We no longer talk of “unfit” children, but we’ll still destroy them in the name of quality of life
It’s hard to shake the feeling that eugenics can make a comeback. Or that it never really left us.
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a recent interview to Elle Magazine, she let slip a statement that almost sounded like something a 1920-style eugenicist would say. Talking about the rise of state-level restrictions on abortion, the liberal justice said, “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people.”
And remember, a few years ago, Ginsburg had to deny that she believed eugenic thought influenced the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. She had noted a prevailing concern about population growth at the time of the decision, “particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
That Ginsburg had to disavow the plain meaning of her earlier words is a good sign that people are repulsed by eugenics of a certain type. We simply would not tolerate a modern Supreme Court justice with the cut of Wendell Holmes, who wrote in 1927’s Buck v. Bell: “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. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Southern states have recently compensated victims of their own Holmes-inspired sterilization laws. So much history, gladly forgotten. Right? Well, not necessarily.
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