One of the topics of my research this month, to prepare for NaNoWriMo, is Eugenics. To say that Eugenics is one of the most twisted and awful practices of mankind in modern history is possibly an understatement. Eugenics has been an excuse for all kinds of human rights violations since its conception. Eugenics, for example, is the "science" behind Hitler's master race, and the subsequent extermination of minorities during his regime. Needless to say, after seeing what the extremist application of Eugenics resulted in, it fell out of favor. I wish I could say it had been abandoned altogether and immediately.
On the surface, Eugenics seems like a pretty straightforward and common sense idea-- oversimplified, it applied the breeding practices we apply to livestock and plant-life to humanity. Encourage the people with desirable traits to have more children, and the people with undesirable traits not to have any. But somewhere along the way, we forgot that we don't really have a right to decide what is and is not a desirable trait for the entirety of the human race. And somewhere else along the way Encouraging became Forcing. Laws were passed, The State involved itself-- and not just in Germany, but in America, and the United Kingdom, and several other nations who believed themselves to be forward thinking at the time.
In America, Eugenics took the greatest hold in Mental Institutes. Mental illness, regardless of the circumstances of its acquisition, was considered a very undesirable trait, and as a result, men and women who were checked in began to be sterilized. Sometimes it was done honestly but the doctors did not need the consent of their patients and in documented cases, they flat out lied about the procedure. Mental illness itself in the patient did not have to be proven and justification in some instances was specious at best.
In one famous Virginia case, a woman who was committed to an asylum for the purposes of hiding a pregnancy was subsequently sterilized on the very flimsy evidence that she had passed on her supposed mental illness to her seven month old daughter--a supposed condition she had inherited from her own mother. Later research has revealed that both the sterilized mother and daughter were perfectly functional, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any illness of any kind. The worst that can be said is that the woman was an illegitimate child, and so was her baby. Incidentally, they sterilized her sister too, under the guise of an operation for appendicitis, and she did not learn the truth until much later in life.
I'm sure more case studies will crop up as I continue reading, but one thing you should know is that forced sterilization didn't stop in the US until well into the 1960s. Wikipedia says the last forced sterilization occurred as late as the 1980s. Of course, by that time they no longer called it Eugenics. That particular label had become a dirty word after Hitler's abuse of it. There's more information on Forced Sterilizations, organized by state, posted by the University of Vermont. It's easy to point the finger at Hitler, but in America we were waging our own war against undesirables, too. Would we still be following the twisted path Eugenics led us along, if Hitler hadn't taken it to an extreme? I wish I could say no. I really wish I could say no.
Obviously this is a part of history we can not ever afford to forget.