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Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Remedy Certain of Itself

In upholding such laws, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered the opinion of the Court, infamously asserting:
"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. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

I have watched one of a two part series on Nazi medicine.  A central feature of their approach involved eugenics: selective breeding as proposed human improvement: the proposed improvement of the human species by encouraging or permitting reproduction of only those people with genetic characteristics judged desirable.  It has been regarded with disfavor since the Nazi period” (Encarta Dictionary).  Prior to the Nazi period, there were respectable and earnest implementations of the practice in several countries including the United States.  Eugenics promised the eradication of crime, the mentally ill and generally unpleasant people through selective breeding and sterilization of deviates as defined by the eugenicists.  If ever there were a practice proving that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” this was it.  The foundation of eugenics was an overweening pride in one’s own rectitude and quality gene set.  It served to greatly oversimplify complex matters struggled with since Genesis and thus became an insidious crime in itself.  It sat in exalted judgment of those guilty of being less than perfect—unlike the eugenicists who took themselves to be the epitome of perfection itself.  Thankfully, we have given up on selective breeding as a means to human betterment.  Certainly helpful approaches to man’s many chronic issues will be characterized by humility, a sense of limitations, and respect even for those who do not dress up in our style.  The answer is not in the genes so much as the dreams of man.  How to influence and cultivate these dreams becomes the central challenge.  But like the dangers presented by the arrogance of the “gene police,” we must also be wary lest we become latter-day “dream police” with a stringent agenda that transmutes into something grotesquely inhumane. 

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