Eugenics was initially the scientific method which became the political idea that society and the human race could be improved genetically. Advocates of this movement went about doing so by removing the undesirable traits from the racial stock. Reproduction was treated as a privilege determined by Eugenicists standards and those who acquired those undesirable traits were subjected to surgeries, under false pretences. More than 60,000 people in the United States were blindsided by their doctors and were sterilized based on this eugenic belief.
Eugenics was applied through coercive and legal power. The Eugenics Board and state governments approved lobotomies and sterilizations for people who suffered from mental illnesses, epilepsy, low intelligence and belonged to socially disadvantaged groups. In fact, many people who advocated the movement viewed reproductive surgery as a “necessary public health intervention that would protect society from deleterious genes and the social and economic costs of managing degenerate stock” (Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States). Similarly, in Africa, tribal circumcisions were powerfully implicated in meanings of masculinity.
In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he describes the ritual as “a kind of spiritual preparation for the trials of manhood” (Mandela 25). The rules varied for each tribe, as for the “Xhosa men and men from other traditionally circumcising traditions in South Africa, the rite is typically regarded as a vital component of the initiation of young men (aged 17–21) into manhood” (Howard-Payne, Lynlee, and Brett Bowman). These men were expected to endure and overcome the physical pain as it symbolically marked their bodies’ shift from boyhood into manhood. If he failed to prove his strength and undergo the circumcision procedure he was considered weak and was then killed or disowned from his family. Just like Eugenicists excuse for forced sterilizations to better humanity, adult male circumcision became implemented as a tribal ritual to prevent HIV.
The only difference between the two horrible practices were that the boys of the tribes knew what they had in store for them, while the victims of the eugenics movement had no clue as to what had been done to them and why. For example, some women were sterilized during cesarean sections and never informed; while others were threatened with the removal of welfare benefits and denial of medical attention. Some women even received unnecessary hysterectomies at hospitals for medical students to practice. All of these were threats were thrown in women’s faces if they did not consent to the procedure. Doctors took advantage of these people because they could.
They were uneducated and did not know better than to believe what they were being told. Black shares the story of Buck Smith, a man who was sterilized at the age of 15. He was unable to fight for himself because he was sure what was going on, he was given pills that made him drowsy and then cut up on the surgeons table without any anesthesia and witnessed the whole procedure. Buck was hardly feeble minded and spoke with simple eloquence about his mentality. “I’ve worked eleven years at the same job, and haven’t missed more than three days of work. There’s nothing wrong with me except my lack of education” he says (Black 5).
He later explains how he trusted his doctors to do their job, but didn’t know he’d be stripped of his human right to reproduce. Millions felt the same as Buck, they were robbed of their abilities, and left with only a scar.Every person has the right to have children. Sterilizing or “guarding” a person without their consent is an invasion of privacy and liberty, but more importantly a criminal offense. Men and women were lied to and deceived into sterilization. The act of performing surgery on a patient without their knowledge is the strongest case of battery; it is no different if the doctor were to assault these people with a weapon.
In many victim’s cases, after finding out what had been done to them it destroyed their lives. A victim, Mary Donald, was happily married for 18 years, but her husband loved kids. “I laid in bed and cried because I couldn’t give him a son” (Black 6) she recounted. Her husband then left her for a woman deemed more “fit” and capable of reproducing. Unfortunately, like Mary Donald’s, many marriages crumbled as partners sought to have children with other people and self confidence dwindled. Another victim, Elaine Riddick, felt similar feelings such as Mary Donald’s, only her story was a little different.
She was only 13 years old when she was raped by a man from her small neighborhood in North Carolina and became pregnant. According to records, Ms.Riddick was labeled as feeble minded and promiscuous, and immediately after giving birth, the state ordered that doctors cut and tie her fallopian tubes. She recalls in her interview with MSNBC, “I got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember, that’s all I remember. When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach” (Eugenicists Movement in America: Victims Coming Forward).
Throughout the whole procedure she was uninformed and blindsided by her doctors, people who she thought she could trust to take care of her during a pregnancy at such a young. At the age of 19, when she and her husband had decided that they wanted to start a family, she learned that she was unable to have anymore children. She uses the term “butchered” to describe how her procedure left her, she also adds that “The scars are a constant reminder that I have to live with this for the rest of my life” (Eugenicists Movement in America: Victims Coming Forward). Both men and women were taken advantage of in order to create a “perfect” society in the eyes of eugenicists. I’m still unsure how these practices were legal. Having children is a right and a choice. Both men and women’s bodies were violated.
Unfortunately, to this day the idea of Eugenics is still practiced to some extent. One way being the idea of preimplantation genetic diagnosis otherwise known as PGD, and the other the forced tubal ligations of inmates. In today’s world, fertility doctors give couples the opportunity to “select the embryo of choice based on the gender, modifying the physical as well as characteristic features of the embryo by gene mutations and/or to design a baby called as “savior baby” to provide HLA match stem cells to save a child suffering from incurable life threatening disease” (Qurat E Noor, Baig).
These designer babies are allowing humans to essentially create a master race; children with favorable traits such as blue eyes and blonde hair. Not only that, but because the genetic screening is so expensive, it creates a divide between the classes, mostly celebrities and the rich can afford it, similar to how the eugenics movement was ran. On the other hand, between 2005 and 2013, around 150 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons received tubal ligations without fitting the criteria for the procedure. “Around three dozen of these unauthorized procedures directly violated the state’s own informed consent process. The majority of these female inmates were either African-American or Latina and first-time offenders” (Nathan, Giri).
It is quite frightening knowing that people are still trying to play God and remove the traits and races that they consider “undesirable.” Eugenicists and anyone else who believed in the movement had a disgusting and ignorant way of thinking.Often times Doctor’s took advantage of their power and deceived these people into thinking there was something wrong with them with surgery being the only way to help.
Earth’s ecosystem thrives on biodiversity, when mankind attempts to take hold of the reigns of evolution itself, weeding out weakness, it usually backfires. Victims of this horrid movement, both men and women, still to this day fight for their rights and are eager for an apology from the government. Despite all of the outrage from the movement, Eugenics is still practiced until this day in some ways. From the victims of the eugenics movement to the boys of african descent who endured the pain of circumcisions, the inmates who were wrongfully put under the knife, and the people who can afford to create a designer baby, where does it end? What’s fair? and Who decides? Who determines what is desirable? One’s color, education, disability, or bad habit does not determine their right to reproduce, in fact that is what makes our society so beautiful.