By Jonathon Van Maren
Last fall, the BBC aired a chilling and brilliant two-part documentary titled Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal. In painful detail, the documentary told the stories of children scooped off the streets and locked in asylums for life because they were considered imperfect, of asylum inmates having their babies forcibly aborted because the doctors deemed them to be mentally incompetent, and of the appalling devaluing of human life that came from the policies of eugenics first pioneered by Sir Francis Galton, who was inspired by the work of his cousin, Charles Darwin.
Eugenics, which was practiced far more widely in both Great Britain and in North America than most realize, was the idea that the selective breeding of human beings could produce a better species. This could be done by ensuring that the best specimens produced many children, and conversely making sure that those considered less than perfect did not (eugenics is Greek for “good birth.”) These practices, understandably, fell out of favor when the Third Reich implemented them on a state-wide scale and added the practice of wide-scale extermination to forced sterilization. It is a scarcely mentioned fact that it was Sir Francis Galton who first proposed the idea of benevolent concentration camps of a kind as a place to put populations of people deemed unsuitable for breeding.