Negative Eugenics

Negative eugenics, discouraging the reproduction of those whom society deems “unfit,” is what most people associate with the practice, because it led to widespread sterilization programs in which US scientists inspired Nazi doctors to scale up this practice to the point of genocide. The popularity of eugenics gained steam following the 1927 Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell – a decision to uphold the involuntary sterilization of those deemed intellectually disabled: “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.” We see how the law becomes an instrument for perpetuating deeply discriminatory practices under the guise of reason, neutrality, and social betterment for “all the world.” Negative eugenic practices such as prison sterilization are still with us; as recently as in 2013, doctors in California prisons were coercing women to undergo

sterilization, and in 2017 a Tennessee judge offered shorter sentences if prisoners agreed to sterilization.39 “Positive” eugenics, on the other hand, encourages the reproduction of populations that society already values. State fairs would host “fitter family contests” and people would submit their kids to measurements and tests, in the hope of receiving a eugenics certificate as part of the festivities.

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Despite obvious links to a previous era of eugenics justified on scientific grounds, the scientists in DNA Dreams disavow the connection. In a scene that depicts some of the key players eating dinner and discussing how their research could allow parents to screen embryos and choose the one that will become the smartest, one of them argues: “This isn’t even positive eugenics that we’re taking about, we’re not encouraging smart people to have kids, we’re encouraging everyone who has kids to have the best kids they possibly could have.”40 The dream they are selling is what we might call Equal Opportunity Eugenics.

The fact that we may all, ultimately, be able to access the tools of eugenic selection does not make such processes less eugenic. It just means that the intertwining projects of racism and ableism are all- encompassing.41 This is yet another example of how those who design the world according to their own values and biases are employing the rhetoric of “inclusion” as progressive veneer for deeply discriminatory practices. This goes much deeper than a marketing scheme and takes us well beyond one institute in China. The fact is, despite its bad Nazi press, under one description or another eugenics has typically been espoused by those in the United States and Europe who consider themselves social progressives.

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