Towards a Truly Compassionate Eugenics

Eugenics is back, tied to unthought ideals of freedom and compassion that lend it an exciting sucrose flavor — and keep us from ever calling it eugenics.

Back in the good old 100 years ago, if you happened to be one of those humans deemed “unfit” by society, your sterilization was simply required. Over 30 American states had mandatory sterilization laws to be applied to some combination of “confirmed criminals,” “insane persons,” “idiots,” “degenerates,” “imbeciles,” and “rapists.” The Supreme Court, overwhelmingly certain that these laws were brilliant ideas that in no way violated a person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, confirmed in Buck v. Bell that arresting a mentally handicapped woman and snipping her fallopian tubes was constitutional as all get out. Writing for the majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said:

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.

And thus we managed to sterilize of 60,000 human beings. God bless America. This at least, was the glowing sentiment of the Nazi party, who lauded us as their number one inspiration in the compassionate war against the unfit, the mentally handicapped and the criminal:

As author Edwin Black writes:

“There is today one state,” wrote Hitler, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed the progress of the American eugenics movement. “I have studied with great interest,” he told a fellow Nazi, “the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”

The Nazi eugenics program, for which the United States bears a hefty portion of responsibility, sterilized over 350,000 human beings. Since there was no Godwin’s law in effect at this point in history, the argument “Holy @#%, we’re just like the Nazis” had a far fairly sobering effect, and now we (generally) agree that forced sterilization is a Very Bad Thing. After all, the last legal forced sterilization was performed in Oregon in the far-off, oh-so-distant year of 1981. Past history, right?

Maybe. We would no longer dare force a sterilization in the way our enlightened grandfathers did. Now, if people are to be sterilized, they must consent. This would all be beautiful, except that now — and increasingly – we pressure, bribe and guilt-trip people in order to get that consent. We are less the rapist and more the seducer, and we have Nazism to thank for the fact — outright force contains an embarrassing resonance of their atrocities.

So when the California prison system was called to task in a remarkable piece of investigative journalism for sterilizing over 150 female inmates there was little discussion over the ethics of the sterilizations themselves, only of the prisons acting without state authorization. The sterilizations weren’t forced. The women sterilized agreed to them. It wasn’t wrong, it was a social service! But no, a deeper look into the actions of the California prisons makes this justification of “consent” feel all sorts of awkward.

One former Valley State inmate who gave birth to a son in October 2006 said the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, repeatedly pressured her to agree to a tubal ligation.

“As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” said Christina Cordero, 34, who spent two years in prison for auto theft. “He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.”

Cordero, released in 2008 and now living in Upland, Calif., agreed, but she says, “today, I wish I would have never had it done.”

It is “illegal to pressure anyone to be sterilized or ask for consent during labor or childbirth.”

Yet, Kimberly Jeffrey says she was pressured by a doctor while sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section in 2010, during a stint at Valley State for a parole violation. Jeffrey, 43, was horrified, she said, and resisted.

“He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’ ” Jeffrey said. “I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’ I went into a straight panic.”

Having the people in charge of your freedom tell you to be sterilized isn’t being forced into sterilization, it’s being pressured. In the mind of those who think consent alone makes sterilization fine and dandy, the mere fact of attained permission may be more than enough justification for the actions of the California prison, but for those who think that consent should be full, informed, and given in freedom — and as far from pressure as possible — these anecdotes render the California prison system’s sterilizations reprehensible.

But this is the new eugenics: Because we’re nice people now, we can’t force sterilization, we can only apply the proper pressure. We have moved from the fascist model to the compassionate capitalist model: We’re not making you get sterilized, we’re making you want to be sterilized.

Consider the fine work of Project Prevention, an organization that pays drug addicts 300 dollars to get sterilized. Their motivation is compassion for children, their desire to alleviate suffering authentic, and they would never promote the sterility of men and women on drugs without consent. Nevertheless, Project Prevention should be set on fire and pushed off a cliff.

Sterilization — outside of the uncertain, expensive and difficult work of reversal — is permanent. To offer a drug addict in the grip of addiction 300 bucks to permanently rid himself of fertility is not to offer him the opportunity to consent in freedom. It is to offer him the opportunity to consent to sterilization within the slavery of his drug addiction. A woman addicted to drugs wants money to feed her addiction, to feed — in a real way — her illness. To offer her money for sterilization is to offer her a method of feeding this psychological and physiological addiction. The carrot Project Prevention waves in front of her nose is a bribery beyond 300 bucks, it is bribery that pulls at the sick, wounded body and soul of a person who will do anything for a fix. That we pat ourselves on the back because our ends our good — a world without drug-addicted parents and children — and we have stickers of consent fits perfectly with 21st century ethics — and remain perfectly unsatisfactory.

Our new, compassionate eugenics is based on a false negation of freedom and possibility in the human person. We permanently disable a person’s fertility on the basis of a temporary situation. That a woman is oppressed by poverty may very well be true, and that raising a child in the situation of poverty may be immensely difficult is likewise. However, poverty is not necessarily permanent. Poverty may be alleviated, whether through the charity of others, a return to justice within the person’s community, or a successful “rising above.” Nevertheless, the California prison system pressured inmates into sterilizations on the basis of permanent, determined poverty, as an effort to “save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as [these women with prison records] procreated more.”

That drug abuse is an awful environment in which to raise a child is undeniable, but drug abuse is not a permanent, determined reality within a human person. A mother involved in criminal activity may be less able to provide for her child than a non-criminal mother, but being involved in criminal activity is not a determined reality — it is a choice. To meet these immensely difficult yet solvable problems with the permanent solution of sterilization is fundamentally inhuman, an act of despair that cannot believe in the possibility of a human person changing their lives for the better, and thus seeks to alter their bodies, forever.

Until the 1980′s, we forcefully sterilized the “unfit” to better our race — that it might be free of poverty, crime and hereditary disease. Now we pressure a group of people we do not call “unfit” (who nevertheless fit in precisely the same category that our grandfathers made for the term, that of the handicapped, the criminal, and the poor) to be sterilized for their own sake, and for the sake of their children. Get ready for a eugenic comeback fueled by good feelings — and read Eugenics and Other Evils by G.K. Chesterton in preparation.

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  • Guest

    Eugenics and Other Evils is the pinnacle, not the preparation

  • Dixie Grit

    On point as always, Marc.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    That drug abuse is an awful environment in which to raise a child is undeniable, but drug abuse is not a permanent, determined reality within a human person.
    Ludwig van Beethoven and his two brothers were the children of a woman who died when they were babies, and of an inveterate drunkard who inflicted a miserable childhood on them. Beethoven at eighteen had to go through the degrading procedure of having his own father’s stipend as court musician placed under court control so that it should not all be drunk, and when the man died shortly afterwards, his employer, the Archbishop of Cologne, made the unChristian remark that the takings of all the taverns in town were bound to collapse. Beethoven became the greatest musician of all time, and both his brothers were successful businessmen. So much for the inevitable ruin that follows growing up in an environment of addiction.

    • green felt

      who said anything about inevitable ruin?

      • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

        The snip’em and tie’em brigade, of course.

      • jeremyjanson

        We like to give them the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming they are simply the children of Satan.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      And on a smaller scale: my husband grew up in poverty with an alcoholic, abusive father. His six brothers all became alcoholics as well. My husband put himself through tech school so he could get the training he needed to support our family. His father and brothers are all dry now, have returned to the Church and have been doing the long process of healing the relationships damaged by their addictions. By the grace of God, alcoholics recover, abusers repent and poverty can be lifted.

      • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

        Rebecca, I am sure I am not the only one who says, honour to your husband.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          He is a great blessing to me.

    • LALO

      Really? Beethoven is the yardstick on which to evaluate human conduct ? Pls.

      • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

        Really? Because Beethoven got drunk and had a temper, you would be without the Ninth and the Solemn Mass – or even the Scottish Songs? You are a complete idiot, and no wonder you support abortion. People don’t have to be perfect little suburban drones to be productive, useful, good and brave. Beethoven gave more to mankind in a minute of his life than the polite nobody you seem to want to be could do in a lifetime.

  • Bobby Rodriguez

    Sterilization of these low lifes is a great social service that protects the law abiding, saves taxpayer money, and unburdens low functioning people from tasks they are better off without. Contraception in all forms including sterilization and abortion have been great human advancements on par with the printing press and antibiotics.

    • Stephanie Larsen

      Do you really have such little compassion? What makes you–or me–so much better than the people have forced into their situations because of their circumstances, which not necessarily began with growing up in crime, but with other evils instead? Besides, people are capable of improving their lives and the lives of their children.

    • Aaron

      “These low lifes” summarizes the mindset of the eugenics movement nicely.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      I suspect sarcasm.

      • Mark

        Sadly no simply read his previous comments to other postings

  • Nicholas Escalona

    Extremely relevant:

    We are eagerly refining our means of distinguishing the least-fit children for murdder.

    • jeremyjanson

      Never mind the fact that we already have far more scientists, engineers, artists, writers, actors, directors, agents and other professionals, et cetera than jobs for them. I’ve got an engineering degree from one of the best engineering schools in America, with a minor in mathematics and some great coursework in plastics and semiconductors, and you know what I do for a living? I temp, carrying things and doing other manual labor.

      Thanks in part to the increase in IQ over the last 50 years, with a 100 today being equivalent to a 115 in 1963, we now have more demand and opportunity for big burly guys who aren’t afraid of dirty work than brilliant minds. The reality is that attempting to change the IQ distribution will merely lead to lots of high IQ people living wasted lives where their mind will never be used.

    • LALO

      The bad spellers go first.

  • Caroline Moreschi

    Just add it to the list of grave injustices to prisoners in the US, along with severe overcrowding, indifference to sexual assault, and the high disparity between the sentencing of crack and regular cocaine. But hey, out of sight out of mind, right? They’re not our problem as long as they’re locked away.

  • Scout

    Female Inmates in California were recently sterilized. Read the article at the following link:

  • axelbeingcivil

    As someone who’s read the statistics and personally seen the damage done, while I agree with your outrage over women being pressured into it, I cannot find myself willing to dismiss “soft eugenics” out of hand. Children of addicts, of criminals, from poverty-stricken backgrounds, etc. tend to do far more poorly in every area you care to name. While these problems need not be permanent, practice and hope are often at odds with one another.

    If people could be called upon to make sensible decisions about their reproductive health, we wouldn’t have this problem. However, children born to parents who are in no way capable of raising them perpetuate the cycle of poverty far more often than not.

    You can, of course, plead that this leads to moral evils and I can’t doubt it does. The California case proves it. However, moral evils occur regardless of one’s choices in this matter; all you can do is select the one that is the least abominable. You either run programs like these, and you deal with the sad consequences of people who claw their way out of poverty and wish they’d never made that choice, or you don’t, and you deal with the sad consequences of watching history repeat itself.

  • Jerry Lynch

    The brain’s brilliant and flawed abillity to classify and categorize–essentially pigeon-hole information, which allows great advances and undestanding, as well thriving mutually exclusive values and ideas–is at the root here, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is a prime example. He reminds me of a story about Nazi Germany.
    Two boys were arrested for stealing bread, before the advent of concentration camps, and sent to prison. Upon their arrival, the warden immediately saw their presence would be a problem. The older prisoners would be sorely tempted by these young boys and probably unable to control their urgings. So, to maintain the morality of the camp, the two boys were hung.

  • nccomfort

    The old eugenics was based on a logic of collectivism. The new eugenics is based on a logic of individuality. Some advocates today are saying that makes all the difference in the world. Does it? I’m not so sure.

  • jeremyjanson

    Americans today simply hate humanity. They do not care for their fellow countryman, or their nation, or the future, but simply proud, asinine, greedy desires and fears that are entirely selfish. Yet in a sense, they don’t really have a self, because a self is a creature of feeling, passion, loyalty, identity, principles, character, and a modern American is a big greedy baby who cries for his bottle and doesn’t know anything else to life.

    • K C Sunbeam

      Which could be why they oppose eugenics.
      Demonizing eugenics by comparing it to Nazism is called Reductio ad Hitlerum. This is the fallacy of trying to refute your opponent’s position by comparing it to views held by Hitler or the Nazis. (Wikipedia).
      Hitler had numerous good qualities; he was a painter, animal lover, initiated good roadways, believed the earth was round, etc. I’d hate to see the result of applying Reductio ad Hitlerum consistently.
      Our society has generally rejected eugenics; we have dysgenics, its opposite, instead. What is the result?
      “K. C. Sunbeam”
      my website:

      • jeremyjanson

        Yes, I’m sure ganging up against the week from the call of some greedy Rousseauian General Will is a splendid example of human decency and nobility.