Eugenics: The Most Atrocious Form of Human Rights Violation

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Eugenics is the study of the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a particular population. In its extreme negativity, eugenics may support the extermination of some groups whom some others consider undesirable population.

Eugenics is the study of the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a particular population. It encourages the reproduction by persons of desirable genetic qualities and discourages the reproduction by persons of undesirable genetic qualities. In its extreme negativity, eugenics may support the extermination of some groups whom some others consider undesirable population.

Eugenics Aims at Discouraging Reproduction by “Undesired” Humans

In general terms, Eugenics may be defined as "the study of, or belief in, the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)." Prior to the emergence of Nazi Germany, particularly in the first quarter of the 20th century, eugenics was a popular branch of study.

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Eugenics Promoted by Nazi Germany

During the days of the Nazi Germany eugenics acquired a negative connotation. The scientific community and the public alike began to associate eugenics with Nazi abuses. Eugenics acquired meanings associated with the rigors of the Nazi regime such as enforced racial hygiene, human experimentation, and the extermination of "undesired" population groups. In spite of the negative connotation the term acquired due to its association with Nazism, eugenics as a discipline grew alongside. In the meantime, there have been considerable advancements in genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies and it led to many questions pointing to the ethical and moral ground of eugenics.

Decline of Eugenics after the World War II

Though eugenics had become a popular movement in the early decades of the 20th century, the discipline began to decline by the end of World War II. During its heyday before the World War II, eugenics as a movement was mainly led by pseudoscientific notions of racial supremacy and purity. During its popularity eugenics was patronized and popularized by influential individuals, institutions and some governments. The proponents and patrons of the eugenics movement held it as a social philosophy for the improvement of human hereditary traits.

Eugenics aimed at the promotion of higher reproduction of certain people and traits. At the same time it sought to the reduction of reproduction of other people and traits. The choice of these individuals and traits were highly discretionary and vitiated by partisan considerations.

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The “Degenerate” or “Unfit” Groups under Eugenics Philosophy

Eugenics is considered today as a movement of massive human rights violations on millions of people. Eugenists classified individuals and their families including the poor, promiscuous women, homosexuals, mentally ill, blind and sometimes entire racial groups as in the case of the Roma and Jews. In their intervention, the eugenists classified these individuals and groups as "degenerate" or "unfit". The practitioners of eugenics sought for the segregation or institutionalization of such individuals and groups. They sought for the sterilization and euthanasia of these “degenerate” or ‘unfit” people. In some cases they sought for the mass extermination of the people (for instance, in Nazi Germany).

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Eugenics the Most Atrocious Form of Human Rights Violation

The practice of eugenics is the most atrocious violation of human rights. The practice of eugenics involves violations of privacy, attacks on reputation, violations of the right to life, to found a family, to freedom from discrimination and the like. These are all blatant and atrocious instances of human rights violations. The negative practice of eugenics falls within the definition of genocide. It is clearly laid down under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Popular Individuals who Supported Eugenics

Sir Francis Galton formulated the term and discipline of eugenics in 1883. He relied upon the work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin. It is ironic and astonishing to note that during the pinnacle of its popularity eugenics was supported by intellectuals and prominent people, including H. G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, Theodore Roosevelt, Emile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, Linus Pauling, Sidney Webb, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvey Kellogg, etc. However, the most infamous proponent and practitioner of eugenics was Adolf Hitler. In his Mein Kampf, Hitler praises and recommends eugenics. He also praised Eugenic legislation for the sterilization of "defectives". These pronciples of eugenics have been considered as the severest of human right violations.

Eugenics Promoted in the United States and Europe

During its heyday, eugenics became an academic discipline at many reputed academic institutions in the West. The eugenics movement went ahead with three International Eugenics Conferences in 1912 in London and in 1921 and 1932 in New York. It is important to note that eugenic policies were first implemented in the United States in the early decades of the 20th century. After that, in the 1920s and 1930s under eugenics principles a number of mental patients were sterilized in countries such as Brazil, Canada, Belgium, Sweden, etc.

Popularity of Eugenics Declined

Ernst Rüdin justified the racial policies of Nazi Germany under eugenics principles. As a result, the popularity of eugenics began to decline in the 1930s. However, in spite of the atrocious invasion on human rights, the eugenics program, created by social democrats in Sweden, continued until 1975. Since then, with the advancement of the human rights movement, eugenics has lost its popularity in the countries where it had been promoted and popularized earlier. G. K. Chesterton was among the early critics of eugenics. He has written the book, ‘Eugenics and Other Evils’ to express his feelings about eugenics.



(1) "Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce."






(7) "Minority Anti-Abortion Movement Gains Steam". NPR. September 24, 2007.


Posted on Oct 13, 2010
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