants – were failing to reproduce themselves. Conversely, it was believed that the ‘wrong’ kinds of people – poor, uneducated, non-Whites or immigrants – were producing excessively large families. The overall fear was that the overall population was actually becoming weaker and degenerating. These arguments ignored social factors such as racism, discrimination or poor access to education and birth control, and instead attributed social problems to biological factors.
Selective breeding was one of the foundational ideas of the eugenics movement. Eugenicists believed that by controlling the kinds of people who had children – both through negative means like sterilization programs or institutionalization, and through positive programs like encouraging middle classed educated couples to have large families – that the population in general could improve. Based on experiences with farm animals bred for size or productivity, selective breeding amongst humans had little hope of improving eugenicists’ social concerns, such as poverty or unemployment.
Statistics is the collection, manipulation and analysis of numerical data. It was the invention and passion of eugenic founder, Francis Galton. In the early eugenic years, statistics were used to argue that moral, behavioural, intellectual and social ‘defects’ could be calculated and predicted through population studies, criminal statistics and pedigree charts/studies. Because these studies were mathematical and were claimed to be ‘scientific’ people were convinced that they were unbiased and robust. However, the founding measures used in determining ‘defect’ were frequently flawed.
United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) originated as a grassroots farmers’ organization. They formed the ruling government from 1921-1935 and were responsible for implementing the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Act. Their support of eugenic legislation was frequently couched in the language of agriculture. George Hoadley, the UFA Minister of Agriculture and Health who brought the Sterilization Act to into law, attributed his experiences on the farm and his observations of the benefits of selective stock breeding as instrumental to his support for the Sterilization Act (see Wahlsten, 1997).
United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) were the women’s branch of the UFA, which began as lobbyists and in 1921 became the ruling government of Alberta. Prominent members include the Famous Five, who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to recognize Canadian women as persons and hence capable of voting. Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, Nellie McLung were all UFWA women, members of the Famous Five, and publicly and actively in support of eugenics in Alberta. (see Malacrida’s book A Special Hell)