For this project I am going to be discussing how eugenics has transformed itself into an invisible and oppressive power that is passive and unnoticed. It tries to limit certain groups of people by “‘improving’ human kind on the one hand, and erasing disability and difference on the other” (Malacrida, n.d.). I am going to explore how the neo-eugenic structures oppress people living with intellectual and physical disabilities and how we might bring more awareness to this issue.
Past Form of Structural Oppression:
First things first: lets define a few terms.
Eugenics utilizes biological and medical discourses to base its belief in controlling human populations through the selective breeding of certain groups of people (Malacrida, n.d.). It deals with the influences from the notion of improvement: improving the human race through population control (Galton, 1904). Galton (1904) advocated for eugenic practices, stating, “the race as a whole would be less foolish, less frivolous, less excitable, and politically more provident than now” (Galton, 1904, para. 4). This was enacted through either positive eugenics or negative eugenics. Positive eugenics is based in “historical policies and practices” that encouraged things like “premarital testing” to see if a couple had genes that would produce greater offspring, and not produce offspring that was seen as ‘undesirable’ (Malacrida, n.d.). The notion of positive eugenics stemmed from marriage, which was seen as a “social agency” that had an impact on the “quality of future generations” (Geridetti, 2008, p.258). The other form of eugenics is called negative eugenics. Negative eugenics was famously used in WWII as the Nazi’s form of power and control over people thought to be inferior. Their “racial hygiene” involved the “killing of persons to prevent the propagation of their genes” (Buchanan, 2007, p.22). Negative eugenics uses things like sterilization and coercive institutionalization to achieve its means. The implementation of policies, like the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta, “kept the ‘wrong’ sort of people from breeding or ‘polluting’ the population” (Malacrida, n.d.).
After the use of negative eugenics in WWII, eugenics was subject to ethical examination and its eradication to prevent the immorality of coercive and forcible ideas and practices against humans. The moral epistemology of negative eugenics requires one to engage in the “systematic critical investigation of the role of social practices and institutions” which are created by certain beliefs and values that distort the apprehension of moral attitudes and principles (Buchanan, 2007, p.22-23). This means
that once negative eugenics was set forth and discovered, people around the world had understood that this was morally wrong, and further looked into the rules and regulations of ethics. Even though negative eugenics is not longer practiced to this extent, certain eugenic practices have remained for many years after.
Positive eugenics encompasses things like selective breeding, where the controlling of certain individuals were either encouraged or discouraged to procreate. The encouragement was enacted through positive programs and policies to promote middle-class individuals to start having large families (Malacrida, n.d.). Through the negative aspects of this eugenic movement it discouraged individuals who had ‘undesirable’ genes from reproducing. These genes included the areas of intellectual disabilities and mental illness.
Another term that is important to know is passive eugenics. Negative eugenics is no longer practiced (and for good reason), but passive eugenics can happen inconspicuously. Passive eugenics does not occur though “biomedical interventions” like positive and negative eugenics, it is enacted through things like coercive institutionalization and forcible sterilization (Malacrida, n.d.). Alberta has seen passive eugenics formed around policies such as the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta. This piece of legislature limited certain groups of people from acquiring voluntary sterilizations, and certain groups from escaping forcible sterilizations. During this time period, eugenicists thought that people who had intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses, addiction, and strange social behaviours had them because of a genetic anomaly (Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta, n.d.). The legislature enacted at this time supported “anti-immigrant, anti-welfare, and indeed anti-mother sentiment[s] of the 1920s” (Ladd-Taylor, 1997, p.142). The common beliefs and values among “middle-class reformers” was the rationalization of reproduction (Ladd-Taylor, 1997, p.137). This ensured that there was a “”better”, more reproductive population” (Ladd-Taylor, 1997, p.137), by isolating people who did not fit the ideal image for reproductive success (Malacrida, n.d.).
Ann Bishop’s (2015) Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People resonates with the structures of oppressive eugenic legislation, and even more invisible forms, like societal beliefs and values against certain groups of people. Bishop (2015) outlines the first steps of oppression to “understand oppression, how it came about, how it is held in place and how it stamps its patterns on the individual and institutions that perpetuate it” (Bishop, 2015, p.12). Looking towards the past and learning from negative and positive eugenics can help us understand the new and existing structures that limit people living with disabilities in a whole different light.
Modern Form of Structural Oppression:
This introduces the topic of newgenics. Newgenics is the “range of medical, political, and social practices related to ‘improving’ human kind on the one hand, and erasing disability and difference on the other” (Malacrida, n.d.). Passive newgenics are the ways in which, today, people living with disabilities are segregated from “socializing, dating, engaging in sexual or companionate relationships, and having children…” (Malacrida, n.d.). This means that people living with disabilities have less privacy, more isolation, and restricted access to engage with others. Malacrida (n.d.) notes that passive neweugenics is also indicative of the lack of information or untrustworthy information provided to “discourage people from being sexual or having children” (Malacrida, n.d.). The segregation and isolation of people living with intellectual or physical disabilities limits them from interaction with other people. Segregating and marginalizing individuals living with disabilities furthers their alienation. This limits their ability to form close and intimate relationships with people. One area that promotes this segregation is in group homes. Group homes typically accommodate people living with intellectual disabilities, and limits their independence in a way that limits the formation of close and intimate relationships with people (Malacrida, n.d.). Priestly (2003) as cited by Hollomotz (2008) states, “disabled people are however often excluded from the rights and responsibilities normally associated with adult social status” (Hollomotz, 2008, p.93). Take a couple of minutes to watch this video, which interviews a couple who shares their own personal accounts of living in group homes.
In what ways do you think this this video indicative of passive newgenics?
The way I think it is, is through protectionism. Protectionism are the beliefs held that ‘protect’ people with disabilities from harm “rather than offering them information and choices” (Malacrida, n.d.). I find that this resonates with passive eugenic thought, as I feel like those institutions are trying to limit their sexual activity, and therefore reproduction, of individuals they deem to have “undesirable” genes, due to their disabilities. Relating this back to Bishop’s (2015) first chapter, she notes that after we discover and understand oppression, we need to become an ally, educate other allies, and maintain hope (Bishop, 2015). In order to do this, I believe that we need to promote policies and legislation that give people living with disabilities the privacy and independence that they need. I also feel like group homes need to respect the boundaries of their residents, and provide adequate deliverance for individuals to meet other people to form relationships among their peers.
Newgenics is comparable with the historical policies and practices of passive eugenics through protectionism; in what other ways does it compare? In regards to social isolation and degradation, how can policies implement new legislations to give more freedom to people living with intellectual and physical disabilities?
I just want to thank everyone who took the time to read this. I found this topic really interesting to learn about, since I had not thought about it in this way. I found that learning about the structures that impose themselves and oppress individuals living with disabilities to be eye-opening. I hope in the future to research this topic more extensively.
Ann Bishop (2015). Becoming an Ally: Breaking the cycle of Oppression in People. Black Point, N.S. & Winnipeg, MB, Canada: Fernwood Publishing.
Buchanan, A. (2007). Institutions, Beliefs and Ethics: Eugenics as a Case Study. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 15(1), 22-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2007.00250.x
Galton, F. (1904). Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims. The American Journal of Sociology, 10(1). Retrieved from http://www.mugu.com/galton/essays/1900-1911/galton-1904-am-journ-soc-eugenics-scope-aims.htm
Gerodetti, N. (2008). Rational Subjects, Marriage Counselling and the Conundrums of Eugenics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 39(2), 255-262. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2008.03.009
Ladd-Taylor, M. (1997). Saving Babies and Sterilizing Mothers: Eugenics and Welfare Politics in the Interwar United States. Social Politics, 4(1), 136-153. doi: 10.1093/sp/4.1.136
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Eugenics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#Eugenics
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Positive Eugenics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#PositiveEugenics
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Negative Eugenics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#NegativeEugenics
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Selective Breeding [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#SelectiveBreeding
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Passive Eugenics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#PassiveEugenics
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Newgenics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#Newgenics
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Passive Newgenics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#PassiveNewgenics
Malacrida, C. (n.d.) Isolation: Now [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2014/05/14/isolation-now/
Malacrida, C. (n.d.). Key Terms: Protectionism [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://eugenicsnewgenics.com/2015/03/03/key-terms/#Protectionism
Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 29th, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Sterilization_Act_of_Alberta
Zoomin.TV World News. (May 8, 2013). Disabled Couple Seeks Life Together in Group Home [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oe4DN_PqTzY
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