Human Exceptionalism

“Haunting Echos of Eugenics”

In this excellent column published in the Washington Post, disability rights activists Andrew J. Imparato and Anne C. Sommers warn of the emerging new eugenics. Some key quotes:

Though society may be inclined to regard [Oliver Wendel] Holmes’s detestable opinion in Buck v. Bell [“Three generations of idiots is enough] as a relic of a time past, eerie similarities exist in contemporary remarks of the well-respected…Some 72 years later, renowned embryologist Bob Edwards said, “Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children.”…

In the past, eugenicists emphasized the “burden” of disability. Holmes wrote that individuals with disabilities “sap the strength of the State.” In recent years, Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, has said, “It does not seem quite wise to increase any further draining of limited resources by increasing the number of children with impairments.”…

Last fall, Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argued for “active euthanasia” of significantly disabled newborns to spare parents emotional and financial burden. Two years earlier, the Groningen Protocol emerged in the Netherlands; it proposed selection criteria for euthanizing babies and children with disabilities. And across the United States, “futile care” policies have required that the most vulnerable give up their hospital beds — and lives — for those with more “potential.”…

On this 80th anniversary of Buck, let’s not foolishly believe that victims of eugenics are an artifact of history. So long as we speak in terms of good genes and bad genes, recognize a life with a disability as an injury, and allow health policies to value some lives over others, we continue to create human rights violations every day.

What is it they say about not learning the lessons of history?

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