Disability, Eugenics, and the Culture Wars
St. Louis Journal of Health Law & Policy, Vol. 2, p. 57, 2009
25 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2009 Last revised: 30 Apr 2009
Date Written: 2009
The eugenics movement provided the motive for dozens of laws that remained in force for more than a century in the United States, a significant number of which specifically targeted people with disabilities for legally sanctioned discrimination. Similar laws were adopted around the world, perhaps most notably as part of Hitler’s prelude to the Holocaust. Consequently, we tend to associate the word “eugenics” with all things evil. Yet the underlying message of eugenicists was popular for so long not solely because it denoted coercive legislation but more often because it signaled a hopeful future devoid of social problems. This paper describes how the word “eugenics” is now coming back into common use, and how it has been revived in the service of political objectives, divorced from the period in which it developed and the meaning it had within its earlier historical context. The resulting distortions - directly traceable to the ongoing “culture war” over reproductive rights - suggests that we should be careful when we play the “eugenics card” lest rhetorical zeal eliminate the possibility for honest debate.
Keywords: eugenics, reproductive rights, rhetoric, involuntary sterilization
JEL Classification: I00, I18, K00, K30, K39, Z00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation