Eugenics and Disability 1/2

Sometimes eugenics looks like the Holocaust. Sometimes it looks like forced sterilization, or the Tuskeegee syphilis experiment, or the mass institutionalization of disabled children and adults. Sometimes it looks like a political image saying “people like that shouldn’t breed”. The language of animal husbandry, breeding, is used to humanize “those people” who some believe should not give birth to and raise children.
Eugenics is an American invention, with European roots. Eugenics and the very concept of a white race maybe impossible to truly separate. Eugenics is the belief in “good genes”. This is the belief that underlies the idea of noble or royal blood as being distinct from common blood. It’s also what underlies racism and concepts of racial superiority. Without their sort of Proto eugenics, European nations integral to the trans Atlantic slave trade would have had a much harder time morally justifying their actions.
Within eugenics is the idea that those with “good blood” are more worthy of absolutely everything, beginning with life itself. Those with “bad blood”, whether due to race or a disability or poverty, have a less right to life, safety, dignity, absolutely everything. The most central right believed to belong exclusively to those with “good blood” is the right to pass on those “good” genes. While the word eugenics has grown significantly less popular over the generations, the idea that some people simply should not be permitted or encouraged to birth and raise children, by virtue of their very nature, has not gone anywhere.

There are two basic kinds of eugenics. They each start with the “prevention” of “undesirable” children. These efforts may include forced sterilization, or physical segregation. Both the mass incarceration of ethnic minorities within the United States, and the mass institutionalization of disabled adults and children in that same country, can be seen as examples of eugenics.

On the “prevention” side of things, ablest eugenics can be seen in how we talk about Down syndrome and prenatal testing, in our race to find a “cure” for autism, and in abortion laws that selectively legalize the termination of disabled fetuses only. We also see it in proposed foodstamp legislation and welfare reform that would only limit benefits after the recipient has had “too many” children.

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